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Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199 union workers in the service and maintenance units at Cabell Huntington Hospital begin their strike on Nov. 3, 2021, in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — Union service and maintenance workers who went on strike last week say their health care coverage has been cut off by Cabell Huntington Hospital.

Shawnda Garrett, a 33-year employee with the hospital who was on the picket line, said she found out Wednesday.

“I just found out like an hour ago that we don’t have any health insurance coverage, and it should have at least been good until the end of the month,” Garrett said.

The effective date for terminating the coverage was on the day of the strike, Nov. 4.

“This information was shared on the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 9, after one of our members shared with us that her prescription was rejected due to lack of insurance coverage,” the union said in a statement.

Sherri McKinney, organizing director at Service Employees International Union 1199, which is representing the union workers, said in the statement that the hospital was being cruel to the workers.

“When we get to the point of striking, we know that the relationship between workers and administration may be strained, but this has reached a point of cruelty that I truly could not have anticipated” McKinney’s statement said. “Without any notification to CHH employees on strike or retirees, they have cut all health care benefits to the Union membership. They did not even have the decency to offer COBRA rights as a courtesy to the hardworking caregivers that have been the backbone of this hospital.”

The hospital responded to a request for comment just before 4 p.m. Wednesday.

“We’re disappointed the SEIU District 1199 leadership did not inform its members of the consequences of participating in a strike before holding a vote to authorize the strike and requiring members to participate in one,” Molly Frick, director of human resources, said in the statement. “Union leadership was well aware that a strike would result in the cessation of pay and benefits. Any employee who wishes to return to work will have all benefits restored, including health care insurance.”

Both sides were in Cabell County Circuit Court on Wednesday after the hospital filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop some of the actions by the striking workers near the hospital. The hearing took place before Cabell County Circuit Judge Alfred Ferguson.

Witnesses for the hospital, which included security and the director of nursing, said the striking workers were sometimes on hospital property, being very loud, blocking roadways and entrances and causing several other issues affecting patient care.

Hospital security testified that rocks had been thrown at hospital vehicles from the area on 17th Street where a picket line was set up.

Andrea Criss, director of nursing at the hospital, told the court that she had personally received several complaints about the loud cheering, honking horns and smoke coming into the facility from wood being burned in barrels by those on the picket lines.

“One family complained they couldn’t have a last peaceful moment with a loved one due to the loud noises,” Criss said.

Criss said it was also impacting flight nurses and HealthNet pilots who said they were not getting needed rest due to loud noises.

Other hospital officials testified that the striking workers were having a negative impact on patient care by claiming patients were being harassed by those on strike at entrances and some patients with delirium were having panic attacks that could be caused by all the noise.

The hospital also asked for a cease-and-desist order against the union for posting pictures of those crossing the picket line on Facebook.

After Ferguson granted a temporary injunction, both sides released statements.

“Cabell Huntington Hospital was granted temporary injunctive relief, which prohibits the union’s picket-line misconduct, which has been ongoing since the commencement of the strike,” Frick said in the statement from the hospital.

She said the temporary restraining order prohibits the union and its supporters from activities including intimidating and threatening patients, visitors, contractors and employees. It also prohibits them from making loud noises that have disturbed hospital patients through the use of bullhorns, loud music, amplifying devices, air horns, megaphones, whistles and similar activity.

Frick added that the order prohibits them from honking horns and encouraging drivers to honk, blocking hospital entrances and interfering with traffic entering or exiting the hospital’s campus or to make threatening, intimidating or vulgar statements to anyone attempting to enter or exit the hospital’s campus.

Ferguson said individuals violating the order may be held in contempt of court.

“The hospital has respected the members’ right to strike and engage in peaceful picketing, but the activities on the picket line have been disruptive to our patients and must discontinue,” Frick said at the end of her statement.

Joyce Gibson, an officer with the union, issued a statement saying the hospital tried to limit pickets to only four people per station, but the judge did not grant it.

“The hospital tried to take our burn barrels, but they did not get them all,” Gibson said. “We kept all but one and agreed to use propane heat at the Lung Center Picket Station 4.”

Gibson said the hospital tried to limit the clean gate entrance to zero observers, but it did not get it granted in the order.

“We kept two observers there at all times, but other picketers must stay back 15 feet from gate entrance and no yelling obscenities,” she said.

Gibson said the union agreed to do quiet hours from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. and to stop using “Honk for Support” signs.

“However, he was clear the union cannot stop the public from honking on their own,” she said. “We agreed to move back 15 feet from the ER entrance; however, we can line up the sidewalk all the way down Hal Greer Boulevard to picket if we want. It’s public space,” she said.

A permanent injunction hearing will take place before Cabell County Circuit Judge Chris Chiles, but a date has not been scheduled.

Fred Pace is the business reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Follow him at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

Fred has been in the newspaper industry for 30+ years. He continues to be excited to bring readers news that only comes thru local journalism. “Being able to share the passion felt by entrepreneurs in our community with readers is exciting,” he said.

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