BUFFALO, N.Y. — Sunday is day three of the Mercy Hospital of Buffalo strike and health care workers were lined up and picketing, and tensions continue to rise as negotiations have appeared to stall.
CWA Local 1133 says they notified Catholic Health they would be at the bargaining table Sunday morning, and that Catholic Health failed to show up.
Catholic Health officials responded, saying they were not given enough time to prepare for the meeting, as they were asked late Saturday night to meet at 10 a.m. the next morning.
Catholic Health then made an offer to meet virtually, because they felt meeting in person was unsafe due to recent verbal threats and intimidating actions from front-line protestors.
They say that the CWA never showed up to a scheduled video conference.
CWA leaders have since refuted Catholic Health's allegations of inappropriate or illegal activity.
Health care workers went on strike Friday morning at 6 a.m. for what they call a staffing crisis and deteriorating patient care and safety.
Protesters continued to gather Saturday after Catholic Health and CWA Local 1133 failed to reach a contract agreement.
Saturday was another day of rallying cries, as members of Mercy Hospital’s nursing staff in South Buffalo continued their strike after they say their pleas for staffing and improved working conditions went long unheard. They say they're so close, and yet so far, from where they would really like to be.
“We don’t want to be out here. We want to be inside taking care of our patients, but Catholic Health and Mark Sullivan have not allowed that, and they put us here,” said Peg Campbell, who has been a nurse at Mercy for 30 years.
Calls for the president and CEO’s termination rang out days after proposals from Sullivan and Catholic Health were deemed less than satisfactory.
“You can’t throw a staffing proposal at the bargaining committee on the ninth hour when our staffing proposal was on the table in February," said Campbell.
Catholic Health released a statement Saturday evening saying the administration has been part of negotiations with CWA Local 1133 and 1168 since February, and that a mediator has been involved since March. Even more, the statement says, the CWA Locals have not responded to Catholic Health’s latest offer, but that the hospital is willing to resume negotiations.
Workers say they are struggling with long shifts, a high number of patients, limited sanitary equipment, and low wages - all in the midst of a staffing shortage. The greatest concerns of the nurses, however, are their patients.
“Our patients don’t deserve the treatment that they’re getting. They come in here sick, not asking to be sick. They come here looking to be cared for, and that’s what our job is. We take an oath to care for people, and we need to, and our administrator needs to know that our patients come first,” said Rhonda Pierce, an immediate treatment assistant at Mercy Hospital for 21 years.
Many at the strike Saturday said that their concerns existed pre-pandemic, but the past year has been harder than ever to maintain their own physical and emotional health while helping to protect and care for others.
“The working conditions inside the hospital are the worst we’ve ever seen and this whistle has been blown to them before COVID; COVID only heightened it,” said Campbell.
“I was concerned for my safety every day I walked into this building taking care of those COVID patients. I went home exhausted, I even, after a point, suffered some anxiety, worried whether I was going to take COVID home to my family, friends, loved ones around me, wondering if I was going to get COVID," said Pierce.
During this turbulent time, many came out to support the staff of Mercy Hospital in any way they could, blowing car horns as they passed through, and some even bringing food and refreshments for the strikers who had been out since 5 a.m. Having had their own experiences with strikes and contract negotiations, members of the Buffalo Teachers Federation marched with their fellow essential workers.
“First of all, the people don’t want to be on strike, they want to be in there with their patients, but the thing is, they have no choice because they don’t have enough staff, they don’t have the supplies, they don’t have all the things that they need to help their patients. So what we hope comes out of this, is that there never has to be a strike again,” said President of the Buffalo Teachers Federation Phil Runmore.
While nurses say they want nothing more than to be back inside treating patients, they’ll be out here until a resolution is reached.
Spectrum News 1 reached out to a spokesperson for CWA, who stated that the union is developing a full response to Catholic Health's pre-strike proposal.