Cabell Huntington Hospital receives temporary restraining order against striking union workers

West Virginia

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include the SEIU’s response to the temporary restraining order.

HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) – Cabell Huntington Hospital says it has received a signed temporary restraining order against those on the picket line outside the hospital.

According to the hospital, Cabell County Circuit Court Alfred Ferguson gave a verbal order on Wednesday, Nov. 10 claiming the Service Employees International Union District 1199 strike is “an impediment to the healing environment.”

The strike began two weeks ago when around 800 healthcare workers walked out of Cabell Huntington Hospital at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 3, after union members rejected the hospital’s “last best offer” for a contract after months of negotiation. Union members say they are striking in an attempt to prevent a cut in their benefits.

Last week, the stakes got even higher for union workers after the union officials said they learned all service and maintenance workers in the union have had their healthcare benefits cut off by the Cabell-Huntington Hospital administration.

The hospital says the order limits the picketers to no more than eight hours on the picket line during the day, and a maximum of four hours in the overnight hours.

The order also prohibits those on strike from:

  • “Engaging in or encouraging loud and boisterous conduct,” such as using bullhorns, air horns, loud music and honking
  • Using burn barrels near the Lung Health Center located near 13th Avenue and Elm Street.
  • Blocking, obstructing or hindering the use of the handicap curb cuts
  • Picketing, patrolling or gathering within 15 feet of the corner by the Emergency Department’s entrance
  • Interfering with traffic or hindering the use of the roads or streets
  • Doing anything to prevent the hospital from delivering medical services to the public
  • Tresspassing on hospital property
  • Having any direct communication with patients, visitors, employees, vendors and neutral trade union members who are going into or leaving the hospital
  • Picketing within 20 feet of a reserve gate used by neutral trade union workers or communicating in any way with those who are using the reserve gate.
  • Using vulgarities, obscenities or threats to intimidate hospital employees, patients, neutral trade union members and members of the general public.

“Sadly, the union and some of its supporters have chosen to ignore the TRO, and continue to violate the Judge’s order. The hospital remains committed to providing its patients an environment that is conducive to the healing process, and will take the steps necessary for our visitors, staff and vendors to feel comfortable on our campus. The temporary restraining order goes a long way in addressing activities on the picket line that have been disruptive to our patients, visitors and staff,” the hospital said.

The union responded to the hospital’s announcement this afternoon with the following statement claiming that this written order is “inconsistent with the transcripts” of the Nov. 10 hearing:

“Cabell Huntington Hospital (CHH) Executives are once again trying to scare and intimidate workers on the strike line, as well as patients and community by making outrageous alleged claims against our members’ conduct, while constitutionally practicing their right to strike over labor disputes.

Judge Alfred Ferguson signed an order inconsistent with the transcripts of our last hearing on Wednesday, November 10, when SEIU District 1199 met to address frivolous claims about our members conduct. The Judge was handed an order to sign by CHH attorneys that was inconsistent with his original ruling. We agreed with the Judge on his terms and believed it was fair, however this current TRO is not the same conditions we agreed to in court. We remain in compliance with the previous and current conditions laid out by the Judge in the TRO, which is in force until we go to court again on Monday, November 22.”

The constant tactic of CHH executives is to silence anyone who raises issue with their unfair labor practices, and bargaining contracts to detract from the reality that the CEO and CHH Board do not want to offer any transparency with their workers. They refuse to face their workers, NOT the Union, to admit that the CEO and Board Chair Beth Hammers are taking away 10 percent of their wages, increasing healthcare costs, reducing benefits and ending healthcare for all hospital retirees. CHH is willing to stick its workers so far in poverty they can’t provide for their families. This is the real issue at hand, not a false TRO complaint by hospital hypocrites.”

SEIU District 1199

The full order is available on the hospital’s website.

According to the union Cabell Huntington Hospital had initially requested a limit of only four picketers per station, removal of the picketers’ burn barrels, limiting the clean gate entrance to no observers and limiting all noise of any kind including chanting, honking, bullhorns, music and yelling.

The SEIU claims Judge Ferguson’s Nov. 10 order did not include limiting picketers including at the clean gate entrance. The union says that order allowed them to keep two observers at the gate at all times while other picketers stayed 15 feet back from the gate entrance.

They also say the hospital lost the argument to stop all noise, but the union said they did agree to enforce quiet hours between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. and the judge did order for noise to be reduced, meaning no bullhorns, air horns, loud music or signs encouraging drivers to honk.

According to the union, Judge Ferguson did order that the picketers must move back 15 feet from the Emergency Room entrance, but the union says they are still allowed to line up along the sidewalk on Hal Greer Boulevard because it is a public space.

The SEIU says they released the following statement the day Judge Ferguson gave his verbal order on Nov. 10.

“We believe Judge Ferguson acted fairly in his rulings. We are and have been acting in the abundance of respect and care for anyone needing medical care at Cabell-owned medical facilities. This injunction is just another diversion by CHH executives from addressing a good faith contract for our healthcare heroes who have worked tirelessly to provide quality, safe care of their patients, especially in the midst of this COVID pandemic. Hospital executives refuse to address the fact they are acting in bad faith.”

Joyce Gibson, SEIU District 1199, Secretary, Treasurer

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