Catholic Health weighs cutting healthcare benefits of striking New York workers

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Amid a strike at Mercy Hospital of Buffalo (N.Y.) that is in its fourth week, Catholic Health said Oct. 25 that it is considering whether to discontinue healthcare coverage for striking workers if the walkout continues into November.

Catholic Health, in a negotiations update shared with Becker's, said it is also considering the operational feasibility of allowing striking workers to cross Communications Workers of America's picket line and support them so those who would prefer to work can start doing so again.

"CWA has the ability to end its strike while the hospitals and union continue to negotiate," Catholic Health's statement says. "Many healthcare unions generally strike for only one to two days before returning to work while the parties continue to negotiate. It's less common for a healthcare strike to be as prolonged as CWA's strike at our hospital."

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 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.

Meanwhile, during the strike, Catholic Health has extended its agreement for replacement workers, and in a news release Oct. 26, the union said it has released a TV advertisement on stations across Buffalo featuring healthcare workers' plea for support and highlighting their concerns.

In response to Catholic Health considering cutting healthcare benefits of striking workers, CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainor said in a statement from the union that the news is "disheartening to hear."

"I want to remind our members that through CWA’s relief fund, anyone with chronic conditions in need of care or those facing health emergencies will be taken care of," Mr. Trainor said. "These workers want the strike to end more than anything, but they are also determined to stand up for their patients and the community to ensure Catholic Health doesn't get into the same staffing crisis again and again. These workers stand more united in our union than ever and believe what they are doing is in the best interests of patients' safety and quality of care."

More details about negotiations are available here

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