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EMMC Agreement with Union Nurses Averts Planned Two-Day Strike

BANGOR, Maine - Nurses at Eastern Maine Medical Center have reached a tentative contract agreement with management, averting a scheduled two-day strike. The deal addresses staffing shortages at the hospital, a sticking point throughout negotiations.

Those talks began back in April, and for months, there was little movement, especially on the issue of staffing. In early June, more than 800 members of the Maine State Nurses Association, National Nurses Organizing Committee, and National Nurses United voted to authorize a two-day strike.

And as of late last week, hospital management was bracing for the walkout, scheduled for July 13 and 14. But in the early hours of Wednesday morning, negotiators finally reached a deal.

"We were always hopeful that we would get to this point," says Vanessa Sylvester, who is with the Maine State Nurses Association. Sylvester says that, although it took a while, the negotiations and tentative agreement leave nurses and the patients they care for in a stronger, safer position.

"The union was able to win improvements in staffing, including an additional 30 RNs to address some of the shortages," Sylvester says. "We also won improvements in salary and protection of health benefits." Sylvester would not talk more specifically about the wage and salary terms, pending a vote on the agreement by rank-and-file nurses.

As for the staffing issues, EMMC Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Deborah Sanford says the 30 additional positions are in the hospital's supplemental staffing department and were signed off on three months ago.

"We did commit to adding a resource nurse on each unit," Sanford says. "Each in-patient department will have one additional nurse 12 hours a day to help during that busy time."

But Sanford says the union didn't get everything it wanted on staffing. "What the agreement doesn't do is have some mandatory ratios in it that the union was looking for," she says.

But Vanessa Sylvester says it still offers enough additional staffing to allow nurses to give high quality care to their patients. "Nurses want to be able to provide the kind of care to their patients that they would want to provide for their loved ones," she says. "So we are very grateful for the support of the community and our membership throughout this."

The two-day strike has been called off. Sylvester says the unions will have more to say about the deal after members vote on it on Friday.