In this Feb. 10, 2021, file photo, a masked woman walks by Maine Medical Center's south entrance in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The top legislative Democrats have blasted Maine’s largest hospital for opposing a drive to unionize its nurses.

Senate President Troy Jackson, Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, House Speaker Ryan Fecteau and House Majority Leader Michelle Dunphy wrote in a Friday letter that they are concerned that Maine Medical Center is “mistreating nurses” backing the unionizing effort.

The Democrats said they have heard about nurses being accosted during one-on-one meetings, pulled aside while caring for patients to hear anti-union lectures and threatened with loss of benefits and employment.

“We expect better from the largest hospital in our state — if you intend to take anything away from RNs — including their moral and legal right to a free and fair election we will stand with the nurses against any such attempt,” they wrote in the letter to Jeff Sanders, the president of the Portland hospital, which is part of the MaineHealth system.

Maine Medical Center pushed back against those allegations on Sunday, calling claims that nurses would face retribution for their involvement in the union drive “false.”

“At no time have nurses been intimidated, threatened, mistreated by Maine Medical Center or has patient care been compromised during this campaign,” a spokesperson said in a Sunday statement.

The hospital has supported its nurses and other workers, providing protective equipment during the pandemic, job and wage protections, and absorbing increases in medical insurance costs, the spokesperson said.

In January, registered nurses at the hospital sent a petition to the National Labor Relations Board to join the Maine State Nurses Association. It’s the first unionizing drive there since an unsuccessful attempt in the early 2000s.

The vote to unionize is scheduled for March 29, and the votes will be tallied by April 29.

It comes as Maine has seen union membership swell in the past year. Nearly 13,000 Mainers joined a union in 2020, and the share of the state’s workforce enrolled in a union grew to 14.7 percent, the highest level seen here in decades.

In response to the union drive, Maine Medical Center hired Reliant Labor Solutions, a national firm that specializes in helping companies fight union efforts.

The hospital said in a memo earlier this year that it is “committed to respecting your rights” and that the firm is providing “factual information about your legal rights.”

“MMC believes it can best work with its nurses and live out its values of  respect, integrity, excellence, ownership, innovation and being patient centered without bringing in a third party who does not share those values. For that reason, MMC urges its nurses to vote ‘no’ in the upcoming election,” the hospital spokesperson said Sunday.

But the four lawmakers called the hospital’s claim to respect the nurses’ right to unionize “disingenuous.”

“In our review of your institution’s choice of anti-union consultants, literature, behavior, that is objectively untrue,” they wrote.

The lawmakers called on Maine Medical Center to “restore trust” by firing its “union buster” and ensure the nurses can freely decide whether to unionize.