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'A Dream Come True': Nurses at Maine's Largest Hospital Vote to Unionize

"It's a new day for nurses and patients across Maine."

A sign thanking nurses at the South Entrance of Maine Medical Center on May 12, 2020 in Portland, Maine. (Photo: Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Registered nurses at Maine's largest hospital have voted to form their first union, overcoming an aggressive anti-organizing campaign assisted by an out-of-state consulting firm that openly touts its experience "fighting" union drives.

According to election results tallied Thursday by the National Labor Relations Board, 1,001 registered nurses at Maine Medical Center (MMC) voted for the union and 750 voted against.

"I am thrilled for my colleagues at Maine Med, for their resolve to win a collective voice for their patients and their community."
—Cokie Giles, Maine State Nurses Association

The culmination of a monthslong organizing push amid the coronavirus pandemic, the 14-percentage-point union victory means the Maine State Nurses Association (MSNA)—a National Nurses United affiliate—will now represent 2,000 RNs at MMC, the Scarborough Surgery Center, and the MMC Brighton Campus in Portland.

"It's a new day for nurses and patients across Maine," MSNA president Cokie Giles, RN, said in a statement late Thursday. "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."

Giles called on MMC management to "respect the democratic vote of the RNs, and begin work with them to negotiate a first collective bargaining agreement that would be in the best interests of the hospital, the nurses, and the community."

In a letter to hospital staff sent late Thursday night, Jeff Sanders, president of MMC, acknowledged the election results and said that while hospital management "had encouraged nurses to vote against the union," he also wanted to thank all the nursing staff who engaged with the unionization process.

"Once election results are certified by the National Labor Relations Board, MMC will evaluate how it will move forward," Sanders said. "We will communicate that information with nurse leaders and the full nursing team at a later date."

Janel Crowley, a registered nurse who has worked in MMC's neonatal intensive care for a decade, told Maine Public Radio that she is "so excited and overjoyed" by the election result.

"This is just a really incredible thing that's happened for us," said Crowley, one of the leaders of the organizing effort. "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."

MMC Mother Baby RN Jackie Fournier added in a statement that "this is a dream come true, to bring us the unified strength we need to improve patient care conditions and workplace standards at Maine Med."

Nurses at Maine Med filed a petition to join the union in January, a move that was met with swift opposition from the hospital's administration. Later that same month, MMC management began requiring nurses to attend training sessions led by representatives from Reliant Labor Consultants, which lists among its services helping "employees maintain a union-free environment."

In a letter to MMC's president last month, dozens of state Democratic lawmakers wrote that they had heard from RNs "about being accosted in one-on-one anti-union meetings, dragged from patient care to listen to out-of-state anti-union consultants lecture them on why they should vote no for the democratic right to negotiate with their employer, and threatened by certain supervisors that they stand to lose benefits or employment if they vote yes in the upcoming election."

Maine State Senate President Troy Jackson, one of the letter's signatories, congratulated nurses Thursday for their vote to unionize.

"After a tough year responding to a global pandemic, you deserve to have your voices heard and respected," said Jackson. "There's no question that this union drive wasn't easy. The deck was clearly stacked against the workers with the hospital launching one of the most aggressive anti-union campaigns Maine has seen in quite some time. Yet, the nurses never wavered."

Bonnie Castillo, RN, executive director of National Nurses United—the largest union of registered nurses in the U.S.—said in a statement that MMC nurses' "courage to stand up and speak out for your patients and community in the face of the most serious threat to your own health and safety amid the worst global pandemic in a century has inspired nurses across the country."

"We could not be more impressed with your accomplishment," Castillo added.

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