ARH nurses agree to new contract, strike ends

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Lexington, KY (WVLT) -- The Appalachian Regional Healthcare nurses strike lasted 83 days and prompted one medical unit to close.

Patients refuse to cross picket lines and neighbors came forward to help out the strikers with groceries and ten dollar bills.

Now those nurses could be back at work as early as Monday, after creating a headache for one of the larger health care providers in southeast Kentucky and West Virginia

But even with the strike over, neither side has said much about what drove the walkout in the first place, other than principles.

"We need to be back in the hospitals where we belong, taking care of our patients," said Wilma Jones of the Kentucky Nurses Association. "We love our community and that's what we do."

The deal they've approved promises to have 350 of them back in ARH hospitals and clinics by the end of January and the rest by April.

Management pledged a "significant reduction in forced overtime and committing to easing union concerns over working conditions, specifically in staffing, scheduling,
and seniority."

"We will be going back to work, not necessarily to the positions we had," said Jones. "Hopefully, before too long, everybody will be back in their old positions."

The contract pledges 80 percent of the employees will return to their old jobs.

But union members had to agree to let ARH keep 150 of the workers it hired to cover while the union was striking.

Allowing the non-union nurses to stay on the job is one of the reasons that 193 union nurses voted no.

It even caused ARH Hazard's bargaining unit to reject the new contract out-right.

Nevertheless, ARH's President claims nurses have bought themselves an excellent compensation and benefits package and a vote for quality patient care that improves the health and well-being of all communities served.

Four of ARH's nine hospitals are in Kentucky.

They are Hazard, Harlan, Middlesboro and Whitesburg.

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