Striking nurses lose their jobs

Registered nurses on the picket lines against a local healthcare system know that they may not have a job once the strike ends. Appalachian Regional Healthcare Inc. is in the process of hiring permanent replacement nurses to fill vacancies left when members of the Kentucky and West Virginia nurses associations walked off the job at midnight Sunday. Depending on how many of those positions are filled, some nurses who don’t have seniority or specific qualifications may find themselves without a job.

Tim Hatfield, community CEO for Williamson ARH, said yesterday that hospital officials are taking applications and the nurses hired through that process will be permanent. He explained that the new nurses must fill out a form that says they are fully aware that they are replacing a nurse who is on strike.

“We want to take care of our patients and we have reached an impasse (with the nurses associations),” Hatfield said, justifying the hiring of new nurses. Hatfield said that members of the nurses associations have changed their positions several times as to why they are on strike. “It’s a moving target. We’re not sure if we know what they want right now,” he said.

Because the strike is an economic one and the nurses voluntarily left their positions when they walked out, Hatfield said it is perfectly legal to hire replacement nurses. Once the strike is over, nurses will be called back based on seniority and their specific qualifications. For example, the hospital will not put a pediatric nurse in the position formerly held by an intensive care unit nurse.

Hatfield said that despite information put out that there is a shortage of nurses in the area, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College as well as Pikeville College have nursing programs that turn out a large number of qualified candidates that can be hired.

Hatfield also said a memorandum has been sent by ARH officials to the nurses associations asking for an appointment so the two sides can sit down and review the proposed contract that will take effect Oct. 15 even if the strike is not settled.

On Tuesday, KNA/WVNA chief negotiator Kathy Tanner said the striking nurses are well aware that their jobs may be filled by someone else once the strike ends.

“The answer to your question is ‘Yes,’” Tanner said. “But they are not tied to ARH. Other hospitals have already called wanting their services. ... If ARH won’t let them work, I guess we’ll have to find them other jobs.”

Tanner maintained that the nurses do not want to be on strike.

“We really don’t want to be out here,” she said. “We’re not happy about this, but they forced us out.”

Tanner said the nurses feel “abused” and “taken advantage of,” but they are holding their own on the picket lines.

“They are strong, they are bright and they are committed,” Tanner said of the nurses at Williamson ARH after visiting there.

According to ARH officials, more than 130 nurses system-wide have crossed the picket line and returned to work. Though Hatfield said he could not comment on the number who have crossed the Williamson ARH line, reports are that two of the nearly 70 registered nurses have returned to work.


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