HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Union leaders representing striking Cabell Huntington Hospital employees say there’s no telling when they will leave the picket line and return to work as contract negotiations with hospital officials stalled this week.
More than 900 maintenance and service workers have been on strike since Nov. 3 over fair wages, safe staffing and affordable health insurance coverage.
Sherri McKinney, regional director of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199, told MetroNews Friday there are no upcoming dates scheduled for them to return to the bargaining table.
“One day longer, one day stronger. We’re still out there and we don’t anticipate any major moves this week,” she said. “We’re always willing to come back to the table.”
Members of the union’s bargaining unit met with the hospital and a federal mediator Monday and Tuesday. That’s when the hospital made a counter offer, but union leaders rejected it.
“They wanted to institute some changes, but in their last, best and final offer would’ve been implemented in November and they backed that date up to April 2022, so in some ways, it was worse,” McKinney said.
A spokesperson from Cabell Huntington Hospital provided MetroNews with a link to their “Just the Facts” web page that states their position on the SEIU strike.
“While we respect our service employees’ right to engage in a strike, we welcome any members of the Service unit who wish to come to work to do so,” the website said. “Striking staff who wish to return to work can contact their supervisor, human resources or go to a designated entrance and advise that they’re here to work.”
The hospital has continued to say it remains open to working with the union to reach a deal.
Earlier this week, Molly Frick, CHH director of human resources, told the Huntington Herald-Dispatch activities on the picket line have been “disruptive” to patients and must stop.
McKinney said there’s no proof of that.
“The truth is the police have not been called. No one has been disruptive. People are dancing on the line, playing some music,” she said. “It’s a strike, so I’m not sure what the hospital expected.”
The hospital did gain a temporary restraining from a Cabell County circuit judge. The judge has instituted quiet hours on the picket line from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Bull horns and air horns will not be allowed on the picket lines.
Health insurance this week was cut off by the hospital, leaving the workers without coverage. McKinney said it’s cruel to do that in the middle of a pandemic.
“That’s what workers are upset about. For the last 20 months, they’ve been in there jeopardizing themselves, jeopardizing their families and in 24 hours they jerk people’s health insurance with no notice to them,” McKinney said.
Meanwhile, CHH officials said the union did not warn their members of a possible loss of coverage in a timely manner.
SEUI District 1199 wrote on its Facebook page after coverage was pulled, “This is cruel and heartless treatment of the family and staff that have supported and cared for this community throughout the pandemic.”