BANGOR, Maine — Despite another round of talks with the guidance of a federal mediator, Eastern Maine Medical Center and the unionized nurses who work there left the bargaining table Wednesday without a contract agreement.
No date has been set for the next negotiating session, representatives from both sides said.
Wednesday’s daylong negotiation session was the second since EMMC nurses staged a one-day strike on Nov. 22, preceded by a two-day lockout. The hospital brought in 215 nurses from outside the area to staff the hospital during the strike.
The major sticking points between the two groups include staffing ratios, health insurance and job protection provisions. From the start, staffing ratios has been the most visible and contentious of the issues.
EMMC released a statement after Wednesday’s session saying that despite some progress toward finding middle ground, a contract agreement had not yet been reached.
“Compromises continue to be discussed and EMMC modified its official position on some outstanding issues, but several issues remain unresolved,” hospital officials said.
“Eastern Maine Medical Center values the hard work and dedication of our nurses, and all of our employees who are committed to fulfilling our mission to care for our patients, their families, the community, and one another,” Lorraine Rodgerson, vice president for nursing services, said.
“I am hopeful an agreement will be reached that is mutually acceptable to EMMC and the union,” Rodgerson said.
Judy Brown, president of the nurses union at EMMC, was less optimistic.
Despite what she said was a “more hopeful start” early in the day, Brown said that as the discussions continued, “it became apparent to us that the language [being used in the talks suggested] that there was no real movement on their side.
“We are hopeful that talks will resume after the holidays,” Brown said. In the meantime, she said, nurses will continue to work to address concerns brought to them by patients who say they have been affected by staffing shortages, including long waits in the hospital’s emergency department.
In its statement, EMMC’s administration said the hospital “has long offered solid employment, good benefits, flexible schedules and a vast variety of jobs to the citizens of the surrounding communities.”
EMMC nurses, backed up by unionized colleagues in other states, maintain that chronic understaffing undermines patient safety and leaves nurses frustrated and overworked.
“It is what it is at this point,” Brown said. “You really should ask yourself why [an estimated] 750 of us were out there” on the day of the strike. “This isn’t about wages. It’s never been about money. That’s off the table.”
The hospital says nurse staffing is in line with national standards and that patients at EMMC receive high-quality care. And while nurses have said they remain open to negotiation, hospital officials maintain they will not agree to include mandated staffing ratios in the nurses contract.