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CWA prevails for safer staffing at Mercy Hospital

“We’re really hoping that it is a new day"
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Posted at 5:31 PM, Nov 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-09 17:31:05-05

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — “We’re really hoping that it is a new day and that we can begin to develop a respectful, productive work relationship with Catholic Health, declared Debora Hayes, CWA area director.

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Debora Hayes, CWA area director.

CWA members overwhelming ratified a new contract agreement with Catholic Health Monday following a vote. 94-percent voted in favor with just six-percent saying no.

Hayes was surrounded by CWA members outside Mercy Hospital in south Buffalo Tuesday.

Workers walked off the job at Mercy Hosptial October 1.

The union leader said she received a text from Catholic Health CEO Mark Sullivan “congratulating” the union on their work.

“We were able to negotiate an agreement with absolutely no concessions,” Hayes explained.

The CWA is declaring victory in their 35-day strike at Mercy.

At the heart of the strike, safe staffing issues.

The union demanded Catholic Health agree to better patient ratios. During the height of the strike, some hospital workers described night-time patient ratios as 1 to 30 or even 1 to 40.

Hayes says the new labor deal calls for a 1 to 4 staffing ratio for the day shift and 1 to 5 for the night shift.

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Debora Hayes, CWA area director.

“When people walk back in that hospital tomorrow, we want to make sure that they’re walking into the appropriate safe staffing as people come back to work,” remarked Hayes.

But Hayes admits it won’t be a quick fix.

“They literally have to hire hundreds of people inside Mercy and Kenmore Mercy to meet the ratio — the last number I saw for Mercy was approximately 400 people and so we know that it is going to take time,” replied Hayes.

There are six contracts covering more than 2,500 workers here at Mercy Hospital, Kenmore Mercy and Sisters of Charity at the St. Joseph Hospital campus.

The workers are registered nurses, clerical staff, service and technical employees.

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CWA Mercy Hospital strike sign.

The contract also offers wage increases of at least two-percent for all workers and starting pay of $15 an hour. The agreement is retroactive to July 1 of this year.

Under this deal, Catholic Health is also promising to hire more than 250 workers.

Both sides struck a tentative agreement late last week which immediately ended the picketing outside the hospital.

“We’re going to walk in that door with our heads held high. We are stronger today than we were two months ago because we walked these sidewalks together as a group,” described Maureen Kryszak, RN, ER nurse, Mercy Hospital.

I asked CWA leaders if all their workers will be coming back.

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aureen Kryszak, RN, ER nurse, Mercy Hospital.

“Every worker will be brought back that wants to be brought back without any retribution,” responded Kryszak.

“And we're looking to have safe staffing and we're looking forward to. It's something that will go down in history,” Carrie Dilbert, vice president, CWA Local 1133.

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Carrie Dilbert, vice president, CWA Local 1133.

Mercy Hospital workers are expected to return to their jobs Wednesday.

Catholic Health CEO Mark Sullivan says the hospital spent tens of millions of dollars for replacement workers during the strike.

In a statement, the CEO calls it a “new day” for Mercy Hospital as they get ready to welcome back employees. He also noted they will work to heal.

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Outside Mercy Hospital in south Buffalo.

Hayes says he told the union they are ready to reestablish a “trusting” work relationship.

“Our goal, and I know it’s the goal of every member in the hospital, is to provide the best patient care they can,” explained Hayes.