Catholic Health strike: New York attorney general claims staffing agency lacks license + 5 other details

Workers at Catholic Health's Mercy Hospital of Buffalo (N.Y.) have been on strike for about two weeks amid their union's labor dispute with hospital management.

Members of Communications Workers of America, which represents about 2,000 front-line workers at Mercy Hospital, began the strike Oct. 1, citing workers' concerns about staffing and patient care. However, the two sides have yet to reach an agreement.

Six details about where things stand:

1. New York State Attorney General Letitia James' office sent a cease-and-desist letter to Huffmaster, the temporary staffing agency employed by Catholic Health to provide replacement staff during the strike, calling for the company to stop providing services to Mercy Hospital, according to The Buffalo News. The letter, as reported by the newspaper Oct. 13, claims Huffmaster is providing services at Mercy as an employment agency and a "watch, guard or patrol" agency without a state license. The company is providing replacement nurses and security at Mercy Hospital during the strike.

2. Catholic Health, in a statement issued Oct. 13, said nurses and other temporary replacement workers requiring clinical licensure who are caring for and serving patients at Mercy Hospital during the strike are properly credentialed to work in the state. The system added that state officials have "found the care and service to be in compliance with state regulations [when they visited during the strike]," and that Huffmaster is in contact with the attorney general's office to address their questions. Huffmaster did not respond to requests for comment from The Buffalo News.

3. Amid the letter from the attorney general's office, union officials called on Catholic Health to invest in its own long-term employees through negotiations, rather than spend money on a temporary staffing agency.

4. Throughout the strike, Communications Workers of America has sought an agreement with adequate wages to attract and retain staff, and a contract that guarantees adequate staffing and care levels. Workers held a candlelight vigil on the picket line outside of Mercy Hospital on Oct. 7. In a statement shared with Becker's, the union said workers at Mercy Hospital on Oct. 10 also created a wall of photos documenting their fight battling the COVID-19 pandemic, then shared their personal stories and testimonials about their experiences during the public health crisis.

5. Catholic Health released details Oct. 11 about the latest offer it presented to CWA Locals 1133 and 1168 that would cover more than 2,500 workers represented by the union at Mercy Hospital, Kenmore (N.Y.) Mercy Hospital and Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus, in Buffalo. Among other things, the offer improves or maintains current levels of healthcare, retirement and paid time off benefits, while increasing pay and outlining a commitment to recruit and retain more than 250 new workers to address staffing, Catholic Health said.

6. As of Oct. 14, negotiations were ongoing. More details about negotiations and Catholic Health's latest offer are available here.

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