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Catholic Health reaches tentative agreements with union workers at three hospitals

Unions representing more than 2,500 workers at Catholic Health Systems have reached tentative contract agreements, ending lengthy and highly public negotiations that, in some cases, stretched out for more than a year.

The four-year agreements with the Communications Workers of America Locals 1133 and 1166 cover more than 2,500 Catholic Health Systems workers at three local hospitals. That includes registered nurses at Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus; technical associates at Kenmore Mercy Hospital; and registered nurses and service, technical and clerical associates at Mercy Hospital of Buffalo.

Each of the four separate tentative agreements include wage increases and improvements in staffing and pension contributions, JoAnn Cavanaugh, a Catholic Health spokeswoman, said Friday. Neither Cavanaugh nor a union spokesman would provide details.

Ratification votes are expected to take place within the next two weeks, the unions and Catholic Health said in a joint statement.

The tentative agreements “promote patient care, offer the wages to retain staff and maintain important health care benefits,” said Dennis Trainor, vice president of CWA’s District 1.

As the contract talks dragged on, the union staged a public awareness campaign aimed at drawing attention to the ongoing negotiations.

About 200 registered nurses from Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus, and fellow union members from other Catholic Health hospitals last month protested outside the Cheektowaga facility. At another, smaller protest in July, the CWA rolled out a custom-made, inflatable “fat cat,” clutching a nurse by the neck, which also made appearances at later rallies.

The union also launched a radio ad campaign and a series of mobile billboards. The campaign charged that Catholic Health was focused on cutting costs, leading to short staffing that hurts employees and those receiving care.

Negotiators on both sides had to “work through the complex issues we face in health care and find a positive way forward,” said Joe McDonald, Catholic Health’s president and CEO. “We are committed to forging a new relationship with the union, built on mutual goals that reward and recognize our dedicated associates, while strengthening our ability to deliver high quality care to this community.”

Union officials are expected to hold meetings with members at each of the hospitals to go over the details of the tentative agreement.

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.

Members of the union representing registered nurses and technical, service and clerical workers at Mercy Hospital voted overwhelmingly in July to authorize a strike.


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