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Union is Firm: If No Deal, Strike at South Buffalo Mercy Hospital Starts 6 a.m. Friday

Bargaining unit says unless it can reach agreeable terms with Catholic Health for a new contract, then nearly 2,000 hospital workers will walk.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Negotiators for CWA Local 1133, representing close to 2,000 workers at South Buffalo Mercy Hospital say that if they don't reach an agreement on a new contract with Catholic Health, then they are firm in their pledge to strike at 6 a.m. Friday.

"We have given them every opportunity listen to what we were saying and to address our issues and there, as far as I am concerned , is no room for extending the deadline, " said Deborah Hayes, CWA 1133's Upstate Director.

"I am nervous and I am scared but I'm willing to fight and stand up for what's right," said Registered Nurse Carrie Dilbert on Thursday afternoon, with 16 hours remaining before the strike deadline.

18 Straight Days of Negotiations

While the sides have made progress on wages the union says they remain at loggerheads on out-of-pocket costs for health insurance and staffing issues.

"Currently on the table the deductible is $1,500 for a single plan and $3,000  for a family plan," said Andrea Nugent, a member of the bargaining committee.

Nugent says that while this might be acceptable for a nurse making $80,000 per year, such rates are unacceptable for about 200 union members who make less than $15 per hour.

"The worker that makes $13.45 would never be able to afford that," Nugent said.

The plan would only apply only to those hired under a new contract, and Hayes sees a problem with that as well.

"The problem with that is that if we agree to that for new hires, it then creates a two tiered system in our facility, And then what will happen in the next negotiation, is that they will try to shove it down everybody's throat so we can't do that."

An ever bigger sticking point is the union's demand for staffing ratios which would mandate a minimal number of employees per patient. 

Having that in the contract, according to the union, would resolve under staffing which it says is exhausting their members and endangering patients.

While there is not a lot of precedent for having staffing ratios as part of a contract, it's a concept Catholic Health and other health care companies are going to have to get used to, according to Hayes. At least in New York.

"There's a new New York State law which requires us to have a clinical staffing committee in place by January 1st 2022. We then have to negotiate some kind of ratios by July 2022, and they have to implement the ratios by January 1st of 2023," said Hayes. "So, let's take care of it now and leave ourselves a year to get it implemented."   

Deadline Looms

Hayes added, "we made out first staffing proposal in to Catholic Health on Feb. 26, 2020. That's how long they have had to talk to us about staffing. They ignored our proposal until late August." 

Should the strike occur, Catholic Health has recruited replacements workers to step in. But there won't be nearly as many of those workers as there will be on the picket line.

The hospital has already suspended elective surgeries and birthing services, while telling ambulances to divert to other hospitals...all in an effort to reduce patient loads should they need to run the hospital without a full staff.

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