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Cabell Huntington registered nurses begin seeking union representation

HUNTINGTON — Registered nurses at Cabell Huntington Hospital, citing short staffing and forced overtime, are now seeking union representation to open negotiations with hospital leadership.

Around 100 nurses — many still in their green, blue and brown scrubs and hospital badges — joined representatives from the Service Employees International Union 1199 on Wednesday afternoon to symbolically hand-deliver a petition to the administration for union coverage to be extended to Cabell Huntington’s 900 registered nurses.

SEIU 1199 has, since 1975, negotiated with Cabell Huntington Hospital, representing mostly service employees like sanitarians, housekeeping, maintenance, pharmacy techs and patient care assistants — roughly 870 employees at the hospital. Adding registered nurses to the fold would give union representation to a clear majority of Cabell Huntington’s approximately 2,900 employees.

SEIU 1199, a Columbus, Ohio-based wing of one of North America’s largest labor unions, represents thousands of health care employees in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. Cabell Huntington and SEIU 1199 are in the middle of a five-year contract signed in 2016, but the union and the hospital, along with St. Mary’s Medical Center, have been at odds over a handful of issues over the past two years.

Because registered nurses are currently not unionized at Cabell Huntington, they cannot collectively bargain with administration about their concerns.

“We want to have a say in our health care, in our community and in the patients that these nurses take care of,” said Joyce Gibson, district director for SEIU 1199 Region 1, which covers West Virginia, Kentucky and Southern Ohio.

As they trickled onto the sidewalk, with more inside waving from the windows, the nurses spoke candidly about their concerns.

Mary Beth Scott, a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit and 13-year employee at Cabell Huntington, said that while she clocks in at 7:15 a.m. every work day, she sometimes doesn’t leave until 9 p.m. that day — often left wondering if the outcomes of that day would have been better with more hands on deck.

“The expectation of what nurses are expected to do has gotten longer — the list has gotten longer — but they don’t want to give you any more hands to help,” Scott said. “It’s not fair to our patients, and it’s not fair to the families.”

Shannon Caskey, a registered nurse in surgery, said that situation has progressively worsened in the three years she’s worked at Cabell Huntington. Breaks and lunches often don’t happen, overtime is common if not the rule, and a Monday-through-Friday week typically means 50 to 60 hours of work.

She had never considered unionizing, by her own admission, but said she now sees it as a necessity.

“I’ve seen better morale (among nurses) in the past three weeks with (the unionizing effort) than I have the whole time I’ve been here,” Caskey said.

The gathering Wednesday marched from the sidewalk to the entrance of the adjoining Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center before being politely met at the door by hospital security, who allowed Gibson and a delegation of five nurses to deliver the request for union coverage to the administration.

After about 10 minutes, Gibson and the others returned, stating that their request was personally received, and denied, by Tim Martin, Cabell Huntington Hospital vice president of operations.

With no hint of discouragement, Gibson said the union will file a request with the National Labor Relations Board to set an election among Cabell Huntington’s registered nurses, who may then themselves vote to unionize regardless of the administration’s decision Wednesday. That election date has not been set, but Gibson said it is likely to come in the next four to six weeks.

Though its employees were not represented Wednesday, Gibson added that nurses at St. Mary’s Medical Center will soon vote whether to form their own new chapter of the SEIU. The hospital has never had union representation among its employees.

Both St. Mary’s and Cabell Huntington are owned by Mountain Health Network, which was formed at the latter’s acquisition of the former last year.

In a written statement following the nurses’ gathering, Cabell Huntington administration maintained that the hospital continues to provide quality care in all departments, citing national recognition and awards in patient care and workplace environment.

“Cabell Huntington Hospital is disappointed by the SEIU’s false claims about the quality of our health care services because the SEIU has represented employees in multiple departments for more than 40 years,” wrote Molly K. Frick, Cabell Huntington director of human resources. “Nevertheless, we will continue to work professionally and in good faith with SEIU in all matters affecting those existing union employees in the future.”

The statement did not address the staffing or overtime concerns raised by nurses or the SEIU.

Pumpkin House transformation about to begin

KENOVA — It takes more than a wave of a magic wand to turn the Victorian home on Beech Street in Kenova into the famous Pumpkin House. It takes hundreds of volunteers to carve and place the nearly 3,000 pumpkins that create the staple of the C-K AutumnFest each year. Work is well underway now to create the pumpkins that will adorn the 2019 Pumpkin House.

Ric Griffith, owner of the house, has put on the spectacle for 28 consecutive years.

The Pumpkin House will light up beginning Oct. 24. The 700 block of Beech Street will be closed to vehicular traffic beginning Oct. 23.

— The Herald-Dispatch

French artist visits Huntington museum to see her quilt on display

HUNTINGTON — While Annemarie Kowach, a French quilt maker, has had her work displayed in museums across Europe, she never expected her work would find itself in the hills of West Virginia.

Kowach’s quilt is part of “Color Improvisations 2,” an exhibit at the Huntington Museum of Art. The collection was curated by Nancy Crow, an Ohio artist who is one of the most celebrated and influential quilt artists of the past 40 years. The exhibit wraps up at the museum this weekend.

Kowach said she knew she wouldn’t be able to visit the final exhibition of the collection in Ohio next year, so she decided to come to Huntington to see her work on display in the States.

Her quilt is the second in a series of four. The hand-dyed pieces are a mix of grays with pops of blues, greens, yellows and oranges. The pieces form As — the first letter of her name. She said she spent 400 to 500 hours working on the piece.

Kowach started quilting when she was in school, but fell away from the art as she got older.

