HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) – Nurses and technical workers with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199 WV/KY/OH met at Hal Greer Boulevard outside of Cabell Huntington Hospital this evening, Tuesday, July 7 to express their concerns regarding contract negotiations.

The SEIU says negotiations have not included any wage increases and hospital executives have allegedly proposed decreased starting wage rates for nurses and technical workers. The union also claims “extreme healthcare costs” have been imposed on hospital workers. Nurses say they also continue to be short-staffed.

“Workers with Cabell Huntington Hospital were heroes in our community long before this pandemic,” said Joyce Gibson, Regional Director with SEIU District 1199 WV/KY/OH. “They are standing together and speaking out because they know how important it is that they have a voice on the job – safe hospital staffing saves lives.”

Mike Mullins, president and CEO, Mountain Health Network, says the SEIU did not advise the hospital of its event, and hospital officials learned about it through social media.

“We are concerned the SEIU has chosen to invite the community to a press event in front of Cabell Huntington Hospital (CHH) today. Despite regularly scheduled meetings and communications, SEIU leadership did not advise us of their plans which we learned about via a social media post,” Mullins said. “With the increased COVID numbers, we would not recommend a public gathering and want to remind everyone to be safe: wear their masks, maintain 6-feet of social distance and wash their hands.”

Mullins also says limited elective procedures and significantly reducing access to hospitals from March to May caused staggering financial losses, and even while CARES Act funds have helped offset the losses, Mountain Health Network will still need to continue making “prudent decisions” to manage the short and long-term impacts of the pandemic and manage hospital resources.

He also says the health system continued to pay medical and dental premiums, sick time and unemployment for staff despite having to furlough nearly 2,700 staff members. According to Mullins, Mountain Health Network has also continued to pay all staff above market and scheduled annual raises.

According to the SEIU, Cabell Huntington Hospital received $46,209,463 in funding under the CARES Act and St. Mary’s Medical Center was issued $25,221,816. In May, St. Mary’s Medical Center submitted documents to the State of West Virginia Health Care Authority that indicated that they planned to spend over $10 million to acquire the Huntington Internal Medicine Group, according to the union.

Nurses at Cabell Huntington Hospital joined SEIU District 1199 in November 2019. Technical workers with Cabell Huntington Hospital joined SEIU District 1199 in February 2020.

The hospital says negotiations for the new contract that will impact approximately 975 Cabell Huntington Hospital nurses began in January 2020, and negotiations for the separate SEIU technical staff contract began in June.

“While some companies have taken the position that contract negotiations should be postponed during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, Cabell Huntington Hospital leadership has remained committed to continue bargaining, while also dedicating critical resources to patient care,” Mullins said.  

Mullins also says the hospital continues to operate at 90-95% of previous volumes after two months of reopen. He says the SEIU failed to represent this as well as the contract negotiations and current status of the pandemic fairly to the public.

“We will continue to negotiate with the SEIU professionally, respectfully and in good faith in all matters involving our employees.  We would expect the same in return,” Mullins said.