BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Catholic Health and the unions representing workers at three of its hospitals, burned the midnight oil and came up with tentative labor contracts covering 2,500 nurses and other medical staff.
The settlements with the two CWA locals, 1133 and 1168 if approved by the unions’ rank-and-file, include pay hikes, improvements in staffing, and higher pension contributions for workers at Mercy Hospital, Kenmore Mercy, and Sisters of Charity.
Back in July, the unions voted to authorize a strike, and just last month, hundreds of union members picketed outside of Mercy Hospital—and later outside of Sisters of Charity Hospital’s St. Joseph Campus in Cheektowaga–to protest staff shortages that hurt morale and could impact the quality of patient care.
Catholic Health officials declined interviews about the pending deals, but CEO Joe McDonald issued a written statement saying in part, “We are committed to forging a new relationship with the union.”
In a joint statement with the CWA McDonald added, “I want to thank the bargaining teams for the extraordinary efforts and commitment to work through the complex issues we face in healthcare.”
CWA Local 1133 president Debbie Arnet said the new pay scale is a big deal, “We did not have a progressive wage scale for the last 4 years. It caused a lot of turnover in the hospital. That was part of the reason we had such severe issues with staffing at Mercy Hospital.”
Arnet said the labor turmoil showed, “We had a much higher than normal turnover rate from years before–they would come in, get experience, and then leave. So now we have a competitive wage package that we believe will help recruit staff–both nurses and ancillary–and then keep them there.”
Unions have been trying for years to convince state lawmakers to set minimum staffing levels, without success, but Arnet said they accomplished just that in their pending deal, and rank-and-file union members are putting their contracts up for a vote over the next two weeks.