BANGOR, Maine — Negotiators for Eastern Maine Medical Center and the unionized registered nurses who work there resumed negotiations Thursday despite the hospital’s announcement shortly after midnight Wednesday that the deadline had passed and it was too late to avert a threatened five-day work stoppage.
The decision to continue talks apparently paid off.
After several more hours of discussion on Thursday, the two sides reached a tentative accord.
A message on the Maine State Nurses Union Unit 1 Facebook page posted shortly before 9:30 p.m. announced that the strike was off:
“Strike notification withdrawn, comprehensive offer to be taken to membership for a vote, Tuesday May 3, 2010. Times and room TBA.”
Within minutes, EMMC’s management confirmed that with a news release of its own:
“Eastern Maine Medical Center reached a tentative one-year contract agreement with the union representing its nurses, the Maine State Nurses Association/National Nurses United, on Thursday evening,” stated the notice issued by Kelly Pearson of EMMC’s community relations staff.
“The union has withdrawn its notice to strike on May 5. EMMC will halt preparations for a five day replacement of striking nurses that would have kept EMMC nurses out of work until Tuesday, May 10,” the notice continued.
In a news release issued shortly after its Facebook post, union leaders noted that the agreement “represents months of work by the nurses to have key patient safety issues addressed.”
The union’s statement said the proposed one-year pact addresses nurses’ major issues on staffing, job security and health benefits.
“We are proud of the hard work done by the bargaining team and all of the nurses at EMMC,” said Judy Brown, head of the nurses union at EMMC and a registered nurse.
“We are also grateful to the Bangor community for all of their support over the past eight months,” she said.
According to EMMC, the union bargaining team will present the comprehensive tentative contract agreement to the nurses with a recommendation to ratify it.
EMMC’s bargaining team will make a similar presentation to the hospital’s board of trustees for its approval. Both of these presentations are expected to take place early next week.
In the hours before Thursday’s breakthrough, Vanessa Sylvester of the Maine State Nurses Association and National Nurses United said the continuation of negotiations beyond the midnight Wednesday deadline was encouraging.
“That’s not our deadline; that was the hospital’s deadline,” Sylvester said. “The nurses association is always hopeful that an agreement can be reached.”
Before the breakthrough was announced late Thursday night, Jill McDonald, vice president for communications and marketing at the hospital, was more guarded.
“They missed the deadline and we are planning for a five-day work stoppage,” she said. “We are obligated under the law to keep negotiating whether there is a strike planned or not.”
On Easter Sunday, nurse negotiators delivered a 10-day strike notice, citing the hospital’s failure to meet demands for better staffing, health insurance and job protections for a new three-year contract.
In turn, EMMC on Tuesday notified the nurses that if the two sides had not signed an agreement by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, it would formalize a five-day commitment to bringing replacement registered nurses to Bangor to cover the nurses’ threatened one-day strike and an additional four-day lockout.
The five-day work stoppage had been planned for Thursday, May 5, through Monday, May 9.
BDN writer Meg Haskell contributed to this report.