BUFFALO, N.Y. — Two unions, the CWA and 1199SEIU represent more than 6,000 health care workers with Kaleida Health. Their contract expired back on July 31, and the bargaining committees from those unions and the hospital have been trying to reach an agreement on a new contract with no luck.

Union representatives from CWA and 1199SEIU discussed their decision to hold a strike authorization vote on Tuesday.

"We actually just completed a complete review of our open issues, where we're apart on issues and made a determination that without further movement from Kaleida, that we would not have an agreement that would be ratified," said Deborah Hayes, CWA Upstate New York area director.

They say their core issue is staffing at the health care system.

"We have machines sitting idle. Don't have enough staff,” said Jim Scordato, 1199SEIU Western New York Hospital Division vice president. “You don't have jobs posted for staff and we have people waiting in the lobby waiting for services.”

Health care workers say staffing issue leads to stressful work conditions. Katie Perna, a registered nurse at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, says her coworkers who care for patients on medical surgical floors feel like it's a combat zone.

"Someone described it to me as being in the ocean, and as soon as you get hit with a wave and as soon as you stand up and you get your feet under you, the next wave comes to knock you down. And that's what she described going to work every day,” said Perna. “We can't have this for our community. It's not right. We want to provide better care than that to this community.”

The strike vote will be held on Sept. 13-15, and only members can authorize a strike. The unions will also have to provide a 10-day notice to Kaleida Health if they decide to strike. Union representatives stress that striking is the last thing they want to do and they understand the impact a strike could have.

"We have decent idea of where, if we do give the 10-day notice, at what point they would have to start forking out additional cash,” Hayes said. “We certainly don't want to be in a position where millions of dollars are being paid to replacement workers, where those monies could be used to settle the contract.”

In a statement to Spectrum News 1, Kaleida Health said:

"The announcement that the unions intend to hold a strike authorization vote does not impact or change our goal.  In fact, we will continue to bargain in good faith with the objective of getting a new labor contract without a work stoppage.  That said, we continue to refine our contingency plans to ensure that we can continue to provide safe quality care for our community in the unfortunate event that a strike occurs. To date, we have reached tentative agreements on more than 155 contract articles, MOUs and letters of intent.  Our current economic package places us as the market leader in wages among Buffalo-area hospitals and enhances employee benefits, which already exceed what our competitors provide.  In short, we are committed to achieving a fair contract that rewards our current employees, helps attract new staff and puts Kaleida Health in a strong position going forward.”

In a previous statement, Kaleida Health said:

"Kaleida Health, 1199SEIU and CWA continue to make significant progress with our collective bargaining efforts as we enter week 23 of negotiations.  The informational picket held late last week has not impeded the progress we’ve made with the unions and does not change our goal of finalizing a new labor contract.

“As an organization, we remain committed to reclaiming our position as market leaders in wages, benefits and staffing levels and will continue to negotiate the best possible agreement for our employees. Our current proposed economic package already accomplishes each of these objectives and will put the organization on firm footing to continue providing excellent patient care and meeting the healthcare needs of all Western New Yorkers.

“We understand that CWA and 1199SEIU’s bargaining team has chosen to hold a strike authorization vote among its membership. While the unions have said that a strike authorization vote will help put “pressure” on Kaleida Health,” we are fully aware of the importance of these negotiations to bargaining unit employees and the organization alike.

“Important to note, a vote by the CWA and 1199SEIU membership to authorize a strike does not necessarily mean that a strike is inevitable.  That said, we firmly believe that a strike will cause significant and longstanding harm to Kaleida Health and the community in general.  This harm would include the financial condition of Kaleida Health, which is already fragile and thereby put into jeopardy the financial ability of the organization to pay for that which has been offered to date.

“In addition, we have been in contact with the New York State Department of Health to ensure their awareness and review of our contingency plans. Patient access will remain paramount as the community will depend on us to continue providing vital healthcare services no matter the duration or location of a potential work stoppage.”