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Striking CWA union holding out for 1-to-4 nurse-to-patient ratio

A group of picketers in front of Mercy Hospital
Tom Dinki
CWA union bargainers said the strike at Mercy Hospital would be over if Catholic Health offered a 1-to-4 nurse-to-patient ratio.

Striking workers at Mercy Hospital say they are so, so close to an agreement that would end the strike.

The strike has now been going on for more than a month and picketers are still walking in two circles along the hospital's main driveway. Around 2,000 workers are on strike, with around 50 having already quit, including a dozen highly-trained ICU nurses.

While wages and fringe benefits have been an issue, Communications Workers of America Area Director Debora Hayes said there is a written deal on that. The remaining issue — from before the strike to now — is staffing: how many workers should be assigned to positions, like the medical surgical units.

Both sides agree there are shortages of some of the needed skilled workers. The union said neither workers nor patients are safe when there are too many patients for a nurse. It is seeking a ration of four patients to each nurse, while saying in the past it has sometimes been up to 10 patients to each Mercy nurse.

"If they come to one-to-four, this ends. It's that simple," Hayes said. "We got some i's to dot and t's to cross and some papers to sign off on. But if they come to one-to-four, this is over and that's literally how close we are."

"The last piece of this is our patients," said Bargaining Committee member Corrine Webb. "The reason we need this piece of paper is for the community and our patients. It's to make sure you stay safe and we can get you better and that's why we just cannot, cannot go back in until this one piece of paper is done and I just want to make that very clear that the last piece of this is the patient."

Certified Nursing Assistant Kevonna Nedly said the workers are united and want a contract.

"Together, as workers, we fought to get Buffalo through the pandemic. And together we will stand strong," Nedly said, "and we urge Catholic Health to give us a fair contract and do what's right for our patients."

Catholic Health had no immediate response to the union comments.

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.