Beginning with initial organizing efforts in the 1980’s, employees have faced a veritable wall of unethical, sometimes illegal, responses from their Catholic employer. Union members have tried it all: efforts at collaborative problem-solving; attempts to utilize contract negotiations to address concerns; simple requests for information and attempts to deliver information to fellow employees; and numerous filings with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The situation remains frustrating and seemingly intractable, as employee testimony shows and as Lance Compa describes in his foreword: “a distressing pattern of disrespect for employees’ right to union representation and lack of adherence to Church teachings on
trade unions and international standards on freedom of association.”
Accordingly, CH workers turned to the Coalition for Economic Justice and its Workers’ Rights Board for an opportunity to testify about current CH employment practices. A hearing was held June 2, 2015, at the Woodside Community Chapel in Buffalo, facilitated by an independent board of local and national leaders from community, academic, and religious organizations.
The purposes of the hearing were to receive direct testimony from CH employees, to evaluate and analyze the testimony, and to offer recommendations with potential
solutions. Dr. Fred Hyde, Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, presented detailed information and conclusions following his extensive study of the financial practices that govern CH operations:
1. CH has accumulated on-hand “cash hoard” of more than $322 million, three times the size enjoyed by its local rival, Kaleida Health.
2. CH provides annual compensation increases ranging from 15% to 17% for top executives, including an Executive Compensation Bonus System based not on patient care outcomes but on increased profits, resulting from reducing compensation
to hospital employees.
3. CH’s charitable outreach amounts to less than half the charitable outreach donated by Kaleida Health (6% vs. 13%) and less than half the average amount of all hospitals in the U.S.
4. CH does all this while enjoying the lucrative benefits of tax-exempt status.
Extensive testimony from CH employees at the hearing addressed:
Effects of Cost–Cutting, including:
1. Short-staffing, from maintenance to Registered Nurses with potentially negative impact on patient care.
2. Failure to follow health and safety regulations, resulting in formal OSHA charges by employees.
3. Inadequate supplies of needed items for the care of CH Nursing Home patients.
Effects of Management Abuse, including:
1. Unjust firings and other disciplinary actions against employees, involving some who were experiencing health crises, including firing a Mammography Technologist with 23 years experience for her urgent illness-based restroom stop, with their dubious rationale of her having used a substitute sign-in person, someone never identified or punished.
2. A written reprimand of an RN for a computer glitch over which she had no control, for which she tried to secure help, and despite detailed explanations from the technical help desk establishing the fault lay entirely with the computer system. The reprimand kept her from a day-shift assignment, needed because of her health issues and because of her responsibilities as a single mother of five.
3. Orders from CH Human Resources to Mercy Hospital employees to cease distributing literature to CWA members in the non-patient care areas, in direct violation of federal labor law and of an agreement between Mercy Hospital and CWA facilitated by the Buffalo regional office of the NLRB in 1994.
Effects of Labor Policies, including:
1. A 35-year history of hospital management refusing all overtures of working collaboratively, a procedure used repeatedly at Kaleida Health to develop effective strategies and policies, including the critical NYS “Safe Patient Handling Act,”which benefits staff, patients and citizens throughout the state. When representatives of CWA suggested forming a joint committee to improve patient care at Catholic Health, a key CH Human Resources official stated, “We have no desire to have a relationship with the union.”
2. A developing policy of shifting grievance procedures away from immediate supervisors with the direct knowledge of the issues at hand, to the top level, human resources. This action wastes time, and undermines existing contract provisions that provide a four-step grievance procedure.
3. Firing a 15-year Nuclear Medicine Technician at Kenmore Mercy Hospital, who had been reduced to per-diem status while actually working nearly full-time. When CH refused his request to be allowed to pick up hours at another facility, he requested return to full-time status at KMH. The hospital, having invested in his professional training, summarily fired him.
The detailed research, direct evidence and personal experiences of the CH employees who testified before the Workers’ Rights Board established a disturbing picture of the Catholic Heath that appears to have abrogated its core responsibility as stated by the US Catholic Conference of Bishops:
Moreover, this testimony led the hearing officers to ask what Dr. Hyde calls “the big question.” As a major employer, as the beneficiary of tax exemption, and as the recipient of extensive support through the Medicare and Medicaid programs, does the Catholic Health System:
• Fulfill its community responsibilities?
• Treat all its workers justly?
• Follow Papal and Conciliar teachings that for more than a century have affirmed and advanced the rights of workers and their unions?
It is the intention of this Workers’ Rights Board to address these questions.