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Union workers from service, maintenance units of Cabell Huntington Hospital begin strike

HUNTINGTON — At noon Wednesday, about 1,000 union workers in the service and maintenance units at Cabell Huntington Hospital began their strike, walking off the job.

“One, two, three, four, union workers out the door!” the group cheered as they exited the hospital.

Yvonne Brooks, who has worked at the hospital for more than 37 years, says workers are concerned about job security and patient care.

“We didn’t want to strike, but we feel like we had no choice,” Brooks said. “This is the only way we can protect our jobs, our health care benefits and the benefits of our retirees.”

After negotiating with Mountain Health Network executives Monday, the union announced just after 8:30 p.m. Tuesday that its Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199 union workers in those units would go on strike and begin picketing outside the hospital. The SEIU represents licensed practical nurses, radiology technicians, lab techs, housekeeping workers and maintenance workers.

Just before noon, 200 workers started forming a picket line in front of the hospital on Hal Greer Boulevard. Then at noon, roughly 800 workers with locked arms in rows of three began to walk off the job to join the picket line.

“We have negotiated in good faith for several months, but the executives at Cabell Huntington Hospital are asking for too many concessions on health care, wages and several other issues,” said Joyce Gibson, secretary treasurer with SEIU 1199. “These health care workers have been heroes in our community during a pandemic and are not being rewarded. Our slogan is ‘reward health care heroes, not hypocrites.’”

Gibson claims the hospital is willing to pay contracted outside workers as much as $15,000 for two weeks of work.

“They would rather pay outside workers instead of investing in the community and their dedicated long-term employees and retirees,” Gibson said.

Gibson said the union has also filed several unfair labor practice violations with the U.S. Department of Labor.

“They have threatened to fire our members on the job prior to the strike, along with other unfair labor practices leading up to this strike,” she said.

The last strike with this group of union workers happened in 1998 and lasted 27 days.

“Back then, we had a strike to protect licensed practical nurses’ jobs,” Brooks said. “This time is different because it’s about our health care, wages and retirees. I say let’s get back to the bargaining table and work this out so we can all get back to work.”

Tim Martin, chief operating officer of Cabell Huntington Hospital, issued a statement shortly after the strike began.

“We are disappointed that the comprehensive offer made by the hospital to the members of SEIU District 1199 Service was not ratified yesterday,” Martin’s statement said. “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.”

Martin said in the statement that 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,” he said.

In preparation for the strike, the hospital temporarily postponed some elective surgeries and moved some to St. Mary’s Medical Center earlier in the week.

Martin’s statement went on to say the hospital has a duty to its patients and the community to provide quality health care 24 hours a day, every day.

“We will honor that commitment by continuing that care with minimal disruption,” Martin said in the statement. “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.”

Sherri McKinney, a regional director with SEIU District 1199, said while workers are close on some issues with hospital management, they are far apart on others.

“Mountain Health Network is making millions, but this isn’t just about money,” McKinney said. “It’s also about health care benefits, staffing and unfair labor practices.”

McKinney said a federal mediator is involved and trying to get both sides to talk again.

Gibson said the union workers would be striking in front of the hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We plan to strike for as long as it takes, and we appreciate the support of the community,” she said. “We are asking folks in the community to call the hospital executives and tell them to invest in their dedicated workers. Pay them so they can afford health care for themselves and their families. Tell them to do the right thing.”

Gibson said the union has a strike and defense fund to assist the workers, but declined to say how much each person would get each week.

“We are going to take care of our people,” she said. “We are going to help them while we continue to strike for a fair contract.”

Unofficial Lawrence election results show Harvey as victor in Ironton mayoral race

IRONTON — Craig Harvey got more votes than any other candidate for Ironton City Council and will serve as mayor pro tem next year, according to unofficial totals in Tuesday’s general election from the Lawrence County Board of Commissioners.

