The Communications Workers of America recognized the need for a unionized workforce among health care workers in Western New York in 1981, when a group of determined registered nurses at the Buffalo General Hospital approached the CWA Union to organize. A critical part of Western New Yorks’ labor history would be carved out by 800 nurses at the Buffalo General Hospital when a strike ensued in 1983 to obtain a fair contract for the registered nurses. Debora Hayes, Patricia DeVinney, Terri Schelter and Sharon Schultz were part of the bargaining committee and Executive Board that mobilized and negotiated the first contract for eight hundred nurses at the Buffalo General Hospital. In spite of anti-union, intimidation and stall tactics the bargaining committee was successful in obtaining a fair contract for all nurses at the Buffalo General Hospital. Debora Hayes would continue her career as President of the CWA Local 1168. Debbie’s unique leadership qualities and negotiation abilities gave her the ability to lead CWA Local 1168 through the merger of the Buffalo General Hospital with the Kaleida Health System.
From 1987 Patricia DeVinney served as the Executive Vice President and was involved in organizing the employees at the DeGraff Memorial Hospital. Patricia now serves as the President of the CWA Local 1168 and continues to be committed to the membership through education, mobilization and a commitment to obtaining health care to all Americans. Terri Schelter handled all public relations for CWA Local 1168 throughout the strike at the Buffalo General Hospital.
Terri served on the Executive Board and focused on public relations during the strike and learned first hand the power of the media and the ability to tell the story of 800 nurses fighting for better wages and working conditions. Terri continues to serve the union movement through a grass roots movement to change legislation for vital health care issues. Since 1981 Sharon Schultz has been actively involved in the union movement at the Buffalo General Hospital and served on the bargaining committee with a sense of commitment and pride. In 1982 Sharon continued her belief in the union movement by becoming the District Director of the Communications Workers of America Local 1168 and a Vice President in 1987.
The position of the Vice President enabled Sharon to expand her efforts and talents in negotiating fair and equitable contracts for the employees of the General Child Care, Planned Parenthood of Buffalo and Erie County, Sheehan Memorial hospital, and St. Joseph Hospital. Sharon’s vast experience as a health care worker and union representative has given her the ability to negotiate the tough issues health care workers face in their daily work environment. Recently, Sharon has taken up the challenge of bargaining a first contract for Small Wonders Child Care facility and the continued fair representation of employees at the Waters of Gasport Nursing Home.
The once small organizing committee that began the Communications Workers of America Local 1168 has now grown to represent over five thousand health care workers from child care employees to professionals within the health care industry. The Communications Workers of America Local 1168 is proud of the work it has accomplished and continues to strive to enrich the health care professions as well as the quality of care for the patient.
-Victoria L. Holtz