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When the COVID-19 pandemic was raging last year, healthcare workers at CHS were called “heroes,” but it’s now clear these were just empty words from management. Now that it’s time to negotiate a new contract that adequately compensates these “heroes” for their incredible sacrifices, Catholic Health is instead proposing:
- A 1% across-the-board increase in wages, behind the rate of inflation
- Reduced pension benefits
- Massive increase in healthcare costs
- Nothing to improve the dangerously inadequate staffing levels
Between the current rate of inflation and the massive increase in out-of- pocket healthcare costs, CHS’ 1% wage proposal translates into a 6.5% to 10% pay cut for the typical worker, depending on their seniority date.
No doubt, 2020 was a challenging year for all healthcare institutions. But instead of investing all available resources in rebuilding staffing and improving patient care at Mercy, Kenmore Mercy, and St. Joseph’s hospitals, CHS is over-investing in capital, including upgrading a hospital in Lockport and spending tens of millions of dollars on digital medical records. All the while, Catholic Health CEO Mark Sullivan alone brings home a hefty $1.4 million, and the top 11 administrators made more than $7 million combined in 2019.Key Issues in the Contract Fight
1. CWA Workers Are Putting Patients First, Fighting for Safe Staffing Levels to Ensure Quality Care
Healthcare workers spent most of the last 18 months overwhelmed by the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, working longer and harder than ever before.
But even as the pandemic waned earlier this year, the crisis for workers and patients at CHS continued. The hospitals remain terribly, terribly understaffed. Supplies are inadequate and outdated. Hundreds of job openings remain unfilled.
CHS also seems to be using the pandemic crisis as an opportunity to cut staffing to the bone. With so many open positions, health workers repeatedly work short across the three hospitals. This is also a major problem in environmental and dietary services. Housekeepers have double the rooms to clean, making it nearly impossible to clean rooms fast enough or remove trash on a timely basis.
One tragic result is that “heroic” nurses and aides have seen a rising number of assaults on frontline workers, without enough staff to respond, putting workers’ and patients' health and safety in danger.
2. Workers are Fighting Catholic Health Proposals to Slash Pay; In addition, Hundreds of Workers Make $15 an Hour or Less
CHS’s proposal for a 1% across-the-board wage increase amounts to a 3% pay cut when the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that inflation in this region has been running at 4% per year. In addition, CHS pay scales are already substandard for this region, making it impossible to attract enough workers to achieve safe staffing levels in the hospitals.
Even more outrageous, roughly 9% of the CHS workforce in Buffalo, approximately 230 workers, makes $15 an hour or less. Workers can leave these demanding, stressful jobs and make more at fast food restaurants. The union is demanding revised wage scales and increases to address this situation.
Catholic Health workers need substantial wage increases not only to show respect to existing CHS workers, but also to help attract and retain healthcare workers at a time when many are leaving the sector exhausted and burnt out from the pandemic.
3. Catholic Health Has Proposed to Slash Retirement Benefits and Impose Massive Increases in the Cost of Health Care
Currently, most CHS employees are covered by Defined Benefit pension plans, but the largest of those plans, the Personal Retirement Account (PRA) Pension Plan, is extremely inadequate and provides a totally substandard benefit. Instead of improving the existing plans, Catholic Health wants to freeze them and force all employees into a 403(b) Defined Contribution plan that will provide even worse benefits. Every CHS worker deserves a secure retirement and management must work with the union to guarantee adequate pension benefits.
Catholic Health has also proposed massive increases in the share of health care premiums paid by workers. Full-time workers would see an increase in their share of the cost of premiums from the current 10% or 20%, depending on where they work and their seniority, to 30%. On average this would increase full-time workers' contribution to the cost of health coverage by at least $2365 to $4730 per year—a pay cut of 3.5% or 7% based on the bargaining unit’s average compensation. (Employee contributions will also increase along with the rising cost of health care overall).
For part-time workers, the massive 50% share of premiums already required makes health care simply unaffordable. Management also wants to replace the current healthcare plans with a high deductible plan, higher co-pays for prescription drugs, and a significant increase in what Catholic Health employees would pay for restorative dental work.
4. Catholic Health Workers are Fighting for a Master Contract and Common Expiration Date at all 3 CWA-Represented Hospitals to Unite and Protect Workers in this Crisis.Timeline
- The current contract was extended by one year to June 30, 2021 due to the severe conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic
- The contract requires an automatic extension/cooling down period from July 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021.
- First day we can strike is October 1, 2021.
Kenmore Mercy Hospital | Registered Nurses | 274
- Kenmore Mercy Hospital | Technical Employees | 101
- Mercy Hospital of Buffalo | Registered Nurses | 879
- Mercy Hospital of Buffalo | Service/Technical/Clerical Employees | 1,110
- St. Joseph Campus | Registered Nurses | 107
- St. Joseph Campus | Service Employees | 109