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Huntington Hospital Strike Ends In Narrow Vote

 SEIU District 1199 members meet outside Cabell Huntington Hospital to protest a rollback in benefits.
David Adkins / WVPB
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SEIU District 1199 members meet outside Cabell Huntington Hospital to protest a rollback in benefits.

Hospital workers in Huntington have ended their strike after almost a month on the picket line.

About 900 lab technicians, housekeepers and other workers walked off the job on Nov. 3. Members of the Service Employees International Union District 1199 accepted Cabell Huntington Hospital's latest offer Wednesday night in a close vote.

“To say it was close is an understatement,” said union organizer Sherri McKinney who did not disclose the vote tally. “There was definitely a group of people that were ready to go back, that they thought this contract was good enough ... But there's also a group of workers who weren't necessarily ready to get back. They thought that they had the strength in them to fight for a little more.”

McKinney said the workers put up a unified front on the picket line and were supported by others in Huntington.

“It's difficult to go back, when you've been faced with so many challenges. But at the same time, people are excited to go back,” McKinney said.

The hospital said the contract lasts three years, expiring in November of 2024. Workers could return to their jobs as early as Friday.

“We value all of our employees as each plays an important role in delivering reliable, quality care to our patients,” said Tim Martin, chief operating officer for Cabell Huntington Hospital. “We are committed to being the best employer in the region with outstanding wages and benefits and this contract confirms that. We look forward to welcoming back our coworkers and resuming normal operations.”

The contract now has annual wage increases and better pay for late night and overtime shifts.

Health care coverage had been the crux of the dispute. Retirees over 65 lost their employer based health insurance plans.. Younger retirees will have to pay to keep their plans. Current workers will start paying health care premiums in 2023.

“We were still able to get those insurance premiums on a tiered system so it’s more affordable for workers who may make less money,” McKinney said.

The hospital has said it is reasonable for workers to pitch in on those costs.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.

Copyright 2021 West Virginia Public Broadcasting

June Leffler