10/27/07

Therapists pay for taking junk food to striking nurses

Two former recreational therapists at Hazard ARH Psychiatric Center have filed a lawsuit alleging that they were fired for taking sodas and snacks to picketing nurses on the first day the nurses went on strike against Appalachian Regional Healthcare.

The therapists, Cynthia Boggs of Leslie County and Amber Tye of London, filed the suit Wednesday in Perry Circuit Court. Candy Elkins, spokeswoman for ARH, said the company denies the allegations in the lawsuit.

During their 15-minute afternoon break Oct. 1, Boggs and Tye left the psychiatric center and went to the nearby Food City store, where they bought ice, sodas and snacks, then dropped them off for their friends on the picket line.

When Boggs and Tye returned to work, they say they were called into a meeting with their supervisor, the director of risk management and the center's administrator, who told them they had violated a directive prohibiting them from fraternizing with striking union members.

They say they were then told they were being suspended because they did not clock out when they left for the break. However, the lawsuit alleges that the women's supervisor had told them and other employees that they did not have to clock out for breaks if they stayed within a one-mile radius of ARH. It further claims that Hazard ARH's written employee policies and instructions for using the time system did not require them to clock out for breaks.

The women were notified Oct. 11 that they were being terminated from employment.

"It is pretty clear that Cynthia and Amber got caught in the middle between ARH and the union and were fired to send a message to other employees," the women's attorney, Cheryl Lewis, said in a press release. "It is regretful that these two fine employees lost their jobs over what amounts to a couple of packs of 'Nabs' and some pop."

More than 600 ARH nurses in Kentucky and West Virginia began striking Oct. 1 when their contract expired.

The nurses say they want better retirement and medical benefits and improved staffing levels.

ARH broke off negotiations with the nurses a few days before the contract expired.

The company's final offer included a 2 percent pay raise and schedules that would allow nurses to work 10- or 12-hour shifts.

(kentucky.com)

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