Maine’s top Democratic legislators have rebuked Maine Medical Center over its treatment of nurses seeking to unionize, accusing management of heavy-handed tactics that included threats to organizers’ jobs. In a statement Sunday, the Portland hospital denied that it had intimidated or mistreated any nurses and said it has encouraged those who are eligible to vote in the upcoming union election, although it urges them to vote no.

In a letter Friday to Jeff Sanders, president of Maine Med, the lawmakers said they had heard reports of nurses being dragged into one-on-one meetings with anti-union consultants, and even being threatened by some supervisors with loss of benefits or employment.

“We are concerned with the reports of administration and anti-union consultants hired by the hospital mistreating nurses by discouraging them from exercising their rights,” said the letter, signed by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and dozens of other lawmakers.

“We have heard from nurses about being accosted in one-on-one anti-union meetings, dragged from patient care to listen to out of state anti-union consultants lecture them on why they should vote no for the democratic right to negotiate with their employer; and threatened by certain supervisors that they stand to lose benefits, or employment if they vote yes in the upcoming election,” the letter said.

Earlier this year, Maine Med executives hired Florida-based Reliant Labor Consultants, a firm that, according to its website, specializes in “helping its clients sustain their direct relationships with their employees and avoid the many significant problems that arise when work groups are organized.” The company also advertises its services in “avoiding a union” and “fighting a union.”

In February, the Portland Press Herald reported that MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Med, had flouted Maine CDC vaccination rules by giving shots to out-of-state consultants and remote workers.

Fecteau, Jackson and dozens of other state representatives and senators on Friday demanded that Maine Med fire the consultants.

“We expect better from our hospital,” the lawmakers said. “To repair the damage and restore trust, it is our collective opinion that the hospital should fire its union busters and take action to ensure that nurses at the hospital are able to vote freely and without Maine Med administration’s interference. Do the right thing; fire the consultants and respect RNs’ federally-protected right to organize.”

In its statement Sunday, Maine Medical Center denied intimidating or mistreating any nurses, and accused legislators of “reflexively support(ing) all union organizing drives.”

“MMC has supported all its care team members, including its nurses, before and throughout the ongoing global pandemic through the provision of needed protective equipment, job and wage protections, absorbing increases in medical insurance costs and the provision of market pay adjustments despite the financial pressures brought on by the COVID-19 crisis,” said the statement, provided by hospital spokesman Clay Holtzman.

“Further, during the period leading up to the nurses’ pending union election, Maine Medical Center has consistently urged all its nurses to learn about their rights under the law and has strongly encouraged all those who are eligible to vote,” the statement continued. “Allegations that nurses would face retribution for exercising their rights are false. At no time have nurses been intimidated, threatened, mistreated by Maine Medical Center or has patient care been (compromised) during this campaign.”

The hospital said it is “proud of its commitment to quality and safety” and “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.”

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