33 community organizations ask Catholic Health CEO to avert strike

Ahead of a tentative strike, 33 organizations within the Buffalo area or greater New York state are calling on Catholic Health President and CEO Mark Sullivan to agree to a fair contract that will address staffing issues and avert a walkout. 

In a letter dated Sept. 29, the organizations, which include Alliance for a Greater New York, Citizen Action New York, Open Buffalo and fellow unions, cited claims from Catholic Health workers of inadequate working conditions, lack of supplies, overworked staff who are not able to take a lunch break, and hundreds of vacant positions. 

The working conditions jeopardize patient care, especially problematic during a COVID-19 wave fueled by the delta variant, the organizations say.

"We know that nationwide, healthcare workers are leaving their jobs in droves because of burnout and lack of support," the community organizations wrote in their letter. "Our hospitals have not been immune from these systemic issues, and Catholic Health must address them in the new collective bargaining agreement with the Communications Workers of America. That means any new contract must provide adequate wages and benefits to both retain and attract a workforce that is under strain."

The letter, signed by unions and other organizations, comes as Catholic Health's Mercy Hospital of Buffalo (N.Y.) negotiates with the Communications Workers of America Local 113, which represents nurses, technologists, clerical staff and other service workers at the hospital. Workers there said they plan to strike Oct. 1 unless a deal is reached.

Catholic Health told Becker's the system aims to prevent a strike and continues to negotiate in good faith with the union daily to reach a fair contract with market-competitive wages and benefits.

Mercy Hospital President Eddie Bratko said: "We remain committed to bargaining in good faith with CWA on the issues that are most important to our associates to reach tentative agreement on new labor contracts, without the CWA leading our associates on strike."

Mercy Hospital has suspended inpatient nonemergency procedures and delayed labor and delivery services. The system will also divert ambulances from Mercy Hospital and its Mercy Ambulatory Care Center in Orchard Park, N.Y., beginning Sept. 29.

Catholic Health told Becker's: "We believe these measures are in the best interest of our patients and community in light of the uncertainty regarding the potential strike, the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and a steady increase in the number of COVID patients at Mercy Hospital and throughout our system.

"Our focus is on maintaining safe, high-quality care at all our hospitals and limiting disruptions to our patients and their visitors should the union follow through with its strike threat at Mercy Hospital," the system added.

Communications Workers of America represents more than 2,500 front-line workers at Catholic Health's Mercy Hospital, Kenmore (N.Y.) Mercy Hospital and Sisters of Charity Hospital-St. Joseph Campus in Buffalo. 

Workers at Mercy Hospital voted Sept. 9 to authorize a strike and issued a strike notice Sept. 21.  

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