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Hochul budget invests in healthcare workforce. How it would work raises union's concern

A group of union healthcare workers holding pickets signs about safe staffing
Tom Dinki
CWA union workers picket outside Mercy Hospital in October over staffing levels.

The state budget proposal unveiled Tuesday morning by Gov. Kathy Hochul includes a multi-year investment aimed at rebuilding and retaining the healthcare workforce. How the state plans to carry out one of the provisions is raising early concern.

Hochul’s proposals for the $10 billion investment in healthcare include a $3,000 bonus to full-time workers who remain in their positions for one year.

Budget director Robert Mujica explained Tuesday how those bonuses will be distributed. He stated that employers will identify workers who are eligible for the bonuses, and the state will then provide the funding to pay those bonuses.

“As I said, when the governor first announced the $10 billion in investment in the healthcare workforce as part of her State of the State, the devil lies in the details. I was thrilled when I saw and heard about the plan that she announced in the State of the State, but to hand the money over to employers and let the employers decide who's going to get what funding is a red flag to me,” he said.

Debora Hayes, area director for the Communication Workers of America, said when Hochul first announced her plan for the $10 billion investment in health care, she was pleased, but also wanted to know more about how it would be executed, stating “the devil is in the details.”

The details she’s eager to learn is how employers will be able to identify eligible recipients of the bonuses. It’s been a concern before.

“Very often there's a disagreement between the union and the employers in terms of who should be getting bonuses and under what circumstances they should be getting them,” Hayes said. “So again, I have to look at the details, but that's an automatic red flag to me to say that the state would give the money to the employers and the employers will make the decision as to who gets the money.”

Hochul’s budget proposal also calls for cost-of-living adjustments for human services workers, investment in capital infrastructure and investment in workforce and healthcare access and delivery.

Hayes, recalling last fall’s strike against Catholic Health at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, told WBFO more needs to be done to improve health care than just throwing money at it. She said the conditions under which staff are working, one of the main points of the walkout at Mercy, are of utmost importance. They include staffing levels.

She also suggested the state needs to provide more assistance and investment for the schools training the next wave of the workforce. Among her recommendations, implementing a program that offers student loan forgiveness in exchange for working at a position within the state for a set minimum period of time.

“A financial incentive to bring somebody in the door is good. A financial incentive to retain people from leaving is important. But the bottom line is, the work conditions have to be such that people are willing to make the commitment,” Hayes said.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.