The nearly three-month strike by registered nurses at Appalachian Regional Healthcare hospitals in West Virginia and Kentucky is slated to end after a majority of the nurses voted to ratify a new contract with the hospital chain, union negotiators said.

“They should all be able to go home, get off the picket line and get ready to come back to work,” Pat Tanner, chief negotiator for the Kentucky and West Virginia nurses associations, said Saturday night.

Tanner said the majority of striking nurses at ARH hospitals in Beckley and Summers County, and at seven other ARH facilities in Kentucky, voted to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement with Appalachian Regional Healthcare. She declined to disclose the actual vote.

More than 600 of ARH’s 700 registered nurses walked off the job after the old contract expired Sept. 30, and about 500 were still on strike when a tentative agreement between both sides was reached Thursday.

The agreement guarantees that 350 nurses will be back to work by Jan. 31, Tanner said. All remaining nurses will return to work by or before March 1.

“We left no nurse behind,” she said.

The hospital system had hired about 150 replacement workers during the strike.

Tanner said Saturday one of the union’s concerns in negotiations was safe staffing levels. If the replacement nurses were to stay with ARH hospitals, they would be required to join the union.

Tanner declined to release further details of the agreement Saturday night, saying a news release would be issued later.

“This vote is the best thing that could happen to ARH, the nurses and the community,” she said. “We hope that this will help the hospitals’ viability, open closed units and contribute to quality care.”

Beckley-ARH Community CEO Rocco Massey relayed a statement Saturday night through a spokesperson in which he said he was pleased the union nurses had voted to ratify the contract.

“We are looking forward to putting this behind us, and we are anxious to get everyone back to work, in accordance with the return-to-work agreement,” he said.

The strike took a financial toll on at least two hospitals, forcing dozens of layoffs and one unit to close. ARH officials said some patients were refusing to cross picket lines, causing a drop in revenue. Seventeen United Steelworkers employees at Beckley-ARH were laid off and the fourth floor of the hospital was closed earlier this month. The United Steelworkers positions consisted of support staff such as licensed practical nurses and clerical workers.

— E-mail:

apridemore@register-herald.com

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