Kaleida Health employees, without a contract, will picket

June 28, 2019

By Samantha Christmann | The Buffalo News

Kaleida Health employees, whose union contracts expired last week, will picket July 10 if they can't come to agreement, they said at a rally Friday. Negotiations will resume July 1.

The roughly 7,200 members remain on the job at all Kaleida locations, but will stage the informational picket outside Oishei Children's Hospital of Buffalo and Buffalo General Medical Center for two hours to mobilize and raise awareness.

The contract affects a full spectrum of the hospital network's employees, from nurse practitioners and electricians to registered nurses and sterile environment aides. They're represented by Communications Workers of America Local 1168, Service Employees International Union Healthcare Workers East Local 1199 and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 17. They continue to work under the terms of the previous, expired contract.

The unions said they've had 50 bargaining sessions over the past four months, but there are still 30 items unresolved. Among the highest priorities are pay, health insurance and staffing issues.

Kaleida Chief of Staff Michael P. Hughes has said Kaleida's current proposal included a $50 million investment in its workforce. The company has not said what that $50 million investment includes.

"We will continue to negotiate in good faith in an effort to reach agreement on a new contract that is fair and reasonable, allows us to invest in our workforce and positions the organization to continue to deliver the highest quality of care for our community well into the future," Hughes said.

Though the unions declined to provide specifics, workers painted a picture of understaffed departments they said put patients' and workers' health at risk.

Kim Kornowski, a registered nurse at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, said understaffed nurses are rushed through "an impossible task list," often without lunch or bathroom breaks, and are forced to "skimp on vital medical necessities." Patients aren't monitored as well as they should be and nurses don't have enough time to give them the care they need.

Jen Hogue, a certified medical assistant at Buffalo General Medical Center, said patients trying to get to the bathroom have ripped out their own IVs, wet themselves or fallen when they can no longer wait for a short-staffed nurse. Good workers have also left because of the conditions and pay, she said.

Tamara Simpson, a registered nurse at Buffalo General Medical Center, said she knows what it takes to save lives, whether it's helping a male patient twice her size take his first step or intervening for a woman who has stopped breathing in front of her.

"I'm not afraid of difficult things," Simpson said. "The only thing that scares me about being a nurse is not having what I need to get the job done," she said.

Kaleida wants employees to pay more out-of-pocket for health care, the unions said. But hospital workers have a high risk of illness because of their work environment, noted Cori Gambini, CWA Local 1168 president and a registered nurse.