BUFFALO, N.Y. — The vote is in. Two unions representing thousands of Kaleida Health workers have voted in favor of a strike authorization vote. This means workers will now have a chance to decide whether they want to strike or not.
Now if the majority votes yes, the bargaining committee can move ahead to issue a 10-day strike notice to Kaleida. The vote comes a week after the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and United Healthcare Workers East (1199SEIU) held an informal picket. Both unions say wages and staffing remain top priorities in a new deal.
“The staffing crisis at our hospitals is only getting worse, and after months of negotiating with Kaleida Health, demanding they take our concerns seriously and work with us to protect our patients, we’re at a breaking point,” said Cori Gambini, president, CWA Local 1168 and a registered nurse.
“Striking is our last resort, but members have been risking their own health and the health of their families to provide care for Buffalo during the pandemic and amidst unbearable staffing shortages. As the largest hospital system and the biggest provider of care for the Buffalo community, we need a contract that will allow Kaleida to recruit and retain staff. The bargaining committee hopes that Kaleida will present a proposal that alleviates the stress put on our members due to low staffing levels and ensures Buffalo residents receive the quality care they deserve.”
Employees will have the chance to vote from Sept. 13 to Sept. 15. Votes will be counted on the final day.
“We want to take care of our patients, our families, and our community, but short staffing is a huge problem at Kaleida right now. The last thing that we want to do is strike. Workers across Kaleida facilities are seeing their colleagues leave due to low wages, inadequate staffing, and a lack of respect on the job. Improving this working environment is Kaleida’s responsibility and they can start by agreeing to a contract that finally addresses what members have been demanding for months,” said Jim Scordato, 1199SEIU vice-president for WNY hospitals.
“It is our goal to reach an agreement that we can take back to our membership to ratify, but we are still far apart on the economics and safe staffing levels. Yesterday, our joint bargaining committee unanimously voted to ask our membership for a strike authorization vote. Our committee is united to fight for safe staffing levels and fair wage increases that will help to recruit and retain the local workers we desperately need."
A Kaleida Health spokesperson released the following statement Tuesday evening:
“As an organization, we remain committed to reclaiming our position as market leaders in wages, benefits and staffing levels and will continue to negotiate the best possible agreement for our employees. Our current proposed economic package already accomplishes each of these objectives and will put the organization on firm footing to continue providing excellent patient care and meeting the healthcare needs of all Western New Yorkers.
“We understand that CWA and 1199SEIU’s bargaining team has chosen to hold a strike authorization vote among its membership. While the unions have said that a strike authorization vote will help put “pressure” on Kaleida Health,” we are fully aware of the importance of these negotiations to bargaining unit employees and the organization alike.
“Important to note, a vote by the CWA and 1199SEIU membership to authorize a strike does not necessarily mean that a strike is inevitable. That said, we firmly believe that a strike will cause significant and longstanding harm to Kaleida Health and the community in general. This harm would include the financial condition of Kaleida Health, which is already fragile and thereby put into jeopardy the financial ability of the organization to pay for that which has been offered to date.
“In addition, we have been in contact with the New York State Department of Health to ensure their awareness and review of our contingency plans. Patient access will remain paramount as the community will depend on us to continue providing vital healthcare services no matter the duration or location of a potential work stoppage.”