Pressure in the healthcare industry leads to strikes across the country | Local news

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The strike at Mercy Hospital is more than two weeks old.

But it’s not the only place in the country where healthcare workers have been on strike or about to leave their jobs.

The ongoing labor shortage could give CWA leverage in further negotiations with the Catholic health system, say hospital staff and labor experts.

The reasons for the strike are similar: they have endured the stresses and exhaustion of work caused by the pandemic and insist that hospital staff help shoulder the workload.

They say their complaints about staff levels and working conditions preceded the pandemic but have moved more attention to their work over the past year and a half.

The strikes and impending work stoppages increase the urgency to face the problems at a time when hospital systems say they are having trouble recruiting.

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The attorney general asked Huffmaster to stop serving at Mercy Hospital.

The maelstrom of labor shortages, the pandemic, and the pressure on healthcare workers have all turned some labor disputes into strikes, said Larry Zielinski, a past president of Buffalo General Hospital.

“It only exacerbates the normal work management problems that have long existed in health care,” said Zielinski, a senior health administration officer at the University at Buffalo School of Management.






Strike at Mercy Hospital

Mercy Hospital workers have been on strike since October 1st.


Robert Kirkham / Buffalo News


There comes a time when employers across the country in all sorts of industries are struggling to fill jobs, a dynamic that gives workers some leverage by making it difficult for companies to recruit replacements for workers on strike.

Competition for labor is also forcing some industries to raise wages for lower-paid workers – a factor that has played a prominent role in the health care labor disputes, including at Mercy.

As the strike at Mercy continues, Catholic Health is facing another pressure point in the form of the millions of dollars it pays each week to a contractor recruiting company it relies on to keep the hospital open.

With around 2,000 striking CWA members backing their union’s efforts to get a new contract, they get a financial boost.

More than 2,000 workers are part of the strike at Mercy, which began on October 1st. Catholic Health and the Communications Workers of America continue to negotiate a total of six contracts for a total of 2,500 workers across three facilities.

But the Mercy strike is by no means the only industrial action that has resulted or is threatened to lead to a strike. Tens of thousands of healthcare workers across the country are on strike or on the verge of strike.

• In Worcester, Massachusetts, about 700 nurses at Saint Vincent Hospital have been on strike for seven months. The two sides failed to reach a return to work agreement that would end the strike.

To make matters worse, Saint Vincent, which belongs to Tenet Healthcare based in Dallas, has hired around 200 replacement workers on a permanent basis. This means that some of the nurses on strike would not return to their pre-strike positions in the hospital.

The hospital claims that both sides have reached a dead end, which means that no further progress can be made in the negotiations. The union has challenged this statement as unlawful.

• Over 24,000 nurses and other healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente in California and Oregon are on the verge of striking after their union has given their union permission to call a strike.

The union must issue a statutory 10-day strike notice before a strike can begin. Strike approval votes from thousands more Kaiser workers in other states could follow.

• In Hartford, Connecticut, some 150 unionized homeworkers went on strike demanding better pay and affordable health care.






IATSE strike

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees could go on strike for the first time in its 128-year history.


Chris Pizzello / Associated Press


While there have been several health worker strikes across the country this year, most of those work stoppages ended in a day or two, Zielinski said. In that way, the strikes at Mercy and in Massachusetts are exceptional, he said.

Strikes occurred in non-healthcare sectors, including manufacturing.

About 1,400 workers in four Kellogg grain factories across the country are on strike. More than 10,000 Deere & Co. workers went on strike early Thursday. And around 60,000 television and film production workers threatened to quit on Monday in what would be the first nationwide strike in the union’s 128-year history.

But Zielinski said there was a reason health strikes usually didn’t last long.

“In healthcare, you don’t make finished goods or a box of cereal,” he said. “They treat people’s lives.”

Strikes in hospitals in the Buffalo Niagara area are rare. In 2001, 170 nurses at what was then St. Joseph’s Hospital in Cheektowaga went on strike for three weeks. That same year, a strike of 127 registered nurses at Lockport Memorial Hospital lasted five weeks.

“It is not unusual for trade unions and health systems to play the chicken and strike strikes and go to the bitter end,” said Zielinski. “But actually going over the cliff is unusual because the people who ultimately hurt you are the patients. It’s mutually assured destruction, and the patients are the big losers.”


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