Catholic Health, union reach tentative agreement to end 5-week, 2,000-worker strike

Catholic Health and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) announced last night they have reached a tentative agreement that will see an immediate end to a five-week, 2,000-worker walkout.

Union workers at Catholic Health’s Mercy Hospital had launched their strike Oct. 1 over contract proposals they said had insufficient pay increases and did little to address ongoing staffing and supply shortages affecting patient care.

During the course of the demonstrations, the health system brought in certified replacement workers, a strike security firm that drew the ire of New York’s state attorney general and eventually discontinued the health benefits of those on the picket line.

After “promising” contract talks broke down on Sunday, Catholic Health said it offered a compromise Wednesday that would see the hospitals “reallocate staffing resources across the care-delivery team to achieve the staffing numbers CWA sought.”

The agreements extend to six contracts covering roughly 2,500 employees at Kenmore Mercy Hospital, Mercy Hospital of Buffalo and the St. Joseph campus of Sisters of Charity Hospital, Catholic Health said.

CWA has agreed to end its strike immediately, the system said, and is scheduling a ratification vote for the contracts “in the coming days.”

RELATED: Nearly 32,000 Kaiser Permanente workers set to strike Nov. 15. Tens of thousands more mulling their own demonstrations

“Our staffing model is the most progressive approach to address staffing shortages of any hospital in our region,” Catholic Health President and CEO Mark Sullivan said in a statement announcing the tentative agreement. “Not only does it comply fully with the New York State Safe Staffing law set to go into effect in January 2022, but it goes far beyond, adding 250 new positions in the face of a nationwide staffing shortage.”

CWA said the “groundbreaking” contract agreement “will improve our hospitals by leaps and bounds—something that was almost unfathomable a year ago—or even six weeks ago.”

The union said it will be distributing the full final bargaining report prior to ratification meetings but touted “substantial across the board wage increases” and “historic breakthroughs in safe staffing” in its announcement.

The new contracts between the two parties will be uniform across the three Catholic Health hospitals, including no change to workers’ pension plans and maintaining the current cost-sharing of healthcare benefits, according to the union’s announcement.

“We walked picket lines in the heat, the cold, in rainstorms and even while the Bills were playing,” CWA wrote in its announcement. “We talked to community members and elected officials, we told our stories again and again to the media, we stood toe-to-toe with scabs and refused to be intimidated, we navigated a difficult unemployment insurance system, we leafletted, we chanted until our throats were hoarse. This victory belongs to all of us.”