Last updated: July 18. 2013 11:23PM - 363 Views
Harlan Daily Enterprise Staff

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The United Steelworkers (USW) are scheduled to decide at the ballot box today and Friday on whether to accept a negotiated contract by union officials and Appalachian Regional Healthcare.

According to Roger McGinnis, a member of the USW staff, “We have a tentative agreement and plan to explain and vote this Thursday and Friday.”

Julius Pearson, ARH system director of employee and labor relations, said, “This tentative agreement reflects compromises by both parties which were made in the long-term best interests of all stakeholder including the communities we serve, and all employees who support the mission and the organization.”

Pearson had hinted at a possible compromise late Tuesday afternoon in a prepared statement, saying that ARH was giving “serious” consideration to a counter proposal from the USW.

After several weeks of continued negotiations, ARH and the USW reached the tentative collective bargaining agreement late Tuesday, according to Pearson.

Details of the agreement will be kept confidential until the approximately 2,200 employees in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia represented by the USW and covered under the contract have the opportunity to vote on the new proposal, according to a statement released Wednesday afternoon by Pearson.

These employees work in a variety of areas and occupations, including clerical, housekeeping, maintenance, dietary, licensed practical nurses, certified nurse aids, and some technical employees, he said.

Doctors and registered nurses are not part of the USW.

“ARH and the USW worked through some very difficult issues to reach this tentative agreement, which demonstrates our mutual commitment to our patients and employees,” said Pearson, who had stated on Tuesday the Lexington-based chain was committed to continuing to bargain in good faith until a contract was reached. The USW had issued a 10-day strike notice on March 21, with the current contract scheduled to expire at midnight on Sunday.

The USW membership meetings were held at nine ARH locations over the weekend to discuss what the USW claimed to be “major concessionary changes to many of the economic areas of our contract.”

Reports indicated the negotiations had stalled previously over health insurance costs, temporary disability and wages.

ARH faced a strike by the USW in the spring of 2007. After settling that strike, it was followed by a strike of the registered nurses union Southern United Nurses association in the fall of the same year.

The not-for-profit health system serves 350,000 residents across eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia at 10 hospitals, multi-specialty physician practices, home health agencies, HomeCare Stores and retail pharmacies.

ARH is the largest provider of care and single largest employer in southeastern Kentucky and the third largest private employer in southern West Virginia.

The ARH system employs nearly 5,000 people and has a network of more than 600 active and courtesy medical staff members representing various specialties.

According to the press release, ARH is firmly committed to its mission of improving the health and promoting the well-being of all people in the region. During the past 12 months alone, ARH provided nearly $138 million in uncompensated care for the uninsured and under insured patients, the release said.

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