Catholic Health hospital workers could strike as soon as Oct. 1, cite staffing concerns

Workers at Catholic Health's Mercy Hospital of Buffalo (N.Y.) voted Sept. 9 to authorize a strike if it becomes necessary to address their staffing concerns, according to a union news release.

The vote covers nurses, technologists, clerical staff and other service workers in the nursing, cleaning and dietary departments at the hospital. The union members have not decided whether to strike, but the vote gives the Communications Workers of America the option to call one. 

Union representatives cited workers' concerns about what they say are worsening staffing shortages jeopardizing patient care. They contend Catholic Health refuses to settle a fair contract that will allow for adequate staff recruitment and retention. 

"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," Jackie Ettipio, president of CWA Local 1133 and a 30-year registered nurse at Mercy Hospital, said in the union's news release. "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."

Catholic Health expressed disappointment about the strike vote and emphasized its commitment to quality, patient safety and overall patient satisfaction.

In a statement shared with Becker's, the health system said, "It is unconscionable the union would take registered nurses and other crucial healthcare workers away from patients' bedsides and out of our hospital to walk the picket line while COVID-19 cases continue to rise in our community." 

The health system also said many hospital workers have been quietly expressing dissatisfaction with the union's actions. 

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. The union said Mercy Hospital workers could strike as early as Oct. 1, although no strike date has been set. 

In the event of a strike, Mercy Hospital will remain open and operational, and the hospital has developed a comprehensive strike contingency plan that includes hiring fully licensed, highly experienced, vaccinated temporary replacement nurses and other qualified staff to care for patients during a walkout, said Catholic Health.

Meanwhile, the health system said it believes there is sufficient time before Oct. 1 to reach fair, market-competitive contracts.

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