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CWA strike at Mercy Hospital enters its fourth day

Strikers and their signs at night
Strikers are maintaining a presence outside the entrance to Mercy Hospital 24/7.

Strikers are still marching in front of Mercy Hospital, with the walkout of 1,900 workers entering its fourth day.

It's an unusual strike, with members of Communications Workers of America saying they want in-person bargaining and Catholic Health saying it wants virtual talks. As a result, there isn't any bargaining going on.

The union plans to be at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service offices being used for talks Monday morning, but Catholic Health says it won't.

“Given the verbal threats, intimidating actions and other inappropriate and possibly illegal behaviors by many individuals on CWA’s picket line and out of an abundance of caution for the safety and security of its bargaining committee, Catholic Health offered to meet today with the union only virtually,” said Catholic Health Spokesperson JoAnn Cavanaugh in a release to media. “We are willing to meet with CWA again in person when it has demonstrated an ability to control its followers on the picket line.”

Cavanaugh said members of the Catholic Health bargaining committee were on a video conference with mediators from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service at 10 a.m. Sunday, but CWA’s bargaining committee never participated.

Catholic Health also says it is collecting evidence and investigating claims of actions "by individuals on CWA’s strike line who may have violated federal, state and local hate crimes given the racial overtones of the activity targeting the replacement workers, many of who are people of color."

On Friday afternoon, hospital security could be heard on speakers asking strikers not to block walkways and driveways.

Workers Bargaining Committee Member and registered nurse Maureen Kryszak says workers want change, but there have to be talks.

"So many of our colleagues have left Mercy Hospital for other facilities because they simply couldn't do their jobs under the conditions we work in right now. Our cafeteria closed last week, before the strike, because there was not enough staff to operate it. The staff that remain are exhausted. They are burned out and they are heartbroken. We want to have dialogue as soon as possible, but Catholic Health needs to come to the table for this to happen," Kryszak said.

CWA Area Director Debora Hayes says of the shouting, it's to be expected.

"These people are taking exorbitant amounts of money, some up to $150 an hour, to try and help Catholic Health break our union. And so there are tensions on picket lines, emotions get high and we expect to hear them calling people scabs," Hayes said.

The union says it showed up in-person Sunday at 10 a.m. to bargain, but Catholic Health was "a no show." The issues remain wages, staffing and health insurance costs.

The strikers are also making a big issue of a Mercy patient wandering away from the hospital Saturday. She was caught outside within a few minutes, apparently with the help of strikers who realized she had left the facility. Catholic Health didn't say what she was being treated for, but said she had been there for six months.

Bargaining Committee Member Cheryl Darling says workers struck because of short-staffing top to bottom at Mercy.

"Catholic Health let the staffing crisis in its hospitals become so bad that these healthcare workers feel the conditions have become so dangerous and unsafe for patients. We have nurses taking up to 10 patients at once. We have one or two people responsible for cleaning the entire hospital every night," Darling said.

Catholic Health acknowledges there is a national and local staffing shortage, but some jobs have been filled and more people will be hired in a tight healthcare job market.

WBFO's Marian Hetherly contributed to this story.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.