By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Kenmore Mercy nurses voted down a contract with Catholic Health for the second time Tuesday.
Representatives from Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO Local 1133, which represents 270 nurses at the hospital, said 246 nurses turned out for the vote — and 170 voted against the contract.
In a previous vote in early February, 94 percent of voters turned down the tentative agreement, which was reached at the end of January. Since then, the nurses have been working without a contract.
Following the first vote, the union staged a rally in front of the hospital to protest the ongoing negotiations. Nearly 100 nurses who turned out for the event blamed the hospital for cutting nurses’ pay and benefits while constructing multi-million dollar expansions.
“There is a loss of incentives to stay beyond the shift, or to come in on a day off to help out,” Deborah Arnet, a nurse at the hospital and an union representative said at the February rally. “There is no progressive wage step, which results in the loss of $20,000 over the life of a contract.”
According to union representatives, officials have also eliminated a health insurance option for the nurses.
Arnet said she and other nurses are worried that the changes will create staffing shortages, and that Kenmore Mercy nurses will be lured by other employment opportunities, leaving Kenmore Mercy with a lack of quality workers.
After the picket, Kenmore Mercy released a statement stating the cuts in the contract are the result of “changes in the health care landscape” as well as “financial challenges.”
“While it is sometime difficult to accept, we have to take all these factors into consideration to ensure our long term viability and avoid the reductions other institutions have had to make over the past several years,” Chuck Hayes, a spokesman for Kenmore Mercy Hospital, said in the statement.
CWA representatives then met with hospital administrators Feb. 27, the day after the rally, in hope to move forward with negotiations.
“We sat down with them again, asked them if they had room for movement on anything,” Arnet said. “They told us no.”
Arnet said the only aspect of the contract that was changed was the addition of retroactive pay, which will cover the time from the expiration of the previous contract to the ratification of the next one.
“We went back to our members and told them about the change, but again, they voted against it,” she said.
Vanessa Quinn, another nurse and active union representative, said CWA is making plans to meet with a mediator and the hospital in early April. At this point, there are no plans for a strike, Quinn said.
“We are always hoping to resolve it before it gets to that point,” Arnet said.Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150