PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — After four months of negotiations and threats of a one-day strike, The Aroostook Medical Center and the union representing registered nurses at the hospital have come to an agreement on a new two-year contract.
The decision came after a vote by the TAMC board of directors Wednesday.
There are 150 nurses in the Maine State Nurses Association/California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee Unit 7631, which consists of the TAMC members. They voted last week to ratify the contract, but the hospital’s board of directors did not make a final decision on the matter until Wednesday.
The TAMC nurses voted last month to authorize a strike if a growing dispute over staffing levels at the Academy Street facility was not resolved. The nurses union had been in negotiations with hospital management since June. The nurses’ contract initially was set to expire in August but was extended until Sept. 22. It again expired and was not extended.
During negotiations, nurses proposed “safe staffing” language, which they said a recent study from the University of Pennsylvania showed would reduce patient mortality rates, reduce medication errors and ensure nurses more time to spend with patients.
The negotiations also focused on wages, benefits and staffing. The union had requested a 7 percent increase in compensation for the nurses, which Lori McPherson, president of the nurses union and a registered recovery room nurse, said Wednesday was not granted.
“But in the end, the patient safety provisions were the most important to us,” she said. “We are happy that we were heard on that issue and the hospital recognized the need for changes.”
Key points of the new contract include an immediate 2 percent wage increase for the nurses and no wage adjustment in 2011. Union nurses also will continue to receive regular “step” increases, which are based on their time at the hospital and average between 2 percent and 2.5 percent. Also included is an enhancement of the hospital’s safe lifting procedures aimed at reducing injuries that can happen when nurses transfer patients.
Another provision involves a revision of contract language to reflect TAMC’s staffing guidelines for critical care and emergency services. McPherson said Wednesday the agreement allows for increased staffing in the emergency department which includes a charge nurse position. The charge nurse will not have a patient assignment during peak periods, which run from 9 a.m. to midnight.
“The charge nurse will be there to help us when we are really busy and up against a wall,” she said Wednesday.
Sylvia Getman, TAMC president and chief executive officer, said she was pleased that an agreement was reached that is satisfactory to both the hospital and its nurses.
“Our nurses are such an important part of our care team,” she said. “Like all of our caregivers, our nurses truly make a difference in the lives of the people they serve, each and every day.”