Harvey collected 1,076 votes and was one of four members elected to Ironton City Council. Chris Perry, with 997 votes; Nate Kline, with 920 votes; and former Mayor Bob Cleary, with 734 votes, all were elected to four-year seats on council.

Yvonne DeKay Sinnott finished with 625 votes and Julie Diane Pate had 459 votes in the race for four seats on Ironton City Council.

Jonathan Buchanan, Pamela Legg and John Mayes were elected to three seats on Proctorville Village Council. A fourth seat on council will be filled later.

Brad Adkins, Marlene Arthur and Mary Cogan all had more than 400 votes and were elected to seats on South Point Village Council.

David Classing, a former council member, received 55 write-in votes and could fill the last seat up for election.

Lisa Blake, Drew Griffin, Jacob Wells and Nathan Ittig were unopposed and thus elected to seats on Chesapeake Village Council. Ittig, however, was named earlier as Chesapeake mayor. That seat will be filled later by council members.

Kimberly McKnight, Frederick Phillip Roush, Andy Holmes and Gregory Massie were the leading vote-getters for four-year seats on Coal Grove Village Council. McKnight had 303 votes, Roush had 222, Holmes had 201 and Massie had 192. Jay Sherman finished with 130 votes, while Bill Moore and David Bush also ran in that race.

David Hopper and Timothy M. Dickens were elected to two seats on Hanging Rock Village Council. Two other seats are vacant and will be filled at a later date.

E. Denise Breen, Jason A. Chapman, Alexandria Swiger and Meredith Hope Johnson received more votes than other candidates for Athalia Village Council. Johnson finished fourth for four seats with 35 votes, while Gary A. Simpson had 32 votes, Roger D. Camp had 28 and Eric Webb had 10.

Phil Carpenter, Ray Malone and Carla Salyer were unopposed and elected to four-year terms for the county Educational Service Center.

Bobby Hamlin and Ron Saunders were elected to two seats on the Chesapeake Board of Education. Jimmie T. Harmon finished third in that race.

Debra G. Drummond, Brady R. Harrison and Jamie Murphy were unopposed and thus elected to four-year seats on the Dawson-Bryant Board of Education.

Martin Appleton, Jeff Bennett and Gary Sowards were unopposed and were elected to four-year seats on the Fairland Board of Education.

Kevin Hacker and Rae Ann Witt were elected to two seats on the Ironton school board. Ralph Huff finished third in that race.

Phillip Bailey and Dennis Hankins were elected to two seats on the Rock Hill Board of Education. Bailey had 898 votes, while Hankins had 683. Keith Harper finished with 663 votes, while Kimberly Prince Clark had 439.

Tifanie Arbogast and John Parker were elected to two seats on the South Point Board of Education. Austin Johnson finished third in that race.

Josh Saunders, Uriah Cade and Derek L. Wilson were elected to three seats on the Symmes Valley Board of Education. Wilson finished third with 481 votes. Steven D. Brown had 415 votes, while Tammie L. Myers had 306 votes.

George Gabriel Patterson and Brian Pancake were elected as Aid Township trustees.

Tim Blagg and Ronnie Cox were elected as Decatur Township trustees.

Rickey Cox and Sadie Sparks were elected as Elizabeth Township trustees. Kelly Bamer was elected as Elizabeth Township fiscal officer.

Mike Finley and Mike Jones were elected as Fayette Township trustees.

Bob Blankenship and Forrest E. Kerns Jr. were elected as Hamilton Township trustees.

Brent Dickess and Larry Pernestti were elected as Lawrence Township trustees.

Steven S. Colegrove and Jeff Estep were elected as Mason Township trustees.

Barry Blankenship and George Derek Rowe were elected as Perry Township trustees.

Mark Bailey and Brian Pinkerman were elected as Rome Township trustees.

Ronald Hatfield and Sammy Mitchell were elected as Symmes Township trustees.

Jason Forbush and Cole Webb were elected as Union Township trustees.

Randall E. Wise and Tony Sites were elected as Upper Township trustees.

