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About 7,500 workers at Kaleida Health have been asked by their unions to "work to rule" to drive home the point that the five hospitals are understaffed.

Beginning Monday and lasting for a week, workers were asked to start and stop work as scheduled and to take all lunch and rest breaks.

Because they ae understaffed, nurses and other health care professionals routinely skip breaks and work late, said Deborah M. Hayes, staff representative of Nurses United, the Communications Workers of America Local 1168.

"Our health care providers are very committed to patients, so we will make sure the effect is minimal," she said.

"It might be a feeble attempt, but it is an attempt to let Kaleida know that safe staffing levels are an issue," she said. "If we don't make some effort to draw attention to the problem, it will never get fixed."

The effort will include refusing to work overtime, except at Children's Hospital, where overtime is mandatory, she said.

Kaleida spokesman Michael Shaw said he was not aware of any problems caused by the union action.

Also, he pointed out, staffing issues are part of the continuing negotiations.

He also said "the unions are well aware of the financial situation facing every hospital in the country."

The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 has cut the reimbursement rates for Kaleida by $21.5 million this year alone, Shaw pointed out.

Three unions representing 17 bargaining units have been negotiating with Kaleida for months and only now are beginning to discuss the sensitive issues of wages and staffing levels, Hayes said.

More than half of Kaleida's 13,000-person work force is represented by unions. In addition to the CWA, unions at Kaleida are the Service Workers International Union and the International Union of Operating Engineers.

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