|By Ralph B. Davis, The Floyd County Times, Prestonburg, Ky.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
The hospital and
SEIU 1199 director
According to Gibson, while the hospital currently provides health insurance to employees and their spouses, Highlands is proposing to eliminate spouse coverage, while at the same time doubling premiums, deductibles and total out-of-pocket costs.
But Highlands labor attorney and negotiating team leader
"While we are working in good faith to produce a fair labor contract, the union appears to be willing to blow up the process with a public relations campaign designed to do damage to the medical center during the final stages of the negotiations," Flannery said.
Gibson said that is not the case. She said employees want to work, but added that they are prepared to do whatever is necessary to protect themselves from the hospital's demands.
"We want to avoid a strike, if at all possible," Gibson said. "But the workers have voted to allow the negotiating committee to send a strike notice, if necessary."
Currently, there appears to be little room for compromise, with union reps saying the hospital's proposed cuts to employee benefits are too severe, while the hospital counters that it must reduce costs to remain competitive and cope with financial stress.
Hospital President and CEO
"The health care market has changed dramatically as well, and Obamacare has hurt many rural hospitals," Warman said. "
But workers say they are in an even more vulnerable position.
"They say that the hospital is in financial stress, peril, that they're facing multiple losses," Burkett said. "But I don't think those costs should be made up on the backs of the workers."
In addition, Burkett said the hospital's proposal to eliminate spouse coverage feels like an unfair attack.
"Highlands, the corporation, might take something off my back, but I won't stand for anyone taking anything off of my wife," he said.
However, Warman said it would be wrong to view the disagreement in those terms.
"Although the union sees the concept of moving spouses off of the insurance plan as an 'attack,' it is actually an idea of the Affordable Care Act, which was supported by SEIU," Warman said. "The health insurance exchange provides a means for spouses to get coverage that may even be subsidized by the government. We have a lot to consider, but we know that there are several ways lowering the cost of health coverage can be achieved and we are working to find the best solution for all."
Highlands chief financial officer and negotiating team member
"We understand that people get very emotional when it comes to wages and benefits," Blackwell said. "Our goal is to try to find a way to improve our financial condition and still remain competitive in the market on wages and benefits. We all have enjoyed a very generous health insurance plan in the past, but the bottom line is that it is a whole new marketplace out there as far as health insurance is concerned, and some employees believe that all health care should be 100 percent free because they work in a hospital. What they don't realize is that there is a true cost to providing those services. It's just not practical to expect that it be given away."
"Nobody wants a strike," Justice said. "Everybody would like to settle. But if it comes down to it, we're ready to do it again. If you're out there for a just cause, you do what you have to do."
The two sides are scheduled to resume talks Tuesday at the Carriage House and continue negotiating until Wednesday. If no deal is reached by the end of Wednesday, the union could issue a strike notice as early as Thursday.
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