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How long will the strike at Mercy Hospital last? It's complicated

A CWA banner with assorted picket signs surrounding it
Mike Desmond

How long will the strike at Mercy Hospital last? The chief bargainer for the 1,900 strikers said it's all very complicated.

The two sides in the Mercy Hospital strike wound up slogging through the complexities of running a hospital for 11 hours in the same bargaining room Tuesday, after they couldn't agree on real or virtual the day before.

Communications Workers of America Upstate Area Director Debora Hayes said all the complexities of labor bargaining are even more complicated this time because of state law taking effect next year that regulates hospital staff and patient ratios.

While the law is next year, she wants the ratios in the contract being bargained right now and Catholic Health has to put some data together — potentially Wednesday — to bargain over those ratios.

Hayes said staffing remains the single most important issue to strikers.

"They're telling us wages are secondary. You have to deal with what's going on at the bedside and in the hospitals. So that is our primary objective," she said. "We will not take anything back piecemeal. We won't take anything back for one bargaining unit and not another bargaining unit."

Union officials said their bargaining units at Mercy are down 300 people since 2018. Catholic Health agrees that staffing is a real problem, across the American healthcare system, with COVID making it worse.

Add to this the sniping going on about comments and gestures to replacement workers who have been brought into the hospital. Catholic Health has been complaining about threats and possible illegal hate speech on surveillance tapes.

Local 113 President Jackie Ettipio said comments have been harsh, but not illegal.

"We were basically saying, there's people dying in there. We're saving people's lives and what you're doing is, you're ruining everything. And that's exactly what's happening," Ettipio said. "We're calling them out for leaving one nurse to 18 patients in the emergency room. We're calling them out for having one nurse take care of four people on a ventilator."

While the strike is at Mercy, the bargaining covers several Catholic Health hospitals.

Hayes said there is an agreement on one item: pay raises for the lowest-paid in the bargaining unit, pushing them above $15 an hour and toward a living wage.

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.