EMMC nurses to strike Nov. 22, citing failed talks

Posted Nov. 09, 2010, at 6:54 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 09, 2010, at 11:46 p.m.
Judy Brown, president of the local nurses union Unit 1
Judy Brown, president of the local nurses union Unit 1
Greg Howat, vice president for human resources and education at EMMC
Greg Howat, vice president for human resources and education at EMMC

BANGOR, Maine — Dissatisfied with stalemated contract negotiations, unionized nurses at Eastern Maine Medical Center have planned a one-day strike to take place on Monday, Nov. 22.

The date of the strike was decided at a meeting of the nurses on Monday night. Nurses will hand-deliver the required 10-day notification to strike to EMMC officials this morning, according to nurse Judy Brown, president of the Maine State Nurses Association at EMMC.

The nurses have been working without a contract since the end of September. In addition to upping the emotional and financial ante of the talks, the threatened strike likely will bring the two sides back to the bargaining table with the support of a federal mediator.

The strike, if it takes place, will affect all 833 unionized nurses at the hospital. In a vote last week, 86 percent of nurses who voted rejected the hospital’s final offer and authorized the strike. Some nurses are concerned about the prospect of staying out of work, Brown said Tuesday, “but I’m not hearing from a tremendous num-ber of them.”

EMMC officials have said patient care and other services will be undisturbed by a strike. The hospital has arranged to bring in replacement nurses if the threatened strike becomes a reality, said Greg Howat, vice president for human resources and education at EMMC. But the hospital will find it more cost-effective to bring the replacements in for three days instead of just one and will exclude all regular nurse employees from working during that period, he said.

Although paying for the replacement nurses would cost the hospital a lot of money in the short term, “there are huge issues at stake” in the negotiations that would cost more in the long term and commit EMMC to unsustainable provisions in future contracts, he said.

Nurses at EMMC renegotiate a contract every three years. On the table this year are nurse staffing levels at the 400-bed hospital, health insurance coverage, protections against layoffs and other provisions.

The staffing levels remain the most contentious issue, Brown said. Nurses have argued that inadequate staffing routinely undermines patient safety and nurses’ job satisfaction. The hospital maintains that the quality of patient care is high and that nurses raise the staffing issue at contract time under pressure from national nurse organizing groups.

The MSNA is affiliated with the National Nurses Organizing Committee and the California Nurses Association.

“We really just want to settle the contract and come up with a compromise,” Brown said. “There are serious issues that need to be addressed.”

EMMC nurses in 2007 delivered a 10-day notice to strike at the hospital, but the two sides settled on acceptable contract language before the strike date arrived.

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