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“This Is Union Territory” - 1,000 West Virginia Hospital Workers Strike To “Build Back Better”

Published Monday, November 8, 2021
by Mike Elk/
“This Is Union Territory” - 1,000 West Virginia Hospital Workers Strike To “Build Back Better”

(HUNTINGTON, WEST VIRGINIA) – In the parking lot outside of Cabell Huntington’s Emergency Department, Workers gather in front of a fire bin.  Heather Jordan, a middle-aged secretary, approaching retirement age at the hospital, is standing with other Workers trying to warm themselves as the temperature drops into the 30s.  It’s was freezing cold on the first day of the Strike at Cabell Huntington Hospital, where more than 1,000 Workers are participating.  For Jordan, who participated in a Strike at the hospital in 1998, it’s bringing back a lot of feelings.

“Kind of feels like deja vu,” Jordan says. “It feels very powerful.  Just to stand together with my union brothers and sisters.”

Huntington, the largest city in West Virginia whose population hovers around 47,000, is a city with a proud Union history, but now the Ohio River Valley town is now writing a new chapter as these 1,000 Health Care Workers - Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199 West Virginia/Kentucky/Ohio Members, are on Strike at Cabell Huntington Hospital.

Three miles down the road, another 500 Workers are on Strike at Special Metals.

The town has already rallied behind the striking Workers, even helping a group of 50 Machinists at Sulzer Pump win an improved Union contract following a two-week Strike at their employer.

“This is Union territory,” says Zan Dick, a 34-year-old Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) whose mother was involved in the 1974 Nurses’ Strike at the hospital. “You know, you don’t come in here and try to go back to take it over and say, well, you know, we as management know what’s best for you.”

Dick is proud of the Union history of Huntington.

He says that while many Workers feared the blame that would be placed on them by some in the community for striking at the hospital, he points to the success of the West Virginia Teachers’ Strike in 2018 that helped persuade many workers that the public would rally behind them - just like the public did in West Virginia over the Teachers’ Strikes.

“That was a big portion of it,” says Dick. “And seeing the Teachers get out there and do that and see their support kind of emboldened you because you’re thinking like, ‘If the Teachers can get out there, and they get what they deserve, we came to, you know, anybody can do it.’”

Dick is a father of three and has another kid on the way.

The hospital’s plan to cut back on health insurance could bankrupt him if he or one of his children becomes sick.

He’s determined to fight back against the hospital as his mother did nearly 47 years ago in 1974.

“We have kept this health insurance the way it is since the 1970s,” says Dick. “They’ve worked so hard for us.  And if we take one step back now it’s gonna be five, ten times harder to win back.  We have to make a stand in the dirt here.”

As an Essential worker, Dick worked long, frightening hours at the hospital during the Coronavirus Pandemic and like many Hospital Workers, he feels the hospital betrayed many Workers there: “They treated us like heroes at first.  They were restaurants dropping off food. The hospital was treating us like heroes, but then as the pandemic went on, things went back to normal.  We went back to being understaffed and now they are asking us for cuts.  It’s like they just saw the pandemic as a way to make money.”

While many Workers feel betrayed by the hospital’s push to cut Workers’ benefits, pay, and holiday time-off following the pandemic, they add that a new sense of solidarity emerged among the Health Care Workers.

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