BUFFALO, N.Y. — Monday, November 1 marked the start of the second month of that strike involving CWA Union workers and Catholic Health's Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo.
But 2 On Your Side also looked at the overall labor movement and its political power at Mercy Hospital and elsewhere.
First off with the Mercy strike, we heard over the weekend there was another close call in resolving the job action early Sunday morning, both sides were said to be close to a settlement before negotiations on that difficult issue of staffing ratios for nurses and patients broke down once again.
Whoever is to blame with the finger-pointing between Catholic Health and the CWA union, this was just one of the numerous strikes in the US for the month of October. With everything from the John Deere Tractor firm and the UAW in a strike (that was recently just settled) to Kellogg's cereal workers walking off the job and others, it was actually called 'Strike-tober' by some observers.
Beyond this Mercy strike, there has been an ongoing strike for nurses since March for a hospital in the Boston area. And again it's over the safe staffing ratio for patients and nurses.
But it's a tough situation for all as one labor analyst puts it. Art Wheaton with the Cornell School of Industry and Labor Relations says "You got enough things to worry about if you're in the hospital with serious illness - you don't want to be worried about replacement workers and the protests outside, you just want it to get better - so having it in healthcare is very tough in this environment."
The CWA has actually touted its political strength with various Democratic elected officials including Governor Hochul joining them in solidarity on the picket line. And that extends to the Biden Administration on the CWA Political Action Fund website. It also points to success in its lobbying with the New York state legislature for that safer staffing ratio negotiation requirement which takes effect for hospital management next year.
Wheaton says he has even heard a recent push by some in the union to have people go to Wegmans stores and ask about the store chain's executives. That is because it's been determined that one of them sits on the Catholic Health System Board of Directors. He says It's not a boycott or any job action against Wegmans but it does apply some subtle pressure.
As Wheaton pints out "It's a big problem. People are having a hard time hiring employees and working lots of extra hours and feeling with the pandemic it's added stress to almost everything. That's whether it's wearing PPE or whether it's working long hours and being tired."
The national CWA parent union does mention its $425 million strike fund to help carry striking workers who are now also losing their healthcare insurance per Catholic Health officials. Wheaton feels that is sure to ratchet up the tension between the union and management of the healthcare system.
Now, the CWA is also looking at results after surveying its 8,000 members who work for Kaleida Health. They want to see what those union members want in a new agreement with that WNY area health care as their contract expires next May.
But for now, for Mercy Hospital and its striking employees, there is the renewed observation at this point that no really wins in a strike despite the stated goals.
Catholic Health is still losing millions of dollars as it pays high rates for replacement workers from the Michigan - based Huffmaster firm.
And Wheaton says for the striking workers and its union "There is no big pot of money anywhere. That this is all coming out of the members whether their dues or through their strike fund. And it does run out and it creates problems. They're asking for donations to bring food. People are donating food and firewood and even bales of hay for them - for those living on farms."