BANGOR, Maine — Off-duty registered nurses covered by the union contract at Eastern Maine Medical Center picketed the hospital Monday.
The purpose of the demonstration was “informational,” according to Vanessa Sylvester of the Maine State Nurses Association, intended to raise public awareness of ongoing contract negotiations between the nurses and the hospital administration.
Hospital officials said patient care and other operations at EMMC will not be affected by the picketing.
Negotiations have been under way since July. The nurses’ three-year contract expired at the end of September but its conditions will remain in place until a new agreement is reached. About 860 registered nurses at the 411-bed hospital are covered by the union contract.
“We still have not achieved what we need for the delivery of safe, therapeutic, effective patient care,” Sylvester said Friday. Among the sticking points of the contract negotiations, she said, are nurse staffing levels, protection against increasing health insurance costs, and language affecting layoffs and unit-to-unit transfer of nurses.
Greg Howat, EMMC vice president for human resources and education, said Friday that patients should have no qualms about keeping appointments or seeking care at the hospital during the picket or the negotiations when they resume next week. There never has been a nursing strike at EMMC, Howat said, although one was threatened when the 2007 negotiations reached a near-stalemate.
Howat said the hospital has offered some concessions to the nurses’ staffing demands but would not discuss specifics. He said existing layoff and transfer language adequately protects both nurses and the hospital. Health coverage, Howat said, is “a huge issue,” with about 160 nurses covered by an outdated plan that the self-insured hospital no longer can afford to provide. A newer plan for which most other employees are eligible covers routine care and wellness services 100 percent but requires participants to pay a portion of other costs.
Contract negotiations are scheduled to resume Wednesday, Oct. 13.