BREAKING: CATHOLIC HEALTH HOSPITAL WORKERS VOTE TO AUTHORIZE STRIKE

For Immediate Release: Thursday, September 9, 2021

Contact:
Rendy Desamours, rendy.desamours@berlinrosen.com, 516.406.6637

Jahad Carter, jahad.carter@berlinrosen.com, 336.912.3423

BREAKING: CATHOLIC HEALTH HOSPITAL WORKERS VOTE TO AUTHORIZE STRIKE 

Frontline healthcare workers with the Buffalo-based hospital system fear for patient safety as understaffing reaches crisis point; Catholic Health refuses to institute safe staffing ratios in its union contract

Friday media availability: CWA Area Director Debora Hayes, RN will be available for interviews Friday from 12:15pm – 12:45pm ET at the Gateway Building at 3556 Lake Shore Rd in Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Nurses, technologists, clerical staff, and other service workers in the nursing, cleaning, and dietary departments at Catholic Health’s Mercy Hospital of Buffalo voted overwhelmingly late Thursday to authorize a strike should it be necessary. The workers, represented by the Communications Workers of America, have been raising concerns about worsening staffing shortages that are jeopardizing patient care and say Catholic Health is refusing to settle a fair contract that will allow the hospital system to attract and retain the workers needed to provide care to Buffalo. 

The workers voted to strike with 97 percent support. They could strike as early as October 1 when their union contract is set to expire, but no strike date has been set as of yet.

“We voted to strike if necessary because understaffing is so serious that it is becoming virtually impossible for nurses to provide basic care to patients. As a nurse who has dedicated my life to caring for people, there’s no way I can stand by and let that happen,” said Jackie Ettipio, President of CWA Local 1133 and a 30-year Registered Nurse at Mercy Hospital. “We are working around the clock as fast as we can, but when we’re expected to manage too many patients at once, the results are dangerous. Patients are sitting soiled for lengths of time, falling trying to get to the restroom themselves, not getting fed in a timely manner and even waiting hours for medication. Our community deserves much better.”

“We have been pleading with Catholic Health for months to invest in frontline workers so we’re equipped to provide the quality care our patients deserve, but there’s been no action, and we can’t keep going on like this, especially as COVID-19 cases rise in our community,” said Cori Gambini, President of CWA Local 1168 and a registered nurse.  CWA Local 1168 represents the nurses and the service employees at Sisters of Charity Hospital-St. Joseph Campus. “If Catholic Health can pay executives millions and millions of dollars, and pay over $17 million to agency staff, the hospital system can agree to a fair contract with the healthcare workers who have been sacrificing our own health and well-being to provide care to Buffalo during the pandemic. No one wants to go on strike, but we are committed to doing whatever it takes to stand up for our patients and our families.”

Hundreds of new hires are needed to ensure safe staffing levels, leaving the remaining staff exhausted and increasingly concerned over their ability to provide adequate patient care as COVID-19 cases increase in Erie County. Staff have reported routinely working through lunch hours and breaks because coverage is unavailable. Nurses have reported working 12-hour shifts in the ICU with zero breaks, and a lack of necessary supplies to do their jobs properly, including basic essentials like urinals, pillows, sheets, blankets, washcloths, thermometers, vitals machines, blood tubes and syringes. These frontline workers are calling for the establishment of safe staffing ratios to help ensure quality patient care, but Catholic Health refuses. 

CWA represents more than 2,500 frontline workers at Catholic Health’s Mercy Hospital of Buffalo,Kenmore Mercy Hospital and Sisters of Charity Hospital-St. Joseph’s Campus. Rather than working to address understaffing at its hospitals, Catholic Health seeks a contract that, between a massive increase in out of pocket health care costs and the impact of inflation, would translate into major pay cuts for workers over the life of the agreement, a move that will make it even harder to attract and retain the nursing and care staff Buffalo needs. Meanwhile, Catholic Health CEO Mark Sullivan brings home $1 million in salary, and the top 11 administrators made more than $7 million combined in 2019. 

“I would like to commend our local CWA workers for coming together to make the difficult decision to strike if needed,” said Senator Sean Ryan (D-60). “I am always proud to support the CWA and their members, and I am especially thankful for the efforts of the workers at Catholic Health, who have been vital to our region’s recovery from the pandemic. I remain hopeful that the issue can be resolved before the current contract expires, but I commend the union members for taking this decisive action.”

“After everything healthcare workers have been through, it is unfortunate that they must go to such lengths in order to receive a fair contract,” said Assemblymember Pat Burke (D-142). “While I hope an agreement can be made before a strike is necessary, I stand in solidarity with all members who voted yes on a strike authorization.”

Residents of Buffalo have been joining with the hospital workers and calling on Catholic Health to address staffing shortages. Over 1,300 people have signed a petition asking Catholic Health to settle a fair contract with the workers and undergo efforts to attract and retain more staff.

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