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Kaleida Health and unions reach tentative labor deal, avoiding strike

Kaleida Health workers, represented by Communications Workers of America Local 1168 and 1199 SEIU United Health Care Workers East, picket near Buffalo General Medical Center and Oishei's Children's Hospital Aug. 18, 2022.
Mike Desmond
A sign on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus directing people to all the different Kaleida Health facilities.

Kaleida Health and the unions representing 6,300 of its workers reached an tentative labor agreement early Monday morning.

The pact represented the culmination of long hours of talks about a contract covering 19 different worker units represented by Communications Workers of America 1168 and 1199 SEIU United Health Care Workers East. The contract finally fell into place around midnight.

There was a constant background of a possible strike, in the wake of last year’s six-week long strike at Catholic Health's Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo.

Workers had given union leaders the power to call a strike but the legally required 10-day notice was never given.

Local 1199 SEIU Western New York Hospital Division Vice President Jim Scordato said the unions wanted to avoid a walkout.

“Our goal was never to go on strike, and Kaleida heard that and people in the community heard that," he said. "Our local leaders all heard that ‘cause we were in constant contact with them, having meetings with them. And, again, I think putting this agreement together will hopefully and fundamentally change health care in our area.”

It’s not clear what the Kaleida workers will get in the pact because the two unions aren’t releasing data until they can brief the members before a vote which is expected to get a large yes vote.

The union leaders say the pact does meet worker demands for better staffing, with hundreds of vacant positions slated to be filled across Kaleida’s hospitals, clinics, research labs and nursing home.

The leaders say they don’t know if the $25 million tossed into Kaleida’s COVID-19 troubled finances by Gov. Kathy Hochul last week made a difference in getting an agreement.

The two sides also agreed to do more training of workers to improve their skills and potentially move upward in their jobs.

CWA 1186 President Cori Gambini said the new contract will help fill vacant jobs.

“We negotiated a historic agreement here that will put us in a position to recruit and retain healthcare workers of all job titles, registered nurses, PCAs, certified medical assistants. No concessions," Gambini said.

Scordato said the new contract may force other healthcare operations not represented by the unions to raise pay and benefits for their workers. Implicit in that comment was that if they don’t, workers will move to Kaleida or Catholic Healh.

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.
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