July 25, 2013

John Patriquin / Staff File Photo

Nurses are trying to organize a union at Maine Medical Center that could potentially represent about 1,700 employees.

Maine Med nurses trying to form union

By Joe Lawlor
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Nurses are trying to organize a union at Maine Medical Center that could potentially represent about 1,700 employees.

Meetings have been held to discuss the issue, although it doesn't appear that a vote on whether to form a union has been scheduled.

Vanessa Sylvester, bargaining coordinator with the Maine State Nurses Association, acknowledged the organizing efforts but declined Thursday to answer questions about forming a local chapter at Maine Med. Sylvester said the union would be able to respond at a later date.

She issued a statement to the Portland Press Herald saying the union has a "long relationship with registered nurses" at Maine Medical Center.

"What is key here is what issues and concerns the registered nurses have with their employer," Sylvester said. "When the nurses are ready to petition for a union representational election, (we) will of course support their efforts, and will give our perspective on it when that day comes."

If successful, a nurses' union at Maine Medical Center would nearly double the 2,000 employees represented by the association in Maine. The union is part of the National Nurses United union.

Judith West, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Maine Medical Center and its parent company, MaineHealth, wrote in an email response to a question that a union is not necessary. No employees at Maine Medical Center belong to a union.

"We don't believe that nurses at Maine Medical Center need a union; there is a strong culture and track record of self-governance and involvement of nursing at (Maine Med)," she wrote.

She said nurses are "represented by their peers on all decisions that affect nursing practice" to ensure "that the collective voice of our nurses is strong, clear, and understood."

West also wrote that the hospital "respect(s) their freedom to consider their options and believe they'll find through all their exploration that Maine Medical Center offers a respectful work environment with competitive compensation and benefits."

Discussions about unionizing nurses at Maine Med have surfaced before. In 2000, an effort to organize under the Service Employees International Union fell short by a 622-509 vote, despite nurses complaining about heavy workloads, according to Press Herald stories at the time.

Union officials later complained about intimidation tactics by the hospital's administration. Hospital officials in 2000 disputed the accusations.

Joe Lawlor can be reached at 791-6376 or at:

Twitter: @joelawlorph

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