“When I moved to Germany, I went to an exhibit in this very old castle, and I told my husband I would like to start quilting again after that,” she said.

Kowach said her mother was always sewing, and she would sit at her feet while she did it, but her mother never made quilts. Kowach taught herself by just sitting down at a sewing machine and putting pieces of fabric together.

The “Color of Improvisations 2” exhibit will leave the Huntington Museum of Art after Sunday, Oct. 13. The exhibition will move to the Springfield Museum of Art in Springfield, Ohio, beginning Jan. 4.

The full exhibition has 50 quilts, but only 20 are on display in Huntington. The collection includes artists from Germany, Switzerland and even West Virginian and former Huntington resident Denise Roberts.

For more information on events at the Huntington Museum of Art, visit hmoa.org or call 304-529-2701.

Submitted photo  

Courtesy photo For 49 years, the original Bob Evans Farm has celebrated the rural origins of the Bob Evans restaurant chain by hosting its annual festival near Rio Grande, Ohio.

Defying impeachment inquiry, Trump makes charge more certain

WASHINGTON — The combative White House letter vowing to defy the “illegitimate” impeachment inquiry has actually put President Donald Trump on a more certain path to charges. His refusal to honor subpoenas or allow testimony would likely play into a formal accusation against him.

The letter sent to House leaders by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone Tuesday evening declared the president would not cooperate with the investigation — a clear reason, Democrats say, to write an article of impeachment charging him with obstruction.

The White House insists that a formal House vote is necessary just to start the impeachment process. But Democrats are moving ahead without one, confident for now that they are backed by the Constitution and Trump’s own acknowledgements of trying to persuade a foreign government to investigate a political foe.

“The White House should be warned that continued efforts to hide the truth of the president’s abuse of power from the American people will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in response to the letter. “Mr. President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable.”

Trump again defended his decision not to cooperate, calling a whistleblower’s complaint about his call with Ukraine’s leader “a fraud being perpetrated on the American public” and saying Republicans are being treated unfairly. He repeated he was being vilified for “a perfect phone call.”

But the president also undercut his no-cooperation argument Wednesday by putting conditions on his willingness, saying he would cooperate only if the House held a vote and Democrats would “give us our rights.”

Bolstered by polls showing increased public support for impeachment, Pelosi has shown no signs of shifting her strategy. Democrats plan to continue investigating while focusing on the president’s own acknowledgements that he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate his country’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election and also political rival Joe Biden and his family.

“The evidence provided by the president and his people has already been overwhelming,” even without additional witness testimony, said Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes. Himes is a Democratic member of the House intelligence committee, which is leading the Ukraine investigation.

The intelligence panel, along with the Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Government Reform panels, subpoenaed Gordon Sondland, the U.S. European Union ambassador, on Tuesday after Trump’s State Department barred him from showing up at a scheduled deposition. Texts provided by another diplomat last week showed Sondland and others navigating Trump’s demands for investigations as they spoke to Ukrainian government officials about a possible visit to Washington.

Trump’s stonewalling of impeachment comes as polls find that Americans are more likely to approve than disapprove of the inquiry, even as they divide on whether Trump should be removed from office. A new Washington Post-Schar School poll finds 58% supportive of the decision by Congress to launch an impeachment inquiry that could lead to Trump being removed from office. About half of all Americans also think Congress should remove Trump from office.

Still, the White House signaled it would not give an inch. Trump has taken to Twitter frequently to bash the probe, charging that the inquiry is not about anything more than partisan politics.

“The Do Nothing Democrats are Con Artists, only looking to hurt the Republican Party and President,” Trump wrote. “Their total focus is 2020, nothing more, and nothing less.”

After two weeks of an unfocused response to the impeachment probe, the White House letter amounted to the first volley in a strategy that is more defined — but one that carries its own risks.

“All that defiance does is add to the case” against the president, including obstruction of Congress, said Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat who sits on the Oversight and Foreign Affairs panels. He said the White House strategy actually works to convince the public of the president’s guilt, citing the recent polls.

“The public gets what’s happening,” Connolly said.

But Trump allies both inside and outside the West Wing were pleased at the shot the letter represented.

They argue their best chance at winning the politics of impeachment is to emulate the just-say-no tactics they used for much of the special counsel’s Russia probe and against other investigations launched by Democrats in the House majority.

By making the fight as contentious as possible, the White House hopes to convince voters that the impeachment process is simply about politics. They also want to push the proceedings into next year, when the first ballots of the 2020 primaries are cast. That would make it easier for Republicans to demand that impeachment be put aside in favor of letting the voters decide in November.

He also said that the impeachment fight will end up in the Supreme Court, but it’s unclear whether Democrats will go to court at all and risk long delay. They could simply move to an article of impeachment on obstruction.

Aware of the risks, Democrats are planning to move quickly — unlike the two-year Russia investigation, which Republicans had ample time to try and discredit. Multiple subpoenas sent by the House panels — including to the White House, Cabinet agencies and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani — came with a deadline to respond within the next two weeks.

As the House returns from a recess next Tuesday, the Democrats plan to hold hearings and votes to make their case, including legislation designed to improve the security of elections and prevent foreign interference. But they are so far declining to hold high profile hearings featuring fierce, argumentative allies of the president, including Giuliani, who was involved in the negotiations with Ukraine.

Democrats believe the president’s own words are paramount to impeachment and don’t want to distract from that.

But they will also continue to investigate.

“I think what we have is overwhelming evidence that the president has engaged in multiple wrongdoings,” said Florida Rep. Val Demings, a member of both the intelligence and Judiciary panels. “But what we don’t know is how much more is out there.”


Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Jill Colvin and Darlene Superville contributed.