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September 16, 2021
CEO, Catholic Health System, Buffalo
144 Genesee Street
Buffalo, NY 14203
Dear Mr. Sullivan:
A crisis for patients and workers is taking place at the hospitals of the Catholic Health System in Buffalo.
Based on our conversations with workers from the hospitals, and with the leadership of the Communications Workers of America, the hospitals have simply not recovered from the Covid-19 crisis of 2020, which stretched all of these institutions to their breaking point.
The hospitals remain woefully understaffed. We have heard from nurses who routinely work through lunch hours and breaks because they know coverage will be dangerously inadequate if they take their contractual breaks. On a daily basis, workers tell us they despair of having enough time to ensure that patients receive the care they need and deserve. We have also been made aware of understaffing in cleaning and dietary departments, resulting in garbage piling up in hallways. Needed supplies are often unavailable, hampering the ability to give the best care possible. The result is overwhelming stress and demoralization among the workforce, and workers voting with their feet by quitting as soon as another opportunity is available.
Workers believe there is a crisis of leadership in the system, and they don’t feel leadership is taking their concerns seriously. Hundreds of staff positions remain unfilled, exacerbating the situation and increasing the workload on those who remain. And instead of mobilizing all available resources to improve staffing levels and the quality of care at Catholic Health facilities in Buffalo, management has sunk $110 million into a new medical records system and compensated top executives millions of dollars. No one in management appears to grasp the magnitude of the crisis workers are experiencing.
Further, workers feel insulted by the contract proposals being put on the table. Last year, hospital management and the community hailed these workers as “heroes.” Now they feel they are being treated as “zeros.” The proposed package of meager wage increases and massive increases in the cost of health care will slash workers’ wages by between 6.5% and 10%, depending on their seniority date. An already inadequate pension plan is being frozen and would be replaced by an even paltrier 401(k) plan. Currently, almost one in ten CHS workers earns $15 an hour or less, an abysmal pay level that makes it impossible to attract new hires. Overall, CHS salary levels lag behind the levels of regional counterparts. Yes, times are hard. But the contract proposals management has put on the table send a message of contempt and disregard for a workforce that has never been more beleaguered and burnt out.
Now the crisis is intensifying. A month ago, the census of Covid-19 patients was down to one or two per day. But with the Delta variant sweeping across the country, that census has soared to over 40 patients systemwide. If it continues to rise, as can be expected, the hospitals and the workers will reach a breaking point.
Contractual deadlines are fast approaching. We are deeply concerned that a strike is imminent, which would be a disaster for the hospital, the workers, and the entire community – right in the middle of an ongoing pandemic. At this point, the concessions being proposed by management are completely unacceptable to the heroes who got us through last year. We urgently request a meeting with you to discuss this situation and urge you to adopt a new, more conciliatory, and concerned stance with regard to the workers who keep your institutions working every day.
Brian HigginsU.S. Congressman NY 26th District
Sean RyanNYS Senator, 60th District
Tim KennedyNYS Senator, 63rd District
William Conrad III NYS Assembly Member 140th District
Patrick BurkeNYS Assembly Member 142nd District
Monica WallaceNYS Assembly Member 143rd District
Karen McMahon NYS Assembly Member 146th District
Jonathan RiveraNYS Assembly Member 149th District
Mark C. PoloncarzErie County Executive
Howard JohnsonErie County Legislator 1st District
April BaskinErie County Legislator Chairperson 2nd District
Lisa ChimeraErie County Legislator 3rd District
Kevin HardwickErie County Legislator 4th District
Jeanne VinalErie County Legislator 5th District
Timothy MeyersErie County Legislator 7th District
John GilmourErie County Legislator 9th District
Darius PridgenBuffalo Common Council President – Ellicott District
Joel FeroletoBuffalo Common Council – Delaware District
Mitch NowakowskiBuffalo Common Council – Fillmore District
Bryan Bollman Buffalo Common Council – Lovejoy District
Ulysees WingoBuffalo Common Council – Masten District
David RiveraBuffalo Common Council – Niagara District
Joseph Golombek Jr.Buffalo Common Council – North District
Christopher ScanlonBuffalo Common Council – South District
Rasheed WyattBuffalo Common Council – University District