BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Friday morning at 6 a.m., hundreds of CWA workers went on strike after the union and Catholic Health was unable to make a deal.
“Mercy Hospital of Buffalo, Kenmore Mercy Hospital, and St. Joseph Campus were unable to reach an agreement with CWA for six labor contracts covering approximately 2,200 registered nurses and service, technical and clerical associates,” Catholic Health said on Friday morning.
The union’s contract expired on Thursday. Prior to this, 97 percent of union members voted to strike if a new deal was not reached.
As recently as this past Tuesday, Catholic Health and CWA said they were still “millions of dollars apart” in contract negotiations. While these talks were happening, union leaders told News 4 that a strike was their last resort, but they felt as if they were at “rock bottom.”
“We have been talking to Catholic Health about this literally for months and months,” CWA Upstate NY Area Director Debbie Hayes, said. “It’s only because they have been unwilling to listen to our members’ voices and to the concerns we’ve raised on behalf of our members that we’re in this situation.”
Once the strike got underway, chants and the sounds of car horns filled the air as hundreds of people walked up and down the sidewalk in front of Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo.
Not long after the strike began, Catholic Health President and CEO Mark Sullivan discussed plans to maintain certain services at Mercy Hospital while the strike is happening.
“When the union left the bargaining table, they told us they were going on strike,” Sullivan said. “We have activated the community response. That includes replacement workers that are certified professionals to come into the building and take care of our patients during the strike.”
Those replacement workers Sullivan mentioned were met with chants of “Go home!” as they attempted to get into Mercy Hospital on Friday morning.
Around 2:30 p.m., Sullivan spoke again, saying the hospital had 200 patients on the inpatient side. By the time of the conference, 52 people had come to the emergency room on Friday.
As of that conference, there was no scheduled negotiation session for Monday.
Meanwhile, patients inside the hospital remain in need of care. Dave Willard’s 77-year-old mother was brought to the hospital earlier this week. She has received care at Mercy in the past, and Willard believes the hospital has a good reputation.
He admits he has family members who are nurses at Buffalo Mercy but says he’s on the side of patients getting the care they need from the replacement workers.
“It’s like going to a mechanic you love and trust, and then they get new employees,” Willard said. “Well, are they the same as the ones that were there before? You build a reputation around certain things and it’s hard to know until you know.”
Kaleida Health says it’s been monitoring the situation at Mercy Hospital.
“As far as impact, in the past 24 hours alone we have seen an increase in labor & delivery cases at Oishei Children’s Hospital as well as cardiac & stroke cases at the Gates Vascular Institute. Ambulance traffic at Buffalo General Medical Center, for example, was extremely high Thursday and is expected to increase even more today. ER volumes are up the past two days but remain manageable – for the time being – at Buffalo General Medical Center, Oishei Children’s Hospital, Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital andMichael P. Hughes, Kaleida Health’s senior vice president and chief administrative officer, on Friday morning
DeGraff Medical Park.”
A spokesperson for Gov. Kathy Hochul released a statement on the situation hours after the strike began.
“We are following the situation at Mercy Hospital closely, and we encourage hospital leadership and the union to continue discussions and reach an agreement on a new contract to resume full operations as quickly as possible. The Governor’s top priority is to protect quality patient care. We have teams on the ground from the Department of Health to monitor operations and care during the strike.”Spokesperson for Gov. Kathy Hochul
News 4’s Chris Horvatits contributed to this report.
Gabrielle Mediak is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here.