HUNTINGTON — Cabell Huntington Hospital and the Service Employees International Union will return to the courtroom Tuesday to re-examine a temporary restraining order limiting activities of workers on strike.
More than 900 Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members in the service and maintenance units went on strike for the first time in 23 years after walking off the job Nov. 3.
Cabell County Circuit Judge Alfred Ferguson issued a temporary restraining order following an initial hearing Nov. 10 after the hospital filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop some actions by the striking workers.
Tuesday’s hearing will be before Cabell Circuit Judge Chris Chiles, who will decide what permanent action, if any, needs to be taken.
Cabell Huntington Hospital said last week union workers on the picket line continue to violate the judge’s temporary restraining order. The union claims Ferguson signed an order inconsistent with transcripts of the hearing.
During Monday’s Huntington City Council meeting, two Cabell Huntington Hospital employees who are among the union members striking urged council members to vote in favor of a resolution that would support the workers.
In response, Councilman Bob Bailey said in the good and welfare comments of the meeting that he had introduced a resolution for council members to consider, but it was not added to the agenda. He said added that he also supports unions.
“You know I got a lot of doubts about a hospital that would pay $2 million to get six permanent votes. And that’s what Cabell Huntington has done,” Bailey said. “They want three votes from the county commission and the old council, they bought three votes from them. The county got a million dollars and the city got a million dollars. What they did by doing that, the citizens have no input whatsoever into a hospital that was given to them by the people.”
Councilwoman Tia Rumbaugh said she concurred with Bailey’s comments, adding that the draft of the resolution he mentioned would have been something she could have supported as it said that council wanted both the hospital and Special Metals to come to the table for negotiations.
“There was a suggestion that governance and administration must remain impartial in private business matters. Well, I … can respect that,” she said. “We can be Sweden or maybe we can be Huntington, West Virginia, and actually stand up for people who need our help more so than the big corporate interests like the hospital or Special Metals.”
Councilman Pat Jones said that he plans to draft a new resolution if no movement is made in negotiations this week and would submit it for the next council meeting agenda. After the council meeting, he said that his resolution would be in support of returning to the bargaining table.
“The relief they seek in both incidents is not unreasonable,” Jones said during the meeting. “They only ask that they receive compensation to keep pace with inflation we are experiencing, that they continue to receive health benefits for themselves and their families so that they remain healthy enough to continue to do their jobs, and that their working rules concerning their seniority that they have achieved as well as the skills that they have developed remain a part of their contract.”
Sherri McKinney, the SEIU District 1199 organizing regional director, said after the meeting that the workers are asking the city council to pass a resolution to ask for a fair and equitable contract.
“It was good to hear them speak up on behalf of the almost 900 workers at Cabell Huntington Hospital who do live in this community, who do live in this city and are part of the day-to-day life here and I think it’s important for council to weigh in and for council to actually take a position to support these workers.”
Molly Frick, the hospital’s director of human resources, said in a statement that the hospital awaits a return to the bargaining table after presenting its last offer to the union on Nov. 9.
“As of today, not only have we not received a counteroffer, we have not received any response,” she said in the statement. “We recognize a strike is a serious matter that deserves earnest action. Work stoppages at hospitals differ from those at industrial facilities. The very health and wellbeing of human lives are the responsibility of the entire team. We have heard from many union members that they’re ready to return to caring for patients and supporting operations. We encourage the SEIU to either respond to our offer or return to the bargaining table, so that our team members can return to work.