Hospital workers strike over staff shortage in upstate New York

Nearly 2,000 nurses and other hospital workers at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, New York, walked off the job on Friday, saying an ongoing staffing crisis is making it impossible to provide patients with adequate care. 

Poor working conditions at the hospital are jeopardizing patient safety, a problem worsened by the recent surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the Delta variant, according to Communications Workers of America, the union representing workers.

“It’s our life’s mission to give our friends, family and neighbors the care and support they deserve, and walking off the job is now the only option to force Catholic Health to listen,” Linda Bain, a registered nurse, said in an emailed statement issued by the CWA. 

The frontline workers went on strike after their contract expired on Thursday. Negotiations between the CWA and Catholic Health System are expected to continue throughout the weekend.

Mercy Hospital suspended inpatient nonemergency procedures as well as labor and delivery services on Wednesday in preparation for the walkout.

“It is inconceivable that the union would lead essential health care workers on strike in the midst of an ongoing pandemic,” Eddie Bratko, president of Mercy Hospital, said in a statement. 

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The two sides signaled progress on wage hikes for workers, but not on the union’s demands that Catholic Health commit to minimum staffing levels. Catholic Health said its proposal included adding about 230 new positions in nursing, imaging and other areas. 

The CWA is looking to reach agreement on six labor contracts covering about 2,500 employees at Mercy Hospital of Buffalo, Kenmore Mercy Hospital and Sisters of Charity Hospital. The previous agreements were set to lapse last year, but both sides agreed to a one-year extension as the pandemic took hold. 

In nearby Worcester, Massachusetts, a nearly seven-months long strike over staffing and patient care conditions continues at Saint Vincent Hospital, with more than 500 workers walking picket lines. 

While the Massachusetts Nurses Association and Tenet Healthcare — the Dallas-based parent of Saint Vincent — have reached an agreement on staffing, a back-to-work provision is blocking an accord, according to the hospital.