BUFFALO N.Y. (WIVB) — Contract talks are underway between Kaleida Health and union workers, who are fighting for safer staffing in area hospitals.

Both union reps and Kaleida Health officials say a lot of progress has been made in recent months on a new contract. A few key issues remain on the table including better pay and safer staffing ratios.

“We agreed on a lot of areas, but we have some areas that we did not agree on, which is now showing up in proposals that have been put across the bargaining table,” said CWA Local 1168 President Cori Gambini.

Union members from CWA and 1199 SEIU, are now at the bargaining table five days a week. They’re working on a new contract with Kaleida Healthcare Network, for 6,300 healthcare workers. Staffing remains a key issue.

“I’ve never seen staffing as horrible as it is right now,” said Juliette Negron, who’s been a part of Kaleida for 23 years and currently works at Oishei Children’s Hospital. “We want to care for our patients safely, when we are given an unsafe amount. A number of patients that are just outside what is humanly possibly give our best care for, we go home at night thinking we haven’t done the best job that we could do.”

“Because of the shortages, it effects the whole team and how work flows through the buildings and in essence that effects how patient care is given,” said Kimberly Kornowski, who’s a registered nurse at Millard Filmore Suburban.

Last fall, CWA union members went on strike at Mercy Hospital when a contract between Catholic Health was not reached. Union officials say with negotiations between Kaleida, they’re not at that point.

“If perchance we do not have the success that we hope, then striking is always an option but right now we continue to be very focused on what we can do in this room to get it done,” said Debora Hayes, who’s the upstate director for CWA.

Kaleida Health today released the following statement regarding contract negotiations with CWA1168 and 1199SEIU:

“The negotiating teams have made a lot of progress over the last several months.  We will continue our work to achieve a new master agreement that enhances benefits for all employees and restores us as the market leader in wages to help retain and recruit employees.

“We have said all along that we need to and will address staffing and wages in this contract. Our goal is to get back to the market lead and be the employer of choice. That means getting us up to the recently signed Catholic Health System labor contract. That is the standard right now. It’s as simple as that. But the cost of doing that will be at least twice of what we spent for the contract in 2019. Considering our current financial condition and the enormous economic challenges in front of us, that’s not insignificant.”

Union members are also pushing the state to provide additional funding for Kaleida Health to ensure the hospital can meet NYS safe staffing guidelines implemented July 1. The hospital must hire 436 full-time equivalent positions to meet the guidelines in addition to more than 800 vacancies at the health system.    

Sarah Minkewicz is an Emmy-nominated reporter and Buffalo native who has been a part of the News 4 team since 2019. Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMinkewicz and click here to see more of her work.