BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - The labor prognosis is uncertain for thousands of workers at Western New York's largest health care provider.
Three Kaleida Health unions say they made concessions two years ago and now want to see more at the table. Now union workers are turning out in big numbers to consider the option to strike.
Rehab worker Donna Garner said, "The work we go through, we deserve what we get, and I don't think we should be denied."
While Kaleida says 90 percent of the contract articles have been agreed upon, salaries, staffing levels, and health care options remain sticking points for the SEIU, CWA, and International Union of Operating Engineers.
SEIU 1199 Vice President James Scordato said, "Kaleida is not putting the money into its employees. They're putting it more into brick and mortar and building structures."
About a block away from the voting area, work continues on what the union says is a half-billion dollars worth of Kaleida construction projects. Kaleida say it has "contingency plans in place...in the event the unions authorize a strike."
Spokesman Michael Hughes said, "We're down to the finer points, which are economics, and at this point we've offered increases in wages, pensions, paid time off, decreases in health care contributions, as well as pharmacy costs."
But CWA members say staff shortages are now putting an unfair burden on nurses and that instead of one-on-one care in the ICU, the ratio is sometimes one nurse to three patients.
CWA Local 1168 President Cori Gambini said, "The patient's in jeopardy, the nurses are in jeopardy for their license. It's very easy when you're overwhelmed with patients like that to make mistakes. Medical errors like that can happen."
Kaleida says it is being more generous in what it's willing to give, than the last contract. And says in its statement: "We just cannot agree to proposals that might put us out of business in less than one year."
"While it may not be as much as unions want, it's more than we made in all of 2012. Anything more than that could severely jeopardize our business," Hughes said.
X-ray technician Kelly Christie said, "As employees, we give all that we can give every single day, and I will vote yes to strike if we need to, to protect ourselves, our rights, and everything else, which will in turn, give better care to the patients."
Voting takes place through Wednesday.
Kaleida Health released the following statement regarding the vote:
Michael P. Hughes, Vice President for Kaleida Health said, "While we are disappointed with the union's decision, Kaleida Health management will continue to bargain in good faith with the primary objective of completing a new contract without any work stoppage. Management is not in favor of a work stoppage, but has contingency plans in place to ensure that we can continue to deliver safe, quality care to those that depend on us in the event the unions authorize a strike."
"We are willing to, and we have, offered new dollars to our employees. We have done that in proposed increases in wages, pension, benefits, paid time off and parking. We have also proposed decreases in employee health care contributions and out of pocket prescription drug costs. It may not be as much as the unions want, but it equals more than we made last year. We just cannot agree to proposals that might put us out of business in less than one year."
Kaleida Health and the three unions held 30 bargaining sessions since negotiations began in March 2013. To date, the parties have reached tentative agreement on 143 articles, which represents the majority (90%) of all articles in the contract.
A strike authorization vote is a frequently utilized tactic by unions in negotiations. It allows (but does not require), via their by-laws and constitutions, the union bargaining committee to call a strike after the contract expires, if they deem a work stoppage is necessary.
In the event a strike vote is authorized by the membership, the union may then issue Kaleida Health management a notice of intent to strike in 10 days. Therefore, no job action can occur until after June 21, 2013.
Management and labor are scheduled to resume bargaining on June 13, 2013.
The master bargaining agreement between Kaleida Health and the three unions covers over 7,000 employees. It was a two year contract that expired at midnight on May 31, 2013. The contract has been extended until June 21, 2013.
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