Nurses’ contract expires at EMMC; picketing planned

Posted Sept. 30, 2010, at 10:02 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The three-year contract between Eastern Maine Medical Center and the roughly 850 unionized registered nurses who work there expired at midnight Thursday. Contract provisions remain in place, however, and talks with a federal mediator are scheduled to resume later this month.

Vanessa Sylvester, a spokeswoman for the Maine State Nurses Association, said Thursday afternoon that a nursing strike is not now being discussed. But “informational picketing” will take place on Monday, Oct. 11, to raise community awareness and support for nurses in advance of the next round of meetings, which will begin on Wednesday, Oct. 13.

The MSNA, which is affiliated with the California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organizing Committee, is seeking mandated staffing ratios to improve the quality of patient care and working conditions for nurses. It also seeks wage and benefit provisions as well as protection for nursing positions in the event of a layoff at EMMC. The purpose of the planned picketing, Sylvester said, is to demonstrate nurses’ solidarity on these issues while educating the larger community about the nurses’ demands.

The hospital rejects the notions of mandated staffing ratios, insisting that nurse-to-patient staffing must reflect local conditions as well as patient acuity and staff expertise on any given day. Negotiators for the hospital issued their “last, best offer” late last week.

At EMMC, Vice President for Human Resources Greg Howat said Thursday that the hospital remains open to negotiating on some issues but is not seeking “middle ground” at this point. Howat said the situation is serious, but he is not surprised by the stalemate or by the prospect of off-duty nurses picketing outside hospital facilities.

“It’s part of the process an employer has to expect,” he said.

Howat stressed that patients should not be worried about the situation. Throughout the negotiations, EMMC will be fully staffed and providing nursing care as usual, he said.

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