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Health

Nurses Vote To Form Union At Maine Medical Center

Maine Medical Center
David Sharp
/
Associated Press
The sun's rays shine over the Maine Medical Center in Portland Thursday, July 16, 2015, in Portland, Maine.

The nurses at Maine Medical Center in Portland have voted to form a union.

They voted 1,001-750 in support of certifying the union during a mail-in election conducted over the last month, according to election results announced Thursday night.

That means they’re now on track to form a collective bargaining agreement with the Maine State Nurses Association. That would potentially give the nurses more of a say in how their facility is run and in the wages and benefits they receive.

“I am just like so excited and overjoyed. This is just a really incredible thing that's happened for us. There have been, like, myself and so many other of the nurses that have been working for so long and so hard on this campaign," said Janel Crowley, a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit who helped lead the organizing effort, after the votes were tallied on Thursday.

Crowley says that she looks forward to hearing from all of Maine Med's nurses as they start to negotiate a contract with hospital leadership. One of her priorities is pushing for more flexible staffing levels.

However, it’s still possible that Maine Med’s leaders — who opposed the union campaign — could file an objection to the outcome of the election. In a statement Thursday night, the hospital said it was still reviewing the "initial tally" of votes.

“We had hoped for a different outcome as we believe that the best way for Maine Medical Center to remain the region’s premier provider of medical care is to work directly with our care team members,” hospital President Jeff Sanders said in the statement. “We will continue to put the care of our patients and welfare of our care team at the forefront of our decision making including putting our core values of respect, integrity, excellence, ownership, innovation and being patient-centered into action.”

The ballots for the union campaign were tallied Thursday evening at a New England office of the National Labor Relations Board. The count, which took about four hours, was broadcast over Zoom.

The effort to form a nurses union at Maine’s largest hospital began more than a year ago, in the fall of 2019, but it gained urgency during the coronavirus pandemic as nurses grew frustrated with staffing levels, access to personal protective equipment and more.

While praising the care offered by the 637-bed hospital, they’ve said that a union would give them more say in the top-level decisions affecting them and their patients.

The outcome of the vote was quickly celebrated by leading Democrats in the Legislature and fellow labor organizers on Thursday night.

"Congratulations to the hard-working nurses at Maine Medical Center! After a tough year responding to a global pandemic, you deserve to have your voices heard and respected,"
Senate President Troy Jackson wrote on Twitter.

Cokie Giles, a nurse at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and the president of the Maine State Nurses Association, said she welcomes the new members.

“It’s a new day for nurses and patients across Maine. I am thrilled for my colleagues at Maine Med, for their resolve to win a collective voice for their patients and their community. And I look forward to working with you for the future of high-quality patient care for all Maine residents," she said in a statement.

Maine Med has publicly opposed the union effort. Its leaders have argued that they’ve supported staff throughout the pandemic with solid wages, benefits and supplies of protective equipment, and that the facility doesn’t need the involvement of “a third party that does not share our Values.”

Nurses first petitioned to form the union in January.

The campaign took a divisive turn when Maine Med’s leaders hired a national consulting firm to provide mandatory training to nurses ahead of the election. That firm markets its experience fighting union organizing efforts, and the hospital was criticized after it gave a small number of coronavirus vaccines to the consultants who had come from out-of-state.

Some other nurses publicly came out against the union, saying that they’re happy with their current pay and benefits and worry a collective bargaining unit would make it harder to approach their supervisors.