On December 22, just in time for Christmas, striking nurses from eight hospitals in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia voted to accept a contract offer from their employer, Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH). The vote ended the strike that began October 1, 2007 and dragged on for nearly three months, causing financial hardship for both the striking nurses and the healthcare system.
At the outset of the strike, 600 of the 750 ARH nurses walked off the job. Dozens of nurses did not join the strike, citing obligations to the patients. During the course of the strike, about 100 more crossed the picket lines and returned to work. Approximately 500 nurses were still on strike at the time the new contract was ratified. As might be expected, a rift now exists between the nurses who either did not join in the strike, or see it through to the end, and those who stayed off the job for the long haul.
I have never had an affiliation with a union, nor do I come from a union family, so I don’t have passionate feelings one way or the other and I can see both sides of the story. While three months without a paycheck would be a financial bind for most workers, I can see that in certain situations, doing without would simply not be feasible and could, in fact, be dire. In the case of a single mother of young children, no second income, and no family support system nearby, homelessness could be a very real possibility.
On the other hand, those who remained off the job for the duration of the strike, putting pressure on the employer to agree to contractual changes, no doubt endured financial stresses, as well. Now, the nurses who did not strike will enjoy the benefits of the new contract brought about by the sacrifices of those who held out for three long months. Hard feelings would be difficult to avoid.
I wonder, now, about the working relationships of the two factions. Does resentment taint teamwork, does it affect patient care? I’m curious to know the answer. My hope is that all nurses remember that the bottom line is not the terms of the contract, not the sacrifices made or not made. The bottom line is the patient. It is always about the patient. If the resentment can’t be let go, it should, at least, be left outside the doors of the hospital.