Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, NY: The Communication Workers Union works to isolate striking healthcare workers
The Communication Workers of America (CWA) is isolating the 2,200 nurses, aides, technicians and staff who lost their jobs on Friday and are fighting for more staff, better pay and working conditions at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, New York.
Hundreds of striking workers picketed Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo over the weekend. The workers declare that they will continue the strike until they enforce their demands.
Mercy Hospital is one of five hospitals and a number of clients, nursing homes, and laboratories that are part of the Catholic Health System, a “nonprofit” that provides health services in West New York. However, nurses, auxiliaries, technicians and other health workers continued to be employed in the other Catholic Health hospitals and facilities.
In an agreement with Catholic Health during their previous contract, the CWA agreed to only strike Mercy Hospital if a contract could not be reached. CWA has served its members at two other hospitals in the system, Kenmore Mercy Hospital and St. Joseph, whose contracts have also expired.
In addition, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199, which also represents workers in the Catholic health system, also signed a four-year contract for workers in St. Joseph and an annual contract in two nursing homes in August.
Taking advantage of the CWA’s agreement to isolate Mercy’s workers, Catholic Health made unsustainable demands, including cuts in health care and pensions that would have represented a 6 to 10 percent cut in wages, depending on years of service.
The health system has also taken extensive measures to end the strike. Last week, Catholic Health canceled elective surgeries, emergency rooms, and all newborn labor and births. The hospital also directed emergency medical services not to take patients to the hospital.
Last week, Catholic Health was confirmed to have issued millions of contracts with Huffmaster, a company that specializes in hiring scabs to work in hospitals and nursing homes during strikes. Job postings show the company pays up to $ 150 an hour for registered nurses who cross the picket line. Company officials claim they have hired 52 scabs who are working with management to keep the hospital open.
Workers on the picket line have described dire conditions they face due to staff shortages and overwork. That burden only increased during the pandemic as many employees left for other jobs and the hospital was inundated with COVID-19 patients.
“What we are fighting for is better staffing and better Catholic health to enlist and work harder to actually fill their facilities,” Tina Knop said Guardian. “They don’t support us emotionally or physically, and they just want to cut our salaries, take away the retirement goals and charge more for our health insurance.”
Staff shortages are the primary concern of nurses and others on the picket line.
“Our hospital is broken right now and our administration is not taking care of it,” said a 38-year-old trained nurse in the hospital More perfect union. “I’ve never seen conditions in the hospital as bad as I do now. In my unit it is a heart-thorax unit with 40 beds. It should be staffed with 11 sisters and 5 helpers every day. Lately we have been fortunate to have 5 nurses and 2 helpers for 40 patients. “
Cheryl Darling, an immediate treatment assistant at Mercy Hospital, described the chaotic working conditions in the hospital, with workers being sent from one department to another.
“I’m scared of going to work because I don’t know what my day will be like,” Cheryl said of the Guardian. “I go to bed in the evening before work and I’m a bundle of nerves because I don’t know where they will take me or what my working conditions will be.”
Catholic Health offered a wage increase of only 1 percent and required workers to pay more for their own health services and pensions. On Friday morning, Catholic Health increased the offer to 3 percent in the first year and 2 percent in each of the following years.
Catholic Health, a not-for-profit organization, was founded in 1998 to bring together several hospitals and services operated by various Catholic charities in western New York. Mercy in Buffalo, a 468 bed hospital that originally opened as a 30 bed hospital in 1904 to serve the South Buffalo community. Kenmore Mercy, a 344 bed hospital, opened on October 7, 1951. The 119-bed Saint Joseph Hospital opened in 1960.
Two non-CWA hospitals are the 476-bed Sisters of Charity Hospital, originally chartered as the first regional hospital in October 1848, and Mount St. Mary’s Hospital & Health Center, a 155-bed hospital originally opened in Niagara in 1907 If.
In addition, Catholic Health operates a number of nursing homes, laboratory services, and health centers.
Despite being classified as a nonprofit, Catholic Health had total sales of $ 181,097,796 and net worth of $ 109,404,791 in 2019. Health Systems President and CEO Mark Sullivan earned $ 1,290,346 in 2019. The six top Catholic Health executives combined earned over $ 5 million.
The nurses, aides and staff at Mercy Hospital are fighting not only for themselves but also for the nursing staff in hospitals, clinics and nurses across the country who are massively underpaid and understaffed. Conditions for health care workers have only deteriorated during the pandemic that resulted in the deaths of thousands of health care workers and an immeasurable burden on the remaining workers.
24,000 nurses and other health care workers at Kaiser Permanente California are currently voting on strike clearance after the company offered a 1 percent raise and requested benefits cuts.
To win these struggles, however, new workers’ organizations must be built. Nurses and other healthcare workers should study the experiences of nurses on strike at St. Vincent Hospital in Massachusetts.
The 700 nurses have now been on strike for more than 6 months. The hospital, run by for-profit Tenet Healthcare, has hired permanent replacements for striking nurses isolated from the Massachusetts Nurses Association. The union has refused to mobilize thousands of health workers across the state to support it.
Workers at Mercy Hospital and across the health sector must follow the example of educators, auto workers, and steel workers who have formed independent grassroots committees to organize their struggle. These committees will work immediately to extend the strike to the other Catholic health hospitals and facilities.
These committees will formulate a series of demands based on the needs of workers that ensure high quality care for all the communities they serve rather than what Catholic Health can afford.
These demands include:
- Staffing needs to be set according to industry standards to ensure high quality and safe services that are supervised by the workers themselves.
- Significant wage increases for all workers, especially the lowest paid.
- Full health and pension benefits for all employees.
See wsws.org/workers for more information.