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Difficult circumstances, same stress, Kaleida labor negotiations carry on

"We need a competitive contract that helps recruit new healthcare professionals and retain experienced dedicated employees," said CWA 1168 President Cori Gambini.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Labor negotiations at Kaleida Health have entered the fifth month as union leaders announced plans to consider strike authorization as soon as next week.

The announcement came during an informational picket outside Buffalo General and Oishei Children’s Hospitals Thursday evening.

CWA 1168 and 1199 SEIU have been negotiating with Kaleida since March. Their previous 2019-2022 deal, which was set to expire on May 31, was extended twice but since the end of July, both unions have been without a contract.

Union leaders said the purpose of the picket was to call attention to the conditions in the hospital system that have placed a strain on employees and Kaleida itself.

“We're bargaining at a time of crisis in the healthcare industry,” said CWA area director Debora Hayes.

“As we confront years of understaffing, two years of the COVID pandemic and a decreasing size in the healthcare workforce.”

Since March tentative agreements on several issues have been reached but union leaders said there are financial aspects that still need to be worked out. As Western New York Area Labor Federation President Peter DeJesus Jr. put it, “the ball is in Kaleida’s court.”

The negotiating teams are set to return to the table Friday following Thursday’s very vocal display of frustration from Kaleida workers.

“The girls are running constantly you don't have time to breathe you don't have time to get quality care to our patients,” said Joanne Bower a Labor and Delivery Nurse at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital.

"I've been a registered nurse for 35 years and never experienced or seen staffing this bad,” said CWA 1168 President Cori Gambini.

Gambini said they’re demanding a competitive contract with increased wages, improved benefits, and guaranteed safe staffing to help recruit and retain staff.

But while union leaders fight for what is best for their members, they are also well aware of the difficult circumstances around them, as hospitals deal with significant losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Union leaders said their analysis showed Kaleida lost significant income during the statewide pause on elective surgeries.

As the largest private employer in Western New York, Kaleida Health has said it's making good progress with collective bargaining and that they remain committed to reclaiming its position as the market leader in wages, benefits, and staffing levels. Their current economic proposal is reportedly 30% higher than the cost of their last agreement, not including staffing-related costs.

To beat the recent contract signed by the Catholic Health System, Kaleida estimates it will need more than $180 million, over $100 million more than their previous 2019 contract.

Kaleida adds that they are committed to defined ratios as part of New York State’s clinical staffing rules and will look to hire 436 new FTEs (full-time equivalents).

As the union negotiating team weighs strike authorization, however, 1199 SEIU Bargaining Committee Member Jim Scordato was careful to say it will be the last resort.

“It's the last thing we want to do we want to take care of our patients, take care of this community that's what we do and the last thing we want to do is call for a strike,” Scordato said.

Any strike authorization would require a consensus vote by all 6,000+ union members. It is a multi-week process but if approved would also require 10 days notice to be provided to Kaleida.

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