Mike Freeman and Jerry Kelly were elected as Washington Township trustees. Douglas R. Dickens was elected to a two-year unexpired term as Washington Township trustee.

Norman R. Humphrey II and Robert E. Burcham were elected as Windsor Township trustees.

Election results are to be finalized later this month.

W.Va. officials hoping for strong rollout of pediatric COVID-19 vaccine

CHARLESTON — Hoping to encourage a strong rollout for COVID-19 vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds, Wednesday’s state COVID-19 briefing telecast featured Dr. Jessica McColley of Cabin Creek Health Center in Kanawha County giving a shot to her 7-year-old son.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday gave authorization for pediatric doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and James Hoyer, state interagency task force director, said Monday the state had secured 50,000 doses for distribution as soon as the CDC approval was finalized.

Demonstrating that the injection is quick and relatively painless, McColley encouraged parents of young children to answer any questions and concerns they may have beforehand.

“Kids are always going to have questions. ‘Is it going to hurt?’ It will a little,” she said.

In a state that continues to have the lowest vaccination rate in the nation, according to the CDC, Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday he plans to announce a vaccination incentive program geared to that age group next week.

“It will probably be Babydog III, and we’ll probably do something with her and the young kids,” he said.

Justice has spent roughly $18 million of federal pandemic relief funds on prizes given away during two prior rounds of the vaccination incentive sweepstakes, named for his pet English bulldog. He has continued to stage the sweepstakes, in which he goes around the state to personally award prizes, in spite of national studies showing that other vaccination incentive sweepstakes have had little to no effectiveness in persuading people to get their shots.

State vaccination rates actually decreased during Justice’s two previous sweepstakes promotions.

Dr. Ayne Amjad, state public health officer, said the state is encouraging parents of all 5- to 11-year-olds to get their children vaccinated, and said parents should consult with their pediatricians if they believe their child may have any medical conditions that would raise issues about being vaccinated.

“Symptoms of long COVID in children is something we don’t want to see,” she said, referring to the syndrome of patients having lingering post-infection symptoms and possible internal organ damage, even after mild cases of COVID-19.

State officials on Wednesday also encouraged adults who have been fully vaccinated to get booster shots at the proper time.

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources’ COVID-19 dashboard, 45,444 doses of booster shots have been administered in the state, meaning that only about 5% of fully vaccinated adults age 18 and older have gotten their booster shots.

Dr. Clay Marsh, state COVID-19 czar and vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University, cited a new study published in The Lancet medical journal showing that booster shots reduce the likelihood of hospitalizations by 93% and reduce the risk of dying of COVID-19 by 81%.

“We know that it is so effective in reducing your risk of severe illness or dying,” he said.

Justice said the state has administered a total of 5,603 vaccine doses since Monday, saying, “That’s real progress. That’s not what we want, but it’s real progress.”

The department dashboard shows that 2,919 doses were administered over the past three days, with a seven-day rolling average of 1,159 doses per day as of Tuesday.

That’s the lowest seven-day average since 1,123 doses a day Oct. 27. The seven-day average dipped as low as 676 doses a day Oct. 21.

By comparison, at the peak in early March, the state was administering more than 20,000 doses a day.

Also Wednesday, DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said the state’s new COVID-19 vaccination exemption law, with broadly defined medical and religious exemptions, may be in conflict with federal law regarding employer vaccination mandates.

“The Legislature did pass a law that may be in conflict with federal statutes, so there may be lawsuits,” he said. “It goes into effect in January, so we hope things get sorted out before we get there.”

The bill passed the Senate on a 17-16 vote, and the Senate lacked the needed two-thirds vote to make the legislation effective from passage.

Justice later seemingly contradicted Crouch, saying, “I sent the bill up because I stand rock solid behind the feeling that I want everybody to get vaccinated, but I think this country was founded on our freedoms, and I don’t think that if someone has a religious belief that draws them toward not taking the vaccination, or a medical reason, I don’t think we should be terminating them from their jobs.”