BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — On day 13 of the Mercy Hospital strike in Buffalo, the New York State Attorney General is calling on the company providing temporary workers to cease and desist.
Security workers station outside of Mercy hospital near the picket lines are from a Michigan-based company called Huffmaster.
That's the firm Catholic Health has contracted to provide temporary health care workers at Mercy during the strike.
But State Attorney General Letitia James sent a letter to Huffmaster saying it must "cease" in providing security as it acting as both an employment agency and security company.
James says Huffmaster is violating state law by providing security because they are not licensed in New York State.
“It’s like you know what guys — you shouldn't even be here in New York State. You're not licensed — go away — we’re going to listen to the Buffalo Police — we’re not going to listen to you,” declared Kathy Kelly, RN at Mercy.
Kelly has been a registered nurse at Mercy for 38 years, but right now she’s out on the picket lines with other health care workers who walked out October 1. Kelly was in the back area of the hospital were deliveries arrive.
She tells me Huffmaster has security set up at the main entrance of Mercy and areas around the back with about three shifts a day.
But Kelly says the security is also interfering with their right to picket.
“They've been nasty at times. They've actually been very condensing, especially to woman,” explained Kelly.
Kelly said some of the women picketers were even pushed in the “breast” by the security workers.
In that letter to Huffmaster, the attorney general says it has "received complaints" and that Huffmaster is proving services to mercy "as both an employment agency and as a watch, guard, or patrol agency".
The letter goes on to say it has learned Huffmaster employees have been "interfering with the rights of picketers" which is in violation of the state's General Business Law Section 84.
“But on the night shift, they've actually backed people up against this dumpster — it's been nasty,” recalls Kelly. “Screaming at us — yelling at as and it's like — you know — what we have the right to do this — we’re going to do it.”
Catholic Health issued a statement saying the replacement workers at Mercy Hospital are "properly credentialed to work in New York State.”
It also states “the New York State Health Department has visited Mercy Hospital several times during the strike and has found the care and service to be in compliance with state regulations".
Catholic Health said Huffmaster is in contract with the AG’s office to address their questions.
I reached out to Huffmaster for comment but have yet to receive a response.
The CWA also issued a statement calling the situation "unacceptable".
CWA Area Director Debora Hayes issued the following response:
“It is unacceptable that Huffmaster, the company with which Catholic has contracted to provide replacement nurses and security at Mercy Hospital during the strike, is knowingly operating illegally in New York State. Huffmaster is violating the law in two ways -- by acting simultaneously as an employment agency and as a security company, and because it is not registered to provide either of these services in New York. Sadly, this is all too typical of Catholic Health’s conduct throughout this entire time period. We applaud NYS Attorney General Tish James for taking swift action to terminate Huffmaster's role in this dispute. And instead of wasting millions of dollars on this illegal temporary staffing agency, Catholic Health should invest in its own long term employees, by negotiating a fair agreement that provides adequate wages to attract and retain staff, and that guarantees adequate levels of care in the hospital."
Kelly says as part of the pickets, they will slow deliveries and replacement workers from getting into the building, but always obey Buffalo Police who remain at the strike site.
“We’re not stopping them. We just slow them down and they get really — you know — nasty. There's no reason for it — we’re nurses — we’re not out here to hurt you,” Kelly noted.