HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) — Around 800 healthcare workers walked out of Cabell Huntington Hospital at noon on Wednesday.
Members of SEIU District 1199 voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to reject the hospital’s latest contract offer. The SEIU represents licensed practical nurses, radiology technicians, lab techs, housekeeping workers and maintenance workers.
“It’s not easy for workers to walk away from their job. So you can imagine how serious the contract issues are if nearly a thousand people walk off the job to the streets. They actually should be ashamed that they would drive workers to make the toughest decision in their life to walk out the door and not be in there taking care of patients,” says Sherri McKinney, regional director for SEIU District 1199.
The strike comes after union members rejected the hospital’s last best offer Tuesday—after months of negotiation.
Union officials say the last time Cabell Huntington Hospital workers went on strike was in 1998.
“It’s just a lot of emotions today. Nobody wanted to be on strike; we didn’t want to be here anymore than the company wants us to be here. But we were backed into a wall. We have to protect our workers and in doing that, this was our only choice,” says Yvonne Brooks, who is on strike against the hospital, “We have literally taken care of this community through a pandemic. Our workers have come to work, they have stayed over, they have been asked to come in on their days off. And we’re not being respected.”
They say they want quality care, safe staffing, health insurance coverage and wages that allow them to support their families.
“This is a great company to work for, I love working here and I love my job, but I also want to be valued. We feel like they don’t care about their employees, sometimes we feel like they don’t care about their patients,” says Heather Whitman, who is on strike against the hospital.
“You can pay thousands and thousands of dollars to bus people to come in here and take our jobs, to work our jobs? But you’re not willing to help us with health care?” Brooks asks.
The union says that the hospital is paying contracted outside workers instead of investing in their dedicated long-term employees.
“We’ll be here until we get a fair and equitable contract that workers can live with,” McKinney says.
The strike is expected to last until the union and the hospital reach an agreement.
Below is a statement from Tim Martin, Chief Operating Officer of Cabell Huntington Hospital:
“We are disappointed that the comprehensive offer made by the hospital to the members of SEIU District 1199 Service was not ratified yesterday. Cabell Huntington Hospital has worked in good faith since August, throughout the demands of COVID, to reach a fair contract with a generous package of benefits.
The Hospital’s offer included 3% average annual wage increases, an enhanced uniform allowance, and increased shift differentials. The Hospital also agreed to continue automatic annual contributions to every eligible employee’s retirement account. Like the rest of the Cabell Huntington Hospital employees, the service employees were asked to begin paying affordable, and below market, health insurance premiums. Under the Hospital’s final proposal, the Hospital will contribute more than 90% of health care costs for employees and their dependents.
The hospital has a duty to our patients and the community to provide quality healthcare 24 hours a day, every day and we will honor that commitment by continuing continue that care with minimal disruption. We have made arrangements for trained, screened and qualified service workers to assist in the event of a strike.
Patients coming to Cabell Huntington Hospital or to Marshall Health are asked to use Medical Center Drive, which is the main entrance to the hospital, and use the parking garage. Patients needing access to the Emergency Department would use the entrance just off Hal Greer Boulevard.“