On August 17 and 18, nurses at Maine Medical Center (MMC) will vote on whether to decertify the union they voted for roughly 15 months ago.
By a vote of 1,001 to 750, nurses at MMC voted in a May 2021 mail-ballot election in favor of certifying the Maine State Nurses Association (MSNA), an affiliate of National Nurses United (NNU).
In a May 10, 2021 press release, published a day after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certified the union, NNA stated that nurses at MMC had cited concerns about inadequate staffing, mandatory scheduling that required nurses to rotate between day and night shifts, lack of breaks, and assignments requiring nurses to work in units for which they did not have clinical experience, as reasons to form a union.
“[Registered nurses] have completed surveys to determine priority issues to address in negotiations for their first collective bargaining contract. The next step is for all RNs to endorse the priorities and to elect a facility bargaining council who will select a negotiating team to represent them in talks,” the release stated.
In February 2022, emergency room nurses facing violence from patients announced MMC had committed to some of their staffing demands, but that more work needed to be done to address working conditions.
More than a year after the union was installed, it has not finalized a nursing contract with MMC.
In June 2022, nurse Davin Brooks was able to submit a petition with enough signatures from his colleagues to lead the NLRB to schedule a vote to decertify the union. NLRB rules only allow one election per year, making this the earliest time frame in which a vote could be scheduled.
According to Amy Lee, a clinical nurse who has worked at MMC for over 10 years, the union hasn’t been able to finalize a contract because it doesn’t have enough leverage or support for a strike from MMC nurses. She added the union’s demands are for things nurses already have or are “absurd.”
“The only leverage unions have is to strike – what do you think will happen if highly-qualified nurses strike at MMC, the only level 1 trauma hospital in the area? Where will our patients go? Who will care for our transplant patients? Our NICU babies? Our cardiac patients?” Lee said.
“The NNU is known for causing toxic behavior and striking whenever they can. They began talking about a strike only 8 months into bargaining. Why? This union has promoted bullying, threatening and harassment from its bargaining committee members to other nurses within the hospital. It has become a toxic environment since they have come to town,” she added.
Lee, who says she’s not against unions, also stated NNU wants nurses to be terminated if they chose not to pay union dues.
“MMC is saying nurses should be able to choose if they want to be represented by the NNU, thus paying dues. This is one thing that neither party agrees on. I, personally, feel that nurses are hardworking professionals who should have a choice as to whether they want to be represented by a union and pay dues. The union will never agree to this because that means they don’t get paid. I would rather have my own voice, without the union as my middleman, and save my money,” Lee said.
According to Lee, the union is trying to insert language in MMC’s nursing contract identical to that in the nursing contract, also negotiated by NNU, at Eastern Maine Medical Center. In that contract is language requiring nurses in the bargaining unit to pay monthly dues, fees, or charitable contributions.
“MMC is pushing back saying that their nurses are adults and should be able to choose if they want to pay dues and be part of the union,” said Lee. “The union argues that and says that they won’t have a contract without this clause in it…that all nurses must pay or be terminated. So, if the union is successful with gaining this in the contract, all nurses are required to pay if they want to maintain their job at MMC. And MMC will no longer be able to protect us against termination.”
Under the National Labor Relations Act, private sector employees cannot be forced to join a union or pay dues to it as a condition of employment unless this is a condition of the collective bargaining agreement between an employer and a union. Even then, employees cannot be required to become union members, but can be required to pay an agency fee equivalent to the amount it costs the union to bargain on behalf of that employee.
Lee says the union has created a toxic work environment at MMC.
“Since the NNU has come to town, nurses who ask questions, disagree with their motives, or simply have a different opinion than them have been threatened via email, text and in person by certain union reps and bargaining committee members. This is a way of silencing nurses who disagree. It has simply created a toxic work environment, and many nurses are scared to come to work, many say they have been ‘physically cornered’ and asked how they plan on voting in the election,” Lee said.
Because of the environment and the union’s inability to secure a contract, Lee believes the vote to decertify the union will be successful.
“Because of the toxic environment, as well as the fact that the union has been unsuccessful in obtaining a contract so far, many nurses who were once pro-union are fed up with the lies and false promises. Many who were on the fence are also leaning toward getting rid of the union because of the same reasons. The general feeling among nurses is, ‘why pay for something we already have?’”
According to Clay Holtzman, vice president of communications and public affairs for MaineHealth, MMC was notified by the NLRB about the petition for union decertification in late June.
“The NLRB has scheduled an election this month for nurses to make this important decision. MMC respects the legal rights of all nurses to make choices about union representation. In the interim, we will continue to bargain in good faith with the MSNA/NNU,” said Holtzman
“The decision around union representation is a choice that belongs to nurses and there is no one better situated to make this choice for themselves than nurses who are among the very best in the country. MMC continues to believe that our care team members are able to speak up and address their concerns directly with management without the need for a union,” he added.
MSNA did not return a request for comment about the nurses’ dispute or the upcoming election.