AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) — Members of the 11199 SEIU and CWA on Thursday night voted to give strike authorization power to union leaders, meaning the unions could call for a strike from all Kaleida facilities.
Around 75% of the unions voted, with 96% of voters in favor of the authorization. Kaleida and the unions will return to the bargaining table Friday morning.
Prior to the results being tallied, News 4 spoke with some Kaleida employees, who are concerned with safe staffing levels, saying they used to work with five to six patients and now work with 10 to 20.
“We’re really far away on safe staffing,” said Millard Fillmore Suburban R.N. Katie Perna. “Staffing is number one, especially for me. We need to provide quality care for the patients in this community. This is our community. We’re also far apart on wages and that is part of the retention and recruitment to bring more people to the bedside to provide the quality care to the patients of this community.”
Other workers said better wages and benefits would help attract more workers, as well.
“I’m not so certain that if there is a strike authorization, and all the hospitals go on strike, that they’re going to be able to continue in any type of current capabilities,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz prior to the vote. “We do know that Kaleida Health has a plan, which would unfortunately require moving patients out of the area.”
Kaleida Health on Thursday released the following statement regarding union negotiations:Kaleida Health
“We are eager to get back to the bargaining table tomorrow. The unions have had to focus on the strike vote, so we have not been able to negotiate the past three days. As we have said all along, we do not want a strike, it will be devastating and dangerous for this community.
“What we want is a fair contract that appropriately rewards our workforce and positions the organization for the future. That includes no concessionary bargaining, addressing staffing needs, and once again becoming the market leader in wages. We have not wavered from those commitments, but our resources are not endless. In fact, we are trying to negotiate a contract after posting over $200 million in losses since 2020 due to the pandemic. Right now, the current union proposal is estimated at over $500 million. Simply put, those numbers jeopardize the future viability of Kaleida Health.
“All that said, we continue our strike contingency planning. This week we met with both the Erie County Health Department as well as the New York State Department of Health to review our updated scenario plans. That includes everything from emergency room access, triaging surgical cases, ambulance transportation as well as coordination with hospitals outside of Western New York that we may need to transfer patients to.
“Again, our hope is that those measures will prove unnecessary, but it is critical that we have contingencies in place for the sake of our patients. Patient access and care will remain the priority, no matter the duration or location of a possible work stoppage.”
Union leaders spoke immediately following the vote. The announcement can be seen above.
MORE ON KALEIDA
- ‘We want to provide better care’: Kaleida workers to vote on strike in September
- Potential for strike remains as Kaleida, unions continue talks
- Kaleida union workers hold picket outside Buffalo General, staff described as “burned out” and “demoralized”
- Kaleida Health union workers plan picket amid contract negotiations
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.