BUFFALO, N.Y. — Health care workers from Mercy Hospital have been asking for safer staffing levels, better wages and better health benefits from Catholic Health.
On Thursday, hospital staff voted to authorize a strike if Catholic Health does not come up with a new contract to address their needs.
"Strike in any work situation is an absolute last resort, but that is especially true in a hospital,” said Debora Hayes, Communications Workers of America (CWA) area director.
Hayes says that shows how desperate health care workers at Mercy Hospital are. The workers, represented by CWA, say there is a staffing crisis. Jackie Ettipio, a registered nurse at the hospital, says the issue isn't new, but COVID-19 made it worse.
"We are just exhausted and we've been beaten down physically, mentally and there's nothing left,” she said.
Ettipio says in the emergency room, staffing levels have gotten as bad as eight patients to one nurse.
“We have paralyzed, ventilated patients that are getting one nurse to eight — eight patients to one nurse,” she said. “These nurses have to take care of this person with their bodily functions. They have to be cleaned. They have to be fed. There's tons of medications coming through. They need special care. You just cannot do it."
That's not all members of CWA Local 1133 are concerned about.
"We're hoping to get a fair wage and we're hoping to not have our health care taken,” said Ettipio. “They want to give us high deductible. They're offering us 1%, and we really cannot live on that.
Union representatives say the frontline workers voted with 97% support to strike if Catholic Health does not offer them a new contract before their current one expires on September 30. Until then, the workers will bargain.
“We asked to escalate the bargaining schedule and hopefully starting next week, we'll bargain five days a week instead of three days a week,” said Hayes. “We will continue to pound away.”