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Mercy Hospital workers holding strike authorization vote

Mercy Hospital workers holding strike authorization vote

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Communications Workers of America is considering a strike by nurses and staff at Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo, amid union claims of severe understaffing by Catholic Health.

In a statement, the union claims that staff routinely work through lunch hours and breaks because coverage at the hospitals is unavailable and that there is a lack of necessary supplies to do their jobs properly as Covid-19 cases continue to rise in Erie County.

“Despite deep staffing shortages and limited supplies, nurses and other front-line workers at Catholic Health have been risking our own health and the health of our families to provide care to Buffalo during the pandemic," said Jackie Ettipio, president of CWA Local 1133. A strike authorization vote is under way Wednesday and Thursday. If the workers vote in favor, it would give the union the power to call a strike, if it decides to do so.

In response, Catholic Health vowed that Mercy Hospital will remain "open and operational" if the CWA 1133 takes about 2,000 workers on strike after a contract expires Sept. 30. "We have a comprehensive strike contingency plan that includes hiring fully licensed, highly experienced, vaccinated temporary replacement nurses and other qualified staff who will provide uninterrupted care to our patients."

Ettipio said the staffing crisis at Catholic Health’s Mercy Hospital, Kenmore Mercy Hospital and St. Joseph’s Campus is only getting worse after months of pleading with the hospital system to take the workers' concerns seriously and work with them to protect patients.

"We’re at a breaking point,” said Ettipio, a registered nurse with more than 30 years of experience at Mercy Hospital.

“Striking is a last resort and we want nothing more than to work with Catholic Health to settle a fair contract that will prioritize patient care and the safety and well-being of employees,” she added.

Catholic Health said it hopes to settle negotiations with the CWA "without delays or disputes, just as Catholic Health recently did with SEIU 1199 for three contracts at St. Joseph Campus, McAuley Residence and St. Catherine Labouré Health Care Center."

"We strongly believe it is unconscionable that CWA Local 1133 is threatening to take Mercy Hospital associates on strike, particularly as Erie County hospitals like ours continue to care for increasing numbers of Covid patients while managing the ongoing medical and emergency needs on our community," Catholic Health said in a statement.

CWA said that front-line workers at Catholic Health hospitals have been raising concerns about chronic understaffing, while hundreds of new hires are needed to ensure safe staffing levels.

"After more than a year of life-saving work helping Buffalo get through the Covid-19 pandemic, staff are exhausted and see no action from the hospital system to attract new hires," the union said in its statement.

The union also accused the hospital bargaining team of not coming to the table in good faith to address its staffing crisis and of using scare tactics and legal maneuvers to mislead and bully employees. CWA also alleged in its statement that Catholic Health "illegally attempted to deal directly with workers during bargaining by sending employees inaccurate and incomplete communications about their proposed cuts to benefits."

The union plans to announce the results of the strike authorization vote on Friday.

Catholic Health hospitals have filed unfair labor practice charges against the CWA, accusing the union of bad-faith and surface bargaining. Catholic Health also contends the CWA has rejected offers by the hospitals that "would help recruit and retain staff to fill job vacancies within our hospitals."

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