BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — The CWA says there is still no deal for striking Mercy Hospital workers in Buffalo. Workers walked off the job October 1 in their strike against Catholic Health.
Early Tuesday evening CWA Area Director Debora Hayes held an update after another full day of bargaining.
Hayes appeared outside the Gateway Building in Hamburg where both sides have been meeting for negotiations throughout the strike.
“This isn’t about playing games or trying to delay a strike,” Hayes stated.
Hayes noted that the leader of Catholic Health had stated “only” the CWA can end strike, but Hayes says that’s not true.
“That is just not right. They have the power to put a proposal on the table that will bring this strike to an end. They know exactly what we need and why we need it,” Hayes declared. “We’ve been here working trying to reach an agreement with Catholic Health that would end the strike and bring our employees back to work — unfortunately, I don’t think we are there yet.”
But each day it grows more expensive for the hospital and its workers.
“The longer a strike goes, the more unpredictable it becomes,” remarked Art Wheaton, labor expert, Cornell’s School of Industrial & Labor Relations, Buffalo.
Catholic Health is paying millions of dollars for replacement workers as it contracts with a staffing company in Michigan to fill the shoes of striking workers at mercy hospital.
“The big issue becomes if they can get this settled tonight or tomorrow — they may be able to do it without having tossing another contract for replacement workers,” explained Wheaton.
Catholic Health is paying for health insurance benefits for the nearly 2,000 striking hospital workers.
If the strike extends beyond 14-days, which would be this Thursday, workers will need strike pay. Strike pay would go into effect after day 15. But on day 14 strikers are also eligible to collect unemployment in the state.
“Are you surprised at the length if this particular strike?” Buckley asked.
“I’m not surprised it's gone 12 days if they paid 14 days for replacement workers, s they may be playing a very high stakes game of chicken to see who's going to flinch first and give in,” replied Wheaton.
The last time the leader of Catholic Health appeared for a news conference was October 8. That's when CEO Mark Sullivan said the strike is having a “significant” economic impact, but patient care is the major concern.
“It is a financial burden. We could have avoided — we could have taken that money and applied it too somewhere else, but we weren't given a choice,” stated Sullivan.
The latest offer Catholic Health presented to the union revealed that it would now pay $15 dollars an hour for all associates.
“If they had done this two years ago — it would have been a different result as opposed to doing it during a pandemic — with a global worker shortage and all of these other issues with big inflation,” reflected Wheaton.
Wheaton also reminds us that even when the union reaches a deal, they must still hold a ratification vote with the entire union.
A GoFundMe page was set up to help striking mercy workers, so far more than $5,900 has been raised.
Hayes says although a major sticking point is reaching an agreement on staffing levels and improving wages, there are 34 “open items” on the bargaining table that need to be resolved.
Hayes stated that both sides have been “passing papers” for months an dit needs to end. She says the union is seeking an “ironclad commitment” to also end what workers call “horrid” conditions inside Mercy.