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Union nurses, explaining possible strike at Mercy Hospital, say they're at the 'breaking point'

WBFO File Photo
Members of CWA 1133 during an informational picket outside Mercy Hospital in Buffalo last month.

The union representing nurses at Mercy Hospital say they don’t want to strike against the Buffalo hospital. But in explaining their possible labor stoppage late next week, leaders of Communications Workers of America Local 1133 say with no contract with Catholic Health in sight, and years of unfavorable working conditions taking their toll, they are at a breaking point.

Among the complaints by union members are staffing issues, with patient-to-nurse ratios of at least three-to-one. They also reveal what they say are severe shortages of needed supplies.

“We’re short on urinals, sheets, blankets, washcloths, thermometers, urine tubes, urine tubes, blood tubes, syringes, and that’s just a few. We could go on and on,” said Jackie Ettipio, a registered nurse at Mercy Hospital and president of CWA Local 1133.

Ettipio adds that during negotiations, and even before the COVID pandemic, it has felt among her peers as if management has not been listening to their concerns. Ninety-seven percent of those who voted authorized the strike.

“This was an extraordinarily difficult decision for us to make. But Catholic health has really made it impossible at this point for our members to provide the patient care that they deserve,” said Debora Hayes, CWA Buffalo Area Director.

“It is inconceivable that the union would lead essential healthcare workers on strike in the midst of an ongoing pandemic,” said Eddie Bratko, president of Mercy Hospital, in a prepared statement. “I want to assure our community that our top priority is the welfare and safety of our patients, and our hospital will remain open and operational during a strike to continue providing safe, high quality care.”

Union leaders were asked about the timing of their possible walkout, during a continuing pandemic, and whether it would create more dangerous conditions inside. Ettipio said when a strike occurs at a hospital, the health department comes in to assess the situation, and ensure safety.

“I believe they will even possibly slow down on elective procedures to maintain the staffing in there, which is something that we have begging the hospital to do,” she said.

Under federal law, CWA was obligated to give Catholic Health a ten-day notice of a possible strike action. The union delivered that notice Monday. Should they strike, it would take effect at 6 a.m., Friday, October 1.

In response, Catholic Health announced Mercy Hospital will remain open if nurses walk off the job, and a contingency plan is ready. It includes bringing in qualified and vaccinated registered nurses through a contracted staffing agency.

Meanwhile, Mercy Hospital, Kenmore Mercy Hospital, and Sisters of Charity Hospital/St. Joseph Campus have filed unfair labor practice charges against the union with the National Labor Relations Board. In their complaint, they accuse CWA of “engaging in bad faith, surface, and regressive bargaining.”

Jenna French contributed to this story.

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.