Mercy Hospital strike: Union committed to work ‘as long as it takes’ to reach agreement

(WIVB) – Leaders from the CWA and Catholic Health met at the bargaining table Tuesday morning and had a “lengthy, productive discussion” regarding staffing – but the upstate New York director of the union says the strike will not end until they have a complete contract for members to vote on.

“We will not end the strike until we have a complete and comprehensive contract we can take back to our members for a vote,” Debbie Hayes, upstate New York director for CWA said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

The union did present Catholic health with a comprehensive economic package proposal Tuesday that includes getting the union’s low-wage workers above the $15/hour mark and closer to a living wage, Hayes said.

Hayes said that the package did not include a staffing proposal, because the union is waiting for some additional information from Catholic Health.

“Staffing is really our core issue – we want to take our time with that one and make sure we get it right,” Hayes said. “A number of our members right now, they’re telling us wages are secondary – you have to deal with what’s going on at the bedsides and in the hospital.”

 “We will not take anything back piecemeal, or for one bargaining unit and not another bargaining union,” Hayes added. “We will go back as one comprehensive package.”

The union is looking to get ahead of New York’s new “safe staffing” law for hospitals and nursing homes, which will require those organizations to have minimum staffing levels for nurses and other direct care staff.

“What we’re trying to do is get Catholic Health to talk about ratios, because at the end of the day, that’s what we’ll have to have in place,” Hayes said. “A nurse has to be able to go in and look at how many patients they’ll have assigned to them every shift. We’re at the bargaining table, let’s get it done. It’s not going to be able to happen overnight. That’s really what we’re talking about right now. ”

In a Tuesday press release, Catholic Health agreed that the in-person discussion was productive, and that the chief nursing officers from Kenmore Mercy Hospital, Mercy Hospital, and Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus participated in the session to answer questions from the union about staffing.

“Staffing is a challenge facing all healthcare providers in Buffalo, New York and across the nation,” JoAnn Cavanaugh said. “Some reports show that, throughout the country, nearly one in five healthcare workers have quit their jobs during the pandemic. The staffing concerns our associates have shared are not unique to Catholic Health. We share their frustration, which is why we continue to aggressively recruit staff to Catholic Health and are discussing new ideas with the union to address this ongoing issue.”

Tuesday is day five of the strike.

“We’ve been bargaining all day. We’ve had a lot of discussion of our core issues of staffing, healthcare and wages,” said Erin Spaulding, a staff representative for CWA.

She said the workers’ biggest issues are staffing and wages.

“We just don’t have enough staff and we haven’t been able to retain staff with the wages we have right now,” Spaulding said.

The workers remain committed to striking as long as it takes to reach an agreement, she said.

Negotiations remain ongoing.

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