BANGOR, Maine — Neither side was willing to talk details, but negotiators for both Eastern Maine Medical Center and for the 830 unionized nurses who work there said on Friday they were relieved to have reached an 11th hour agreement for a one-year contract, thereby averting a threatened five-day work stoppage.
“We are very happy, and proud of our bargaining team and the nurses who have worked so hard on this issue,” said Vanessa Sylvester of the Maine State Nurses Association and National Nurses United. Nurses will be asked to vote on the details of the agreement on May 2.
At EMMC, chief negotiator Greg Howat said the agreement is good news for the hospital, the nurses and the patients they serve. After a contentious eight-month struggle, it will be “a great relief” to re-establish a sense of normalcy at the 400-bed hospital, he said.
Both sides can take credit for reaching an agreement after a particularly thorny process, he said, when the issues have been divisive and the rhetoric has been been heated.
Negotiators have been meeting since last August in an effort to establish a new three-year contract between the hospital and the nurses. Talks have stalled repeatedly over apparently intractable issues of staffing levels, health insurance and job security.
Last Sunday, the union notified the hospital that nurses would stage a one-day walkout if demands were not met; the hospital upped the ante by saying it would replace the nurses for a five-day period if an agreement was not reached by midnight Wednesday.
Although that deadline was not met, the two sides reconvened with a federal mediator Thursday, announcing a breakthrough at about 9:30 p.m. The strike notice has been withdrawn and the hospital has stopped its preparations to bring in replacement nurses.
“Now there will be time to make some repairs and recover some of the relationships we have with union leadership and relationships within this building,” Howat said Friday.
Assuming the contract proposal is ratified by the nurses and approved by the hospital board, the new contract will take effect next Tuesday. At that time, more details will be made public about the compromise that has been reached. Negotiations, likely to revisit many of the same issues, will begin anew in about 10 months.