BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Outside of Buffalo General Medical Center and Oishei Children’s Hospital, unionized workers with 1199SEIU will be holding an informational picket.

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East (1199SEIU) represent the workers within the Kaleida Health System, which includes Buffalo General Hospital, Oishei Children’s Hospital, Gates Vascular Institute, Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital and other locations throughout Western New York.

Several workers were present at the picket and spoke about their work experience. They say healthcare workers are underappreciated and exhausted due to the lack of staff.

“It is not safe to have burned out, exhausted, demoralized staff caring for our community,” Cori Gambini, a registered nurse with Kaleida Health, said at a press conference Thursday.

Workers say they’re doing this in response to being understaffed, and are calling for a competitive contract with better wages and benefits. Their last contract expired on July 31. The union leaders say they have been in negotiations for a new deal since March.

“We do not believe there’s a package on the table that our members will ratify, so that is incredibly important. There’s no sense in taking a package back and having it get voted down and that’s where we are right now,” Debbie Hayes, CWA area director, added.

Kaleida Health currently has more than 800 open positions. Employees say they are hoping for a competitive contract to fill these positions.

“The reality is that if we don’t offer competitive wages to our members, then the positions will remain unfilled,” Jennifer Hogue, a certified medical assistant with Kaleida Health, said.

They say they are waiting on Kaleida to respond to their concerns and hope a contract is agreed upon soon, which would avoid the potential for a strike.

“We don’t want to be out here, but we are forced to be out here. As Cori said, it’s easy. Ball is in Kaleida’s hands right now,” Peter DeJesus, Western New York political coordinator with 1199SEIU, added.

The picketers are also calling on Albany and the Governor’s Office to help, so that their hospitals can be in compliance with new staffing laws passed by the state.

“We’ve negotiated over 500 new positions within the Kaleida Health system and the state has not attached any money to any of these 500 jobs, which is probably going to cost Kaleida well over $100 million,” James Scordato, 1199SEIU Western New York vice president, continued.

Before the picket, Kaleida Health issued a statement to News 4:

Kaleida Health’s current proposal would make it the local healthcare employer of choice in terms of
wages, benefits and staffing. In the meantime, we will continue negotiating the best possible
agreement for employees that puts the organization on firm footing to continue providing excellent
patient care while serving our community.

Kaleida Health

Members of the bargaining committee from the CWA and 1199SEIU say if there is no agreement by Monday, their members will vote to give strike power to the bargaining committee. If granted, that group of union leaders could call for a strike at any time.

For the full statement from Kaleida Health, see below:

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Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

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.