The union representing Calais Regional Hospital staffers has canceled a strike after reaching a tentative agreement with the hospital on a labor contract. The two sides had been unable to settle on a new contract to replace one that expired in the fall of 2018.
As part of an ongoing labor dispute, the union had also recently called for the hospital’s CEO to be fired and raised concerns about what staffers said has been a poor response to a recent coronavirus outbreak among hospital employees.
The Maine State Nurses Association has about 50 members at the Calais hospital, including registered nurses, medical laboratory scientists, laboratory technologists and radiology technologists.
Both sides reached a consensus on Tuesday on the final two points they had been unable to agree on: health insurance and paid time off. The agreement is for two years, according to the hospital.
In a statement released Wednesday morning, the hospital said both sides had made concessions, but didn’t elaborate on the agreement’s specifics. The union claimed victory in negotiating the contract covering registered nurses and medical laboratory scientists, saying the new contract includes pay increases and protects workers’ core benefits.
Union members had said the hospital was trying to increase their health insurance deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses, which would make it harder to keep or recruit workers, while they have asked to roll over the terms of their last contract. The hospital had said it was offering union members the same paid time off and health insurance arrangements as other hospital employees, including administrators.
Union members were planning to strike on Wednesday and Thursday next week, Nov. 18 and 19. A ratification vote for the new agreement is now set for Monday, Nov. 16.
“I am pleased the negotiations have ended and look forward to continuing as a unified
team to care for our patients and community through the pandemic and beyond,” said
hospital CEO Rod Boula. “I appreciate the efforts of all in finding a solution we can all
Anne Sluzenski, a nurse and member of the union’s bargaining team, welcomed the end of a “hard fight.”
“We know our hospital is struggling, but we had to make sure that we protected conditions for the people who keep it running every day,” she said.
The union initially authorized a strike in 2019 as part of a stalled contract negotiation, but decided to hold off on striking after the hospital declared bankruptcy that September.
As its bankruptcy case continued, the hospital contended with serious cash shortfalls during the early days of the pandemic, when it had to postpone a number of nonessential services. At one point, it said it would lay off 10 percent of its staff and, without additional financial assistance, might have to close in the early summer.
Union members are happy “the hospital finally met us halfway,” said Shirley Richardson, a hospital nurse, who said the vote to strike was difficult.
“Our membership has been through a lot the past couple of years,” she said.
BDN writer Charles Eichacker contributed to this report.