UPDATE: Oct. 12, 2021: The hospital and union bargaining committees resumed negotiations Monday morning. The two sides are close to an agreement on measures related to pandemic preparedness and extended sick leave pay, though they’re still far apart on proposals related to salaries and staffing, according to a statement from the union.
The striking nurses want their next contract to include language outlining ratios and a clinical staffing committee similar to New York state’s staffing law that passed earlier this year.
UPDATE: Oct. 4, 2021: Catholic Health Mercy Hospital did not show up to in-person negotiations Sunday, according to the union. The hospital said it was waiting for a response to its Friday proposal, though CWA Area Director Debora Hayes said in a statement, "Catholic Health workers did formally respond. We rejected your proposal. We're on strike."
The hospital said it could only meet with the union virtually, according to a release. "Until CWA can control its followers and bargaining committee members, and until it can produce formal, written responses to our proposal, Catholic Health will be available to meet with CWA's bargaining committee virtually," the hospital said.
- Over 2,000 nurses, technologists, clerical staff, aides and other service workers at Catholic Health System's Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, New York, began an open-ended strike Friday after being unable to reach a deal on a new contract.
- Negotiations between the hospital system and Communication Workers of America, which represents those workers, ran through early Friday morning but key issues, including minimum staffing ratios, remain unresolved, according to a release from the union. Bargaining will continue Friday and through the weekend.
- The hospital did not immediately respond when asked for comment on the strike, though it has a strike contingency plan in place that includes bringing in contract labor, according to a statement.
Unionized healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic are fighting hard for new contracts with measures they say are needed to ensure safe staffing while attracting and retaining staff amid widespread burnout and nursing shortages.
At Catholic Health's Mercy Hospital, worker contracts expired Friday. In their new contract they want minimum staffing ratios, but were unable to reach a deal with the hospital and are now waging an open-ended strike.
In a survey conducted among 500 staff members across Catholic Health's Kenmore Mercy, Mercy and St. Joseph's hospitals, 97% said their hospital is struggling to retain staff. Most cited concerns over quality of care, staffing shortages, low pay and working conditions, according to the union.
Workers also believe there is a crisis of leadership and that their concerns aren't being taken seriously, as hundreds of staff positions remain unfilled, according to a letter 25 elected officials from the Buffalo region wrote to hospital management.
"The result is overwhelming stress and demoralization among the workforce, and workers voting with their feet by quitting as soon as another opportunity is available," the letter says.
CWA national union officials authorized an open-ended strike, and pledged to support workers for however long they're on the picket line, according to a release.
Strikes that don't set an end date can drag on for many months.
This March, 800 nurses at Tenet's Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, began an open-ended strike over staffing levels they want in the next contract. Most of those nurses are still on the picket line, and have been for over 200 days.