Cabell Huntington Hospital board gets worker complaints

May 2, 2019

HUNTINGTON — Cabell Huntington Hospital employees with Service Employees International Union 1199 voiced a few nondescript grievances to hospital leadership Tuesday evening during Cabell Huntington’s monthly board of directors meeting in Huntington.

Dozens of union employees lined up outside the executive board room — as not to break fire code — while Cabell Huntington union representative Kristi Bell addressed the board for around five minutes on their behalf.

Bell said the union employees felt “overlooked” as an integral part to keeping Cabell Huntington successful and profitable, but did not mention a specific instance before the board. Bell did take exception to a recent 12-question, anonymous personnel survey that asked, among other things, if employees would prefer being paid based on experience or performance.

Bell added that the union remains in good standing with the administration and did not want to see any disruptions going forward.

Emails sent Tuesday morning to SEIU regional leadership for clarification about the complaints were not returned.

Cabell Huntington president and CEO Kevin Fowler further explained to the board that the SEIU felt those questions may have been a contract violation, though he and the administration “100 percent disagree.” Hospital leadership declined further comment.

SEIU 1199, a Columbus, Ohio-based wing of one of North America’s largest labor unions, represents thousands of health care employees in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. At Cabell Huntington, those employees include sanitarians, housekeeping, maintenance, pharmacy techs, patient care assistants and other service trades. Around 870 of Cabell Huntington’s roughly 2,900 employees are SEIU members.

Cabell Huntington employees have had SEIU representation since 1975 and are currently in the middle of a five-year contract signed in 2016 between the hospital and union.

But over the past 12 months, the SEIU has openly opposed moves by both Cabell Huntington and St. Mary’s Medical Center, which Cabell Huntington acquired in May 2018.

In August, SEIU members demonstrated outside St. Mary’s in a push to unionize its employees. Though Cabell Huntington and St. Mary’s are now under one health system, their personnel matters are directed separately and SEIU’s current contract only allows them to negotiate on behalf of Cabell Huntington employees. St. Mary’s employees have not been unionized since.

The SEIU accused St. Mary’s leadership of coercing and intimidating employees against forming a union. A hospital spokesman countered after the rally that most of those involved in it were not

not hospital employees, and that the hospital already provides competitive wages and benefits to its workers.

In November, the union protested outside Huntington City Hall in opposition of a deal for Huntington City Council to exchange its right to name three people to Cabell Huntington’s board for $1 million. Council did approve the deal, as did the Cabell County Commission, which had previously traded its three appointments for $1 million.

The union contested the deal would limit the public’s input on how the hospital is run.

The hospital argued the move would allow the hospital to be governed by individuals more attuned to running a medical facility.