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Union members protest outside St. Joseph Hospital as contract dispute lingers

About 200 registered nurses from Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus, and fellow union members at other Catholic Health hospitals protested outside the Cheektowaga facility Tuesday, seeking to put pressure on the hospital system to settle a contract dispute that has gone on for a year.

County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and other elected officials joined members of the Communications Workers of America as they held a “practice” picket line outside the St. Joseph Campus, marching on the sidewalk on Harlem Road and chanting pro-union slogans under the CWA’s inflatable “fat cat.”

The union also launched a radio ad campaign and a series of mobile billboards.

Workers said Catholic Health makes it a priority to cut costs, leading to short staffing that hurts employees and those receiving care.

“Our patients deserve better,” said Heather Lawrence, a registered nurse and 16-year St. Joseph Campus employee who is involved in negotiations. “There’s more on our shoulders, with less help.”

Catholic Health responded that it is ready and willing to negotiate a fair contract.

“We’ve addressed staffing issues within our facilities and in our negotiations with the CWA, so this latest campaign appears to be yet another attempt to gain leverage at the bargaining table,” JoAnn Cavanaugh, a Catholic Health spokeswoman, said in a statement.

CWA Local 1168 represents registered nurses at St. Joseph Campus and CWA Local 1133 represents technical workers at Kenmore Mercy and registered nurses and technical, service and clerical workers at Mercy Hospital. The oldest of their contracts expired in August 2015 and the most recent expired in June of this year.

Workers in the bargaining units at Mercy Hospital last month voted to authorize a strike. CWA scheduled, but postponed, a strike authorization vote for St. Joseph Campus.

Poloncarz said he was attending the CWA rally in a show of solidarity with the union, which has been a supporter of his campaigns.

But, he said, a strike at either institution would not be good for the delivery of health care in the region, and he said he told that to Catholic Health CEO Joseph McDonald in a phone call Tuesday.

“This needs to be resolved,” he said.

email: swatson@buffnews.com

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