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Catholic Health suggests health care coverage may be cut for striking workers

Strikers picket in the rain
Mike Desmond
CWA workers continue their picketing in the rain outside the entrance of Mercy Hospital Tuesday.

Outside Mercy Hospital, strikers march in circles, dampened by the continuing rain. Inside, Catholic Health CEO Mark Sullivan defends what management is doing, again arguing that if workers were allowed by the Communications Workers of America to vote on the proposed contract, they would approve it and head back inside to care for patients.

Striking medical-surgical nurse Peggy Campbell was marching outside Tuesday, pushing back.

"Oh, it is tough. We want to get back to work. We want to take care of our patients. But we want to make sure we do it right," Campbell said.

The strike is nearing the end of the fourth week, unusually long for a health care facility strike. Talks are continuing and Sullivan said the issues have narrowed.

Two key issues remain wages and fringes and staffing. There is a wages and fringes offer on the table and a staffing offer, which the union said doesn't meet its needs.

There are also issues about employee health insurance, with Catholic Health suggesting it will stop paying for the current coverage while the strike continues.

Catholic Health CEO Mark Sullivan
Mike Desmond
Catholic Health CEO Mark Sullivan wants CWA to put the health system's contract proposal to workers.

"The wages are fair and competitive. The benefits are fair and competitive. The staffing model is very progressive. All the things that the union's asked for, and with the political circus that has been here, with all of our national politicians coming through here for the photo ops and the local politicians, we want to make sure, just like the patients rely on us when they come here for care, the patients know, the community knows what we're about and the facts behind what we're presenting," Sullivan said.

Sullivan told reporters Tuesday the community needs Mercy Hospital back operating at full capacity.

"Folks, it's important to know that Catholic Health cannot do that alone. As I said before, Catholic Health is working tirelessly to provide fair and competitive wages, but the ability to end the strike and end the hardships on the community and on the associates and on the region, the CWA has the ability, working with us, to end that strike," he said.

"I trust my bargaining committee to determine that," said Campbell. "I tell Mark Sullivan not to bargain one-on-one with employees. Rather, that our bargaining committee will let us know when the package is acceptable."

CWA has started airing a new television advertising campaign featuring workers.

Sullivan told a news conference 50 workers have quit since the strike started, including a dozen ICU nurses. He said the Emergency Department is operating at less than half-capacity and there were 123 inpatients, also well below capacity.

Care is being provided by outside workers brought in for millions of dollars during the strike.

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.