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Mercy Hospital workers picket over stalled negotiations

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Mike Desmond/wbfo news
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Hundreds of Mercy Hospital workers picketed the South Buffalo facility on Tuesday. The action comes as  bargaining continues to replace a contract that expired nearly two months ago.

     

A fight over wages and benefits is central to negotiations between the hospital and the Communications Workers of America, Local 1133. The union represents around 2,200 members, most of the staff for the hospital and its other facilities.

Mercy is part of the much larger Catholic Health network, which says the fiscal picture is not bright because of prospective cuts in reimbursement by health insurers.  Still, officials maintain that they have been negotiating in good faith for nearly five months for the hospital’s RNs and service, technical and clerical staff.

"We are addressing all the points that the union made today," said  Catholic Health Public Relations Director JoAnn Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh said CWA has demanded more than $80 million in economic changes per year, with little room for movement. However, "with revenues of $3 million in 2015, Mercy Hospital cannot sustain an unrealistic proposal like this."

"We have generous offers on the table that include wage increases, increases in pension funding, increases in staffing to the tune of 110 new positions over the next few months," she said. Half of those positions have already been filled, according to Cavanaugh.

Union members do not agree with that assessment. CWA Area Director Debora Hayes said greater increases are necessary to boost recruitment efforts, especially for nurses.
 
"The wage and benefits package here is lower than at other facilities in Western New York. So people may come in, but as soon as they get some experience, they're back out the door," Hayes said.

Hayes can speak from experience. She and her two daughters are nurses.

Despite Tuesday's picket, Cavanaugh said the hospital is offering a strong package and that a final deal could be close at hand.