Catholic Health strike enters 4th day

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Striking workers at Catholic Health's Mercy Hospital of Buffalo (N.Y.) continued picketing Oct. 4 as their dispute with hospital management remains unresolved, both sides confirmed to Becker's.

Communications Workers of America, which 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, began the strike Oct. 1, citing workers' concerns about staffing and patient care.

Days later, Catholic Health said it is waiting for the union to provide a formal, written response to the health system's latest, comprehensive offer. Further, the health system contends the union has not provided the hospitals with a written proposal or written counter proposal on any major economic bargaining topic since Sept. 19.

"The hospitals' bargaining committee continues to wait for the union to respond in writing to our last offer," Catholic Health spokesperson JoAnn Cavanaugh said in a statement issued Oct. 4. "Yesterday, the hospitals' bargaining committee made itself available to the union through video conference. We opened a line and were on it. The mediator also was on the line. The union did not show up."

She added, "We stand firm on our position that until CWA responds to us in writing, and until it can control its followers on the picket line and bargaining committee members, Catholic Health will be available to meet with CWA's bargaining committee virtually. If there is still any confusion, we're available to answer any questions the union may have."

Mercy Hospital, along with Kenmore Mercy Hospital and St. Joseph Campus, presented a $33 million economic package and a contract offer that included a $20 million investment in staffing.

That offer, made Oct. 1, was rejected by the Communications Workers of America. However, the union is ready to return to the bargaining table and hear Catholic Health's latest proposal, according to CWA Area Director Debbie Hayes.

"We have made clear that we are ready to come back to the bargaining table and hear Catholic Health's latest proposal, after workers rejected the hospital system's last minute, inadequate offer early Friday that didn’t include minimum staffing ratios, which are fundamental to ensuring high quality patient care and preventing another understaffing crisis in the future," Ms. Hayes said in a news release. "We have a responsibility to our patients to stand up for a fair contract that ensures their safety, and we've put forward a comprehensive proposal that does that. We want to have a dialogue and get back to work as fast as we can, but Catholic Health needs to come to the table in order for that to happen."

In response to Catholic Health's claim that it is awaiting a response from CWA to its Oct. 1 proposal, Ms. Hayes said, "Catholic Health workers did formally respond. We rejected your proposal. We're on strike."

During the strike,  Mercy Hospital has suspended inpatient non-emergency procedures and paused labor and delivery services. The system on Sept. 29 also began diverting ambulances from Mercy Hospital and its Mercy Ambulatory Care Center in Orchard Park, N.Y.

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

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