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Hospital employees to vote on contract proposal

Nov. 02, 2013 @ 12:07 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Cabell Huntington Hospital and SEIU District 1199 union leaders continued contract negotiations Friday before Saturday's Nov. 2 contract expiration.

The 800 members of the union were planning to vote Saturday on a contract proposal.

As of Friday afternoon, a sticking point involving pension plans had been ironed out, but one remained -- the removal of health insurance for part-time employees.

That affects 167 employees, said Joyce Gibson, director for SEIU 1199.

One is Sue Day, who recently underwent training to be promoted from the housekeeping department to a patient care assistant, but in the process went from full-time to part-time. Up to this point, the company plan has covered her and two of her three children. If it's removed, she plans to go back to her old job just so she can work 40 hours.

"I have leukemia. I have to have my insurance," she said. "Cabell helped me go to school to become a patient care assistant, and now they might take it away."

Contract negotiations occur every three years, and the union contends that it made sacrifices in the way of wages, pensions and health care in 2010 when the hospital was struggling amid the economic recession. Now, union members cite a 2012 hospital audit showing a $33 million profit for Cabell Huntington Hospital.

"The hospital is doing well. We should be doing well," Gibson said.

The hospital administration approaches the contract negotiations with great care, said Charles Shumaker, media and community relations manager for Cabell Huntington Hospital.

"We recognize our employees as our most valuable resource and we have, and will always be, transparent throughout these negotiations," Shumaker said. "Our employees have had access to every offer and counter proposal so that they are in tune with what may affect them during the upcoming contract years. With that said, we believe we have presented a fair and generous offer that will provide excellent opportunities for our employees while also allowing our organization to remain solvent in these trying and evolving times in the healthcare industry."

Under the current proposal to SEIU 1199, CHH will continue to provide employees with benefits that include a no-cost, high-quality, defined benefit pension plan for the majority of employees. Since 2010 Cabell Huntington Hospital has paid $36 million to fund the defined benefit pension fund for long-term employees, the hospital reports. The contract also includes a health care plan for full-time employees without any out-of-pocket contribution from employees.

The new contract includes wage increases, Shumaker said. During the past three years, Cabell Huntington Hospital wage increases have averaged 2.67 percent per year per employee, he said. The current union proposal seeks wage increases totaling 20 percent over three years while SEIU provided its own employees with only a 1 percent increase in wages, he said.

Also the contract includes shift differential and on-call pay where appropriate to the job, short- and long-term disability coverage, and life insurance at no cost to full-time employees.

Cabell Huntington Hospital reports that it ranks No. 1 as the highest total compensation health care employer in West Virginia, according to the West Virginia Healthcare Authority.

The minimum start rate of CHH's union employees is an average of more than $2 per hour higher than other local hospitals, the hospital says.

"We look forward to a positive and fair resolution to our discussions, which continue (Friday) as the expiration of the current contract is midnight Nov.1," Shumaker said. "We want to stress to our patients, employees and community that high-quality care and service are Cabell Huntington Hospital's commitment every day."

Don Nichols, a 25-year, fulltime employee at Cabell said he's mostly concerned about how a lack of insurance for part-timers would affect new, young employees such as Donnet Plybon, who recently joined the housekeeping department. Part-time work is how many people get their start, he said. It often takes as many as four years to work your way into a full-time position, he said. And while the Affordable Care Act may benefit some of those workers, should their insurance be removed, it makes for a rough start.

"We all start part time and worked our way up and had the promise of a bright future," said Nichols, a hospital electronics technician. If their insurance is removed, "I feel the future is dimmed for them."

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