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Catholic Health CEO remains optimistic for a deal, but says union needs to end strike and focus on talks

Catholic Health President Mark Sullivan
Michael Mroziak
Catholic Health President and CEO Mark Sullivan speaks Wednesday during a briefing on contract talks amidst CWA Local 1133's continuing strike at Mercy Hospital.

The president and CEO of Catholic Health says he remains optimistic that the hospital system and the union representing its striking nurses will reach terms soon on a fair contract. Mark Sullivan provided an update on behalf of the hospital system during day six of the CWA 1133 strike outside Mercy Hospital in Buffalo.

The union and its members have complained of working with short-staffing and other unacceptable conditions. But Sullivan says the company’s three-point offer would create more jobs, and would provide the most progressive strategy statewide in addressing staffing levels.

“Number one, Catholic Health has committed to adding 250 new positions within the bargaining agreement. Number two, Catholic Health has committed to adding staffing 10% above the daily average census 250 positions and staffing above 10% of the average daily census,” he said. “That may not be enough. So on top of that, what Catholic Health offered, as I mentioned to you before $20 million in this proposal, it provides bonus pay, if we are not hitting those staffing grids, to any associate that picks up an extra shift.”

Sullivan expressed optimism that both sides could soon reach a contract agreement. But he stated Wednesday that it’s up to the union to end its strike and focus on contract negotiations.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Mercy Hospital reported 132 patients were being cared for, with at least 55 people being treated daily in its emergency room. New York State Department of Health officials had visited the hospital Tuesday, Sullivan said, and determined Mercy Hospital was providing “positive patient care.”

Calling the nation’s overall healthcare system broken, Sullivan suggested the strike has also had an adverse ripple effect on other local hospitals.

“This strike is straining other area hospitals, emergency rooms, and that did not have to happen. The emergency departments and other Catholic Health hospitals, and Kaleida Health and ECMC are overflowing because of this strike. It is a challenge to staff a hospital when there isn't a strike. It's even more of a challenge to do that during a strike. Only the CWA can end the strike.”

But the picket line outside remained robust, as it had since it first began in the early morning of Oct. 1.

In response to Sullivan's remarks, Jennifer Williams, a charge nurse who has worked at Mercy Hospital for 14 years, issued the following statement: “The reason the staffing crisis at Catholic Health is so extreme is because the hospital system kept punting on the concerns we were raising and didn’t take negotiations seriously until the 11th hour. Catholic Health got us into this crisis and they have the power to get us out of it, and we will be on strike until we have a fair contract that addresses the deteriorating staffing conditions and ensures we don’t get to this point again. Frontline Catholic Health workers are united in our concerns about staffing and determined to fight until the issue is addressed satisfactorily. Mark Sullivan would know that if he came to talk with us on the picket line or at the bargaining table.”

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.