Catholic Health suspends health benefits of striking New York workers

Catholic Health has notified workers striking at its Mercy Hospital of Buffalo (N.Y.) that their healthcare coverage has been halted until a tentative agreement is reached. 

On Oct. 25, Catholic Health announced it was considering whether to continue the coverage if the strike went into November.

The health system told union leaders that if a tentative agreement was not reached by Oct. 30, it would begin sending notices to union-represented Mercy Hospital workers that Catholic Health would discontinue payment and administration of their health benefit coverage, Catholic Health said in a news release shared with Becker's.

Catholic Health said it began sending notices Oct. 31 and will resume payment and administration once Communications Workers of America members approve a tentative agreement.

"Catholic Health's hospitals have been negotiating in good faith with CWA since February 2021. We worked with CWA through the weekend and late into the night [Oct. 29 and Oct. 30]. Several times it appeared the parties were close to reaching a tentative agreement, settling negotiations and ending the strike," Catholic Health stated in a news release. "Discussions for Mercy Hospital associates' return to work had begun. Around 6 a.m. [Oct. 31], talks broke down again. A key sticking point holding up reaching agreement … remained staffing for a few specific units."

In a statement shared with Becker's, Dennis Trainor, vice president of Communications Workers of America District 1, called the announcement of suspending the health benefits of striking workers"a blatant attempt to intimidate the workers into ending their strike before a fair agreement is reached. It won't work, just like all of Catholic Health's other threats up until now."

Mr. Trainor said Oct. 31 that a national relief fund for union members has $425 million in it, and as of this week, the union’s weekly benefits for strikers have been increased to $400, on top of New York State unemployment benefits for which they qualify.

"The [fund] will also ensure that no striker faces any financial hardship for a medical or dental emergency of any kind, and that medical care for chronic conditions will be continued," he added.

The Communications Workers of America — which represents about 2,500 workers at Mercy Hospital, Kenmore (N.Y.) Mercy Hospital and Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus, in Buffalo — began the strike Oct. 1, citing concerns about staffing and patient care.

Throughout negotiations, the union said it has sought an agreement with adequate wages to attract and retain staff and a contract that guarantees adequate staffing and care levels.

Catholic Health said its hospitals have proposed a market-competitive package with progressive staffing language and other contract language based on what the union has indicated are workers' priorities.

Catholic Health also has accused union members of using pressure tactics during the strike.

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