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Kentucky Hospital Workers Reach Settlement After 15-Year Struggle

PITTSBURGH, Jan. 18, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Almost 15 years after joining the United Steelworkers (USW), 200 workers at Kentucky River Medical Center (KRMC) in Jackson, Ky., reached a tentative agreement on a contract with the hospital's owners.

(Logo:  http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20080131/DC12982LOGO)

The workers voted in May of 1998 to join the USW, but union-busting tactics employed by the KRMC's owners, Tennessee-based health care giant Community Health Systems (CHS), resulted in more than a decade of delays.

Over the years, the company refused to bargain in good faith, fired workers for union activity, brought in replacements, unilaterally changed conditions of employment, and committed numerous other infractions. Even when they lost court cases, KRMC often refused to abide by the orders and appealed the decisions. 

In 2011, the hospital was found to be in contempt and ordered back to the bargaining table under one of the strictest orders in the history of the National Labor Relations Board. Almost all of the fired workers were reinstated, and the company was forced to pay nearly $750,000 in back wages. 

USW International President Leo W. Gerard said the length of the KRMC workers' struggle proves that reforms are necessary to U.S. labor law to ensure that workers get the recognition they deserve in a timely manner.

"It's outrageous that these workers had to wait 15 years for a contract because of one greedy company," Gerard said. "We're happy to see that this day has come, but we must work to make sure this never happens again."

The USW reached a one-year agreement that includes strong provisions on seniority, grievance and arbitration, and contract work, as well as above-market pay increases. The workers will vote on the agreement next week.

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