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Catholic Health workers take to the picket line in South Buffalo

Labor relations at Catholic Health are boiling over again, as they did four years ago. This time it was at a raucous, packed, red-shirted rally outside Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo in the steamy heat of an August afternoon.

Communications Workers of America Area Director Debora Hayes told a cheering crowd the union is pushing hard on the big issues and asking for public support.

"We need help fighting to get more staff. We need help fighting to get more equipment. Our equipment is broken and we'll have speakers coming up and talking about it. We need security. Our nurses are being beaten up in Emergency Rooms (cheers). We are also the lowest paid hospital in the area or one of," Hayes said.

In its statement, Catholic Health said it's committed to contracts that provide fair, competitive wages and benefits. Hayes said the proposed 1 percent pay raise with higher costs for insurance would leave the 2,500 workers at three local Catholic Health hospitals represented by six unions with less money.

The health system admits it is experiencing serious problems finding qualified candidates for jobs. The union said staffing issues are very bad, across the board, and they worry about PPE with COVID-19 totals slowly rising.

CWA Local 1168 President Cory Gambini said Catholic Health also treated a lot of staffers badly, despite their work battling COVID at St. Joseph's Hospital in Cheektowaga.

"Not a day went by that they didn't take care of a COVID patient, without the proper PPE in the beginning. Rmember scrambling in the beginning? What did they do? They shut it down. They shut it down and gave us trouble when we forced them to negotiate placement for our members, to be able to move to other Catholic Health System facilities," Gambini said.

State Sen. Tim Kennedy lives near the hospital and told the crowd of his family ties.

"I've got a lot of family that works here, including my mother, who's a nurse. My mother's a nurse. She's still teaching nursing. My cousin's a nurse here. My uncle, Jimmy Kennedy, for 44 years is a speech therapist here. And, let me tell you, this facility is the heart and soul of South Buffalo," Kennedy said.

Bargaining is continuing.

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.