FAIRMONT — An international union is planning to sue the owners of Fairmont Regional Medical Center for unpaid wages and benefits to its members who worked at the hospital until its closure on March 19.
Members of Service Employees International Union District 1199 recently met with executives from Alecto Healthcare Services to bargain the impact the hospital’s closure had on employees. Administrators told the employees that Alecto would not be paying the wages or extend their healthcare coverage.
“This is a slap in the face to the people and patients of West Virginia during the largest health crisis the state has ever seen,” said Joyce Gibson, regional director for SEIU 1199 in a press release. “Hospital executives pleaded with our nurses and other healthcare providers to continue to provide quality care until the last day of operations, but then rewarded them by refusing to pay our members for their earned leave time like vacation, personal and sick leave.”
The press release also claims Fairmont Regional violated state and federal law by closing the hospital sooner than the originally-planned 60 days as stated on the federally-required WARN notice. Passed by Congress in 1988, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act was designed to protect employees by requiring most employers with 100 or more employees to provide 60 calendar days of advance notice of plant closings and mass layoffs.
Fairmont Regional’s WARN Notice stated it was laying off 528 employees.
Kathy McCormick, secretary treasurer of the SEIU District 1199, said hospital employees who left prior to its final day of operations last Thursday received pay for their banked time, while those who stayed until the end would not be getting the same treatment.
“What even is worse than all that, that they treat West Virginians that way, is the fact that they paid people who left them,” McCormick said. “So if I left before they closed the hospital, I got paid my banked time. But if I stayed with you and helped see you through, I don’t get it. You talk about dirty, that is dirty.”
Fairmont Regional closed its doors last Thursday with a sign off ceremony involving the last crew of employees and members of the Marion County Rescue Squad and other community officials. Hospital emergency department employees decided to continue working until the last day to ensure the community had emergency services.
McCormick said that for them to stay that long with the hospital and not get paid for their leave time is corrupt.
“Yeah we’re going to sue them,” McCormick said. “We’re going to file labor board charges, we’re going to take the grievances to arbitration. Even ones we probably wouldn’t normally take because they might not be good, we’ll take them.”
In February, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice held a meeting with officials of Fairmont Regional and local legislative representatives, to discuss the future of the hospital, which announced the layoffs and closure on Feb. 18. Del. Mike Caputo, (D-50), who was in the meeting, said Alecto is treating workers unfairly.
“It’s a shame that Alecto would do this to such loyal and dedicated individuals at Fairmont Regional,” Caputo said. “I bet they have money to pay lawyers and top executives, but they apparently don’t have money to pay the hard workers who gave their all for the people of Marion County.”
Del. Michael Angelucci, (D-50), also said the employees should receive their due wages.
“It’s the employees who dedicated themselves who tried to keep the hospital open as long as they could are the ones who are the biggest losers,” Angelucci said. “I implore that Alecto pay these employees what they deserve, what they were promised or I hope our court system will hold Alecto accountable.”
McCormick said the union will pursue the lawsuit and provide further updates as the legal matters progress. Overall, she said she disapproves of how Alecto operated Fairmont Regional, and the way it left the community and its employees.
“This employer cannot treat West Virginians like they’re second class citizens,” McCormick said. “It’s bad enough they closed the hospital, the only hospital in Marion County, they treat the community like a piece of crap and now workers who stayed with them, they’re treating worse than the people who left — that’s crazy.”
Officials of Alecto did not respond to messages asking for a comment by press time.