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With a new contract in place, the focus for Kaleida Health and unions will now be on hiring

It was the longest and most contentious negotiation period in recent history, but union leadership and Kaleida say they have a unified goal.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Union workers at Kaleida Health officially have a new three-year labor contract in place after six months of negotiating.

Of the members who voted, 91% of 1199 SEIU members ratified the deal, and 74% of CWA Local 1168 members voted in favor.

It was the longest and most contentious negotiation period in recent history, but union leadership and Kaleida say their unified goal is now hiring.

"Our recruitment and retention strategy will be much more aggressive moving forward," Kaleida spokesperson Michael P. Hughes said.

Both sides admit filling existing vacancies and an additional 500 jobs included in their new labor contract won't be easy. The tight labor market has been especially impactful in the field of healthcare.

"People are going to say we already have 1,000 openings and you're just adding another 500 on top of that, but it's work we have to do," 1199 SEIU Vice President James Scordato said.

The contract covers over 6,000 workers, and all of them regardless of position will be getting a minimum 12% wage increase retroactive to June 1. The labor deal will expire on May 31, 2025.

Current staff will be eligible for daily incentive bonuses. There are also bonuses for long-term employees and workers who pick up shifts on the weekend. Union leaders say the contract seeks to limit the use of agency and travel nurse staff, which can be costly for health care companies but necessary in a pinch.

"Last year [Kaleida] spent $100 million on agency staff, and I think everybody and Kaleida Health agree, if we're going to spend that money, we want to spend it on our current employees," Scordato said.

Varying staffing ratios based on department were also agreed to in the labor deal but will be reliant on hiring. Nurses have complained about caring for 10 patients at once amid the staffing shortage.

CWA Local 1168 President Cori Gambini said critical care for example would see ratios of 1:2 or 1:1.

Two new union positions will also be created to make sure those ratios are being abided by. Hospitals across the state are still in the process of adapting to new legislation that sets minimum staffing levels.

One hope for hiring is, with the leading healthcare contract in Western New York now, new employees or previous staff will be more encouraged to come back.

"It's not going to be easy and it's going to take time. You know healthcare is going through a massive transformation, there's been an awful lot of resignations and retirements. People who left for travel opportunities we've started to see some of those workers come back but we have to get more aggressive," Hughes said.

CWA Local 1168 President Cori Gambini said overall the response to the contract ratification has been positive, but they recognize not everyone will be happy with every aspect. They hope to have further discussions with members to determine what leadership may have missed and adapted for the next negotiation in 2025.

She said relationship building with Kaleida will be key to that future, and she's encouraged by their starting point. The two sides are already planning to meet next week to discuss hiring plans like how to attract college students and recent graduates. 

"I think through a lot of discussion, going through negotiations and some language that we did put into the contract, that we can just build a very professional relationship because our goal is exactly the same, it's to take care of our patients," Gambini said.

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