UPDATE: Nov. 1, 2021: The hospital is cutting off striking workers' health coverage until a tentative agreement is ratified, according to a release. The two sides appeared close to settling negotiations and ending the strike during bargaining sessions Saturday, though talks broke down again Sunday morning, according to the hospital. A major point of contention remains staffing for a few specific units.
"The announcement this afternoon by Catholic Health System that they are terminating health benefits for the striking members of CWA Local 1133 is a blatant attempt to intimidate the workers into ending their strike before a fair agreement is reached," Dennis Trainor, CWA district 1 vice president said in a release.
The union representing the workers has a $425 million member relief fund, and its weekly benefits for strikers has increased to $400, along with state unemployment benefits for which they are eligible, according to the release. It plans to use the relief fund to ensure strikers get necessary healthcare throughout the work stoppage.
- A New York hospital with 2,000 workers in an open-ended strike is considering whether to discontinue healthcare coverage for striking employees if the strike persists into November, and allowing workers who want to cross the picket line to come back to work, a hospital spokesperson said in an email statement.
- The work stoppage among healthcare workers at Catholic Health's Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, New York, will hit the one-month mark Monday. While the hospital and union representing the workers have held bargaining sessions throughout the strike, the two sides still haven't reached a deal.
- The two sides remain far apart on certain proposals, including that Catholic Health wants six separate contracts while the union wants a master contract, according to a union statement. Wages and staffing are still key issues.
Strikes among healthcare workers typically last several days to a week, though the strike at Mercy Hospital is one of two open-ended hospital strikes currently taking place. At Tenet's Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, nurses have been on strike since March 8.
The work stoppage at Mercy Hospital caused it to scale back operations, and it's seeing about 100 patients per day versus a usual census of more than 300 patients per day, according to the hospital. Its emergency department is treating about 50 patients per day versus a usual census of 145 to 160 patients per day.
About 2,000 nurses, technologists, clerical staff, aides and other service workers represented by the Communication Workers of America walked off the job Oct. 1, after their contract expired and they couldn't reach a deal on a new one with Mercy Hospital.
The workers share nearly universal concerns over staffing, threats to patient care, supply shortages, high turnover and low pay they want addressed in the next contract, according to the union. Public officials, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., visited the picket line during the fourth week of the strike to show their support for the workers.
When the strike entered its fourth week, the hospital said it was considering slashing healthcare coverage for striking workers, and also considering the operational feasibility of allowing some workers to cross the picket line and come back to work if they're inclined to do so.
"Many healthcare unions generally strike for only one to two days before returning to work while the parties continue to negotiate," the hospital said in a release. "It's less common for a healthcare strike to be as prolonged as CWA's strike at our hospital."
The hospital noted that CWA has the ability to end its strike while the hospitals and union continue to negotiate.
In recent bargaining sessions, the union remained focused on wages and staffing. Under a new wage scale, some of the most senior employees would receive lump sum payments rather than wage increases, which the union firmly opposes.
Regarding staffing, both sides remain far apart on penalties if management fails to meet staffing ratios.
"These workers want the strike to end more than anything, but they are also determined to stand up for their patients and the community to ensure Catholic Health doesn't get into the same staffing crisis again and again," CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainor said following the news strikers could get their healthcare coverage taken away.