- The temporary staffing agency Catholic Health hired to provide replacement staff during a strike may be operating without proper state licensing, according to a Tuesday cease and desist letter from New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office.
- The letter asks the agency, Huffmaster, to stop providing services to Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, New York, either as an employment agency or as a "watch, guard, or patrol agency" without a license. State law requires a company to get a license to provide either service, and precludes them from getting a license to provide both services, according to the letter.
- Mercy Hospital pushed back against the allegations from the attorney general’s office. The replacement nurses and other temporary staff are "properly credentialed to work in New York State," Mercy Hospital said in a statement. Huffmaster is in contact with the attorney general’s office to address their questions, according to the hospital.
On the first day of October, 2,000 healthcare workers at Catholic Health’s Mercy Hospital walked off the job after failing to reach a deal with management on a new contract before it expired.
Those nurses, technologists, clerical staff, aides and other service workers, who are represented by the Communication Workers of America, won’t return to work until a deal is reached, and are currently waging an open-ended strike.
But the company the hospital hired to provide replacement workers to care for patients and provide security services while striking staff are on the picket line is not properly credentialed, according to the office of the state attorney general.
The cease and desist letter asks the agency to stop providing services to the hospital either as an employment agency or security agency, and to make sure replacement workers do not interfere with the rights of picketers.
"Huffmaster is violating the law in two ways — by acting simultaneously as an employment agency and as a security company, and because it is not registered to provide either of these services in New York," CWA Area Director Debora Hayes said in a statement.
The hospital said those replacement workers are properly credentialed in the state, and the state health department visited the hospital several times during the strike and found operations in compliance with regulations, according to a statement.
The hospital did not respond to questions asking whether it had identified another agency to provide those services while the strike continues.
The union and hospital have continued bargaining sessions since the strike began, and are close to an agreement on measures related to pandemic preparedness and extended sick leave pay, according to a statement from the union. However, they’re still far apart on proposals related to salaries and staffing.
Salaries and staffing are major sticking points for healthcare labor unions right now amid fallout from the pandemic that has spurred burnout and shortages of qualified workers.
In a recent 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.
Another open-ended nurses’ strike is currently taking place at Tenet’s St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts. About 800 nurses there walked off the job on March 8 and have been on the picket line ever since. They too want better staffing measures outlined in their next contract and other proposals to help retain staff.