Local 1168's Campaign is the CWA Triangle in Action
Lifting patients in hospitals and other care facilities is one of the leading causes of neck and back injuries suffered by health care workers in the United States. It also is a leading cause of injury to patients.
Under a landmark safety and health policy established by CWA Local 1168, both CWA-represented health care workers and their patients in western New York's Kaleida system of hospitals and health care centers now have real protection from these serious injuries.
By early 2006, about 18 months after Local 1168's "zero-lift" policy took effect, the number of lifting injuries fell dramatically. Workers' neck and back strains and sprains dropped by more than 70 percent. Fractures suffered by long-term and critical-care patients fell 64 percent. In addition to reducing injuries, the new policy resulted in a 26 percent improvement in upper extremity range of motion for long-term patients.
"This program has been an unqualified success because our members had been getting an astounding number of lifting injuries," said local safety and health director Dana McCarthy. "We were lifting patients all the time and we knew it had to change." Instead of workers lifting their patients, the "no-lift" policy that Local 1168 negotiated with Kaleida requires the use of mechanical lifts, he said.
The safe patient handling policy also has reduced the number of lost work days from lifting injuries, saving Kaleida Health millions of dollars a year.
Health care workers in hospitals across New York soon could benefit from the "no-lift" policy. A Safe Patient Handling bill modeled after the CWA-Kaleida program has been introduced in the New York State legislature and is gaining widespread support.
At this year's CWA National Safety and Health Conference, McCarthy credited the program's development and success to having a highly organized workforce, a strong bargaining history, and a successful community and political action program. "It is the CWA Triangle in action," McCarthy explained. "We organized, we bargained strong contracts, and we reached out to friends in labor and our community to become a strong and positive force for change," he said.
Those friends include officials at the Western New York Council for Occupational Safety and Health, who worked with the Local 1168; other health care unions; the New York State Department of Labor, and Kaleida Health, all of whom worked together to create a New York Zero Lift Task Force.
In 2006, the task force won state funding for a safe-patient handling demonstration project at three non-Kaleida health care facilities modeled after Local 1168 program. The project produced similar reductions in worker and patient injuries.
Local 1168 President John Klein said the local's effectiveness in gaining the Kaleida safe patient handling policy was its campaign to build the union's strength by organizing thousands of unrepresented health care workers in 1997, right after three major health care systems in western New York merged to become Kaleida Health.
In the first round of bargaining, management agreed to card check and within a year, more than 2,500 workers joined Local 1168. The local currently represents more than 5,000 workers in both the Kaleida and non-Kaleida hospitals and health care centers.
In 2000, the local negotiated strong ergonomics language which created a joint labor-management safety committee and mandated regular meetings that would focus on creating a safe and healthy workplace.