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Buffalo Nurses Strike

2,500 health care heroes are on strike over horrible conditions at Catholic Health Hospitals

Kris LaGrange's picture
Oct 04, 2021

On Friday, 2,500 CWA members at Catholic Health’s Mercy Hospital, Kenmore Mercy Hospital, and Sisters of Charity Hospital-St. Joseph’s Campus in Buffalo New York went on strike. Their contract had expired on September 30th and Catholic Health refused to offer a contract that the membership could agree to.

The union, which represents nurses, technologists, clerical staff, and other service workers at the hospital, says that the main sticking points are around safe staffing levels and patient care. A survey of the membership found that Seventy percent of respondents say they have seen patients be neglected or suffer needlessly because of staffing shortages. Only ten percent say patients are receiving the quality care they need. Ninety-eight percent say their hospital is struggling to retain staff, and the vast majority cite concerns over care quality, staffing shortages, low pay, poor working conditions, and Catholic Health’s refusal to settle a fair contract as the reasons for turnover. They also said that more than half of their members are being tasked with jobs that they were not trained for and 70% said their hospital lacks the equipment and supplies for them to do their job effectively. This includes not having enough PPE, vials, cleaning supplies, blood pressure cuffs, and bath blankets. These are all major items that a hospital needs on a daily basis to keep patients safe.

According to the local, severe understaffing has also put patients at risk with some respondents saying that patients have been forced to sit soiled for hours or wait for the medicine for hours because there are not enough nurses.

“Our patients don’t deserve the treatment that they’re getting. They come in here sick, not asking to be sick. They come here looking to be cared for, and that’s what our job is. We take an oath to care for people, and we need to, and our administrator needs to know that our patients come first,” said Rhonda Pierce, an immediate treatment assistant at Mercy Hospital for 21 years.

As the CWA members walked the picket line over the weekend, Catholic Health refused to come to the table. The union notified the company that they would be ready to negotiate on Sunday, but instead of showing up Catholic Health just resent the same offer that the union had rejected on Friday. Instead of bargaining, the hospital has reportedly pre-paid millions of dollars to temporary staffing companies to hire scabs to work at the hospital during the strike.

The CWA says that while their members were considered heroes during the pandemic, the hospital is trying to use pandemic as evidence that they can cut staff and resources. The hospital seems to think that since the staffing levels covered the huge surge in patients that they can continue to work understaffed.

“We don’t want to be out here. We want to be inside taking care of our patients, but Catholic Health and Mark Sullivan have not allowed that, and they put us here,” said Peg Campbell, who has been a nurse at Mercy for 30 years. “You can’t throw a staffing proposal at the bargaining committee on the ninth hour when our staffing proposal was on the table in February. “The working conditions inside the hospital are the worst we’ve ever seen and this whistle has been blown to them before COVID; COVID only heightened it.”

Unlike other strikes involving nurses that only go on for a day or two, the CWA has said they will stay out until a new contract is reached.

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