Members of a union serving the Greater Alleghenies Region, American Red Cross Blood Services have voted to go on strike Sunday.

If that happens, services will go on uninterrupted, said Jim Starr, CEO of the Greater Alleghenies Region.

The Communications Workers of America Local 13000, which presents about 160 blood collectors, phlebotomists and drivers, has been negotiating with the ARC since November on a three-year contract.

Talks ended Monday without agreement, and no more are planned before Jan. 28.

“This means a strike is more likely ... but not definite,” Starr said.

Based in Johnstown, Pa., the Greater Alleghenies Region supplies blood products to 100 counties (in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia), 60 of which will be affected by the strike, including Marion and Monongalia.

He quickly added that services, such as blood drives, collections and distributions to health-care facilities, will go on as usual.

Blood products will be obtained from the center in Huntington, which is not affected by the strike, and from Greater Alleghenies’ 34 sister Red Cross regions across the country, and have already been ordered for the weekend from the national inventory center, he said.

“This is not a sustainable strategy, but it can be employed on an immediate and short-term basis. So we will be prepared to ensure our hospitals’ needs are continued to be met. But I’m hopeful it will not come to this.”

Red Cross disaster services, armed forces emergency services, health and safety training, and other services provided by local ARC chapters will not be affected.

Surgeries will go on as planned at Fairmont General Hospital, said FGH CEO Albert Pilkington III.

“We have a contingency plan for events like this ... for all disasters. I’ve never known the Red Cross to have an interruption any service for any reason whatever.

“They usually have a fair amount of inventory on hand for surgeries. For surgeries that are fairly blood-intensive, people may also give personal donations to themselves. We do this for certain religious faiths, for example.”

“I don’t anticipate any type of problem at all,” he said. “The public doesn’t have anything to worry about. There is no doubt in my mind.”

Starr said the outcome was “disappointing ... and unfortunate.”

The proposal included fair annual wage increases, increased holiday and vacation time, performance incentives and preserved a guaranteed 20 percent cap on the employees’ share of health insurance premiums. The sticking point was the so-called “me, too” language in the contract.

“It says that we’re asking for bargaining unit (or union) members to have the same health-care benefits as nonbargaining unit members and management,” Starr said.

He added that the same language is contained in other Red Cross region contracts that are represented by CWA and other regions represented by other unions (such as Huntington).

“It would allow the region to join other Red Cross regions to obtain health care as a unified system. There is purchasing power in numbers.

“For a strike to not happen,” Starr said, “the bargaining committee would have to present our offer to the membership for a vote.

“We’re very hopeful for a resolution, but we have to make sure we’re prepared for a potential work stoppage.”

Marge Krueger, chief negotiator for the CWA office in Pittsburgh, said members balked at the “me, too” clause.

“It would have diminished the level of benefits in health care for the workers we represent. In trying to reach an agreement, we tried to explore all aspects the impact this would have on our members. But the Red Cross would not supply the information.

“I would think that an organization like the Red Cross would fully understand how important it is to have quality, affordable and accessible health care. You need to have all three,” she said.

“They asked us to present their final offer for a vote. We came back with a counteroffer that would have avoided a strike, but they rejected that.

“Our members have already voted to go on strike. It was a very clear direction that they wanted to preserve the level of health-care benefits.

“For us to not go on strike, they would have to take another look at the last offer we presented them. We would be happy to go back to a bargaining table that would satisfy both parties. We’re not trying to be unreasonable.”

E-mail Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.

Recommended for you