CWA, 1199SEIU Kick Off Contract Bargaining With Kaleida Health By Presenting Proposals To Address Critical Staffing Shortages Across Multiple Hospitals, Nursing HomeMarch 17, 2022
Union members outlined 5 priorities for new contract, including increased staffing and wages, job security, restoring dignity and respect on the job, and no concessions at first bargaining session
Buffalo, NY -- Kaleida Health workers who are members of Communications Workers of America Local 1168 (CWA) and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East (1199SEIU) met with Kaleida Health on Wednesday for the first bargaining session ahead of their current three-year contract’s expiration on May 31. The bargaining committee, composed of numerous types of healthcare workers from both unions, opened negotiations with management by putting forward its first set of proposals that would address safe staffing levels, and guaranteed dignity and respect on the job -- something that many members cite has suffered tremendously throughout their time working during the pandemic. Members are also seeking greater job security and a fair wage increase to reflect their commitment and dedication to providing healthcare in our local community.
“As the largest hospital system, and the largest private employer across Western New York, a quality contract with Kaleida will have a tremendously positive impact on our community. A strong contract will allow Kaleida to recruit and retain talented staff for the 1,000 open positions that desperately need to be filled and will provide more than 6,300 of our members with the resources they need to deliver the exceptional care patients deserve,” said Cori Gambini, President CWA Local 1168 and a Registered Nurse. “We’re excited to begin discussions and are hopeful that Kaleida will hear the concerns of their employees and work diligently with us to address them.”
Healthcare workers and staff with Kaleida Health who sacrificed their own safety and well-being to provide critical care across Western New York during the pandemic continue to face long hours, understaffing and mistreatment on the job, resulting in high turnover rates and low employee morale. Low wages within nursing overall have made travel positions increasingly popular, due to their overwhelmingly higher earning potential and benefits.
“Low morale, burnout and feeling overworked has been rampant as Kaleida workers have needed to absorb duties from other job titles due to insufficient staffing,” said Curtis Paine, CWA Area Vice President and a Physical Therapist at Buffalo General Medical Center. “We need new staffing language to alleviate this burden, and hope that Kaleida seriously considers the staffing proposals we have put forward that would do so.”
“We have been on the front line fighting COVID for two years now, but short staffing was an issue prior to the pandemic, and cuts of ancillary staff by Kaleida have added further issues,” said Joanna Burke, a Registered Nurse at Buffalo General Hospital and member of CWA Local 1168. “Young nurses are leaving for more lucrative travel assignments and at the same time, there was -- and still is -- a wave of retiring nurses leaving the profession. Too often my hospital is operating with a skeletal staff and no plan for emergencies, except to increase the workload. We are asking for a fair contract that recognizes the sacrifices of those of us who have stayed committed to these jobs.”
“The pandemic exposed the fragility and danger of systematically understaffing our hospitals,” said Nadine LaFalce, Area Vice President of the Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital Technical, Clerical, and Clinical Unit and a Medical Technician in hematology at Flint Road Laboratories. “No family should have to be concerned that nurses or support staff won’t have capacity to take care of their loved one when they send them to a hospital. The pandemic has shown us how crucial it is for hospitals to choose people, including their workers, over profits.”
Caregivers who gave opening statements expressed feeling disrespected over the last several years. "We have a union contract and those are the rules that we should go by, however our employer has arbitrarily violated it on multiple occasions," said Charles Williams, Patient Care Assistant at Buffalo General Medical Center and Vice-Chair of Service & Maintenance Group. “We have had enough! We feel dismissed, disrespected, and excluded from our own workplace.”
“Today, our union bargaining committee was well prepared and presented an outstanding package of proposals to the employer,” said Jim Scordato, 1199SEIU Vice-President for WNY Hospitals. “The employer listened intently as the committee explained in detail our proposals. This bargaining process will take many months to complete, but we are ready for the challenge and our members are ready too,” Scordato added.
Members of CWA and 1199SEIU will meet with Kaleida Health management weekly on Wednesdays and Thursdays. More dates can be added as the contract expiration date gets closer. “We are all in this together. It’s not about one of us – it’s about all of us,” said Johnine Gunsalus, Registered Nurse at Oishei Children’s Hospital of Buffalo in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. “We are 8,000 strong and we will not accept any concessions.”
Any new agreement will cover a variety of union workers at Kaleida Health, ranging from Registered Nurses, Physical and Occupational Therapists, Physician Assistants, Nurse Practitioners, Professionals, Laboratory Technicians, Clerical, Service & Maintenance and Dietary Workers. Union members with Kaleida Health work at locations including Buffalo General Medical Center, Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Oishei Children’s Hospital, HighPointe on Michigan and DeGraff Medical Park.
The Communications Workers of America represents working people in telecommunications, customer service, media, airlines, health care, public service and education, and manufacturing.
1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East is the largest and fastest-growing healthcare union in America. We represent over 400,000 nurses and caregivers throughout Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Florida. Our mission is to achieve quality care and good jobs for all.