EMMC nurses union sets date for contract vote

A women selects a sign from a pile to support Members of the Maine State Nurses Association as they rally in front of EMMC in Bangor on Tuesday, May 15, 2012, for an informational picket to allow members of the public to know about their negotiations with EMMC administrators.
A women selects a sign from a pile to support Members of the Maine State Nurses Association as they rally in front of EMMC in Bangor on Tuesday, May 15, 2012, for an informational picket to allow members of the public to know about their negotiations with EMMC administrators. Buy Photo
Posted May 21, 2012, at 8:42 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The union representing roughly 850 registered nurses employed at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor has set a date for a vote on hospital administrators’ final contract offer.

Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 29, at the Bangor Motor Inn and Conference Center, according to a post on the Maine State Nurses Association’s Facebook page. The announcement also was made through the union’s Twitter account.

The announcement is the union’s first regarding contract talks since last week, when members of the hospital’s bargaining team and negotiators for the Maine State Nurses Association, National Nurses Organizing Committee and National Nurses United last met with a federal mediator in the hope of hammering out a labor pact.

In the meantime, contract provisions remain in place.

Last week’s bargaining session, held at a Bangor hotel last Wednesday, ended after less than two hours without a tentative agreement in place. The day before that, nurses and their supporters conducted an informational picket near EMMC.

In separate interviews earlier this month, representatives from both sides of the bargaining table said they would like to see a three-year contract go into effect and both thought that the goal could be achieved.

On Monday, a member of the nurses’ negotiating team referred questions about the contract vote to Vanessa Sylvester, spokeswoman for the Maine State Nurses Association. Sylvester was not available for comment Monday.

Hospital officials now are awaiting the outcome of the contract vote.

“We feel that the final offer is a good one, a fair one,” EMMC spokeswoman Jill McDonald said Monday afternoon. “We’re encouraging our nurses to go and vote and make their voices heard and we hope they will vote to approve it.”

The one-year contract that expired earlier this month was ratified last May after eight months of often contentious negotiations. In addition to marathon contract talks, there was picketing, a strike, a lockout and threats of a second strike and lockout.

Among the issues resolved in that agreement were the transfers of nurses among departments, the workload for charge nurses and health benefits. Not addressed were staffing levels, which nurses said at the time were a major sticking point.

In this round, staffing issues, pay and safety and security in the emergency department are at issue.

The nurses, who did not receive a cost-of-living increase in the contract that expired earlier this month, are seeking 3 percent increases for each of the three years of their next contract — or a 5 percent increase if only a one-year agreement is reached.

EMMC said its “last, best, final offer” called for 3 percent the first year and 2 percent for each of the subsequent two years and a 3 percent increase if only a one-year pact is achieved.

With regard to staffing, the union has proposed that EMMC add or maintain a resource nurse every day on eight nursing units. Resource nurses cover for nurses who are busy with a patient, call in sick, are on break or otherwise tied up.

EMMC officials maintain that staffing levels do not belong in contracts and would adversely affect the hospital’s ability to adapt to fluctuating patient volumes and finances.

Administrators noted, however, that resource nurses already are in place in many units and that the hospital has hired housewide resource nurses and created Rapid Response Teams to beef up staffing where needed.

Earlier this month, EMMC officials said emergency department safety and security remain in their focus. Measures now in place include security cameras, security alert buttons and a computerized door-locking system. The hospital also has brought in security officers and hired the Bangor Police Department to provide police coverage from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

Nurses also asked that a walk-through metal detector be installed in the emergency department. EMMC officials said that is under consideration.

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