Nurses at Maine Medical Center in Portland have voted 1,001 to 750 to form their first union at Maine’s largest hospital.

The ballots from the mail-in election were counted and certified Thursday night by the National Labor Relations Board, according to a news release issued by National Nurses United.

The vote means that about 2,000 nurses who work at Maine Medical Center, the Scarborough Surgery Center, and Maine Medical Center’s Brighton campus, also in Portland, will be represented in labor negotiations by the Maine State Nurses Association and National Nurses United.

“It’s a new day for nurses and patients across Maine,” Cokie Giles, president of the Maine State Nurses Association, said in a statement. “I am thrilled for my colleagues at Maine Med, for their resolve to win a collective voice for their patients and their community. And I look forward to working with you for the future of high-quality patient care for all Maine residents.”

Giles also serves as a vice president of National Nurses United. Giles called on administration at the hospital to “respect the democratic vote of the registered nurses, and begin to work with them to negotiate a first collective bargaining agreement that would be in the best interests of the hospital, the nurses, and the community.”

Maine Medical Center President Jeff Sanders issued a statement that noted the hospital has seven days to review the election results.

“We had hoped for a different outcome as we believe that the best way for Maine Medical Center to remain the region’s premier provider of medical care is to work directly with our care team members,” Sanders said. “We will continue to put the care of our patients and welfare of our care team at the forefront of our decision making including putting our core values of respect, integrity, excellence, ownership, innovation and being patient-centered into action.”

Thursday’s ballot count is the culmination of an effort that started in January.

Ballots were sent out to nurses on March 29 and had to be returned by April 27 for the April 29 count at the National Labor Relations Board’s New England office. The last effort to unionize Maine Med nurses that went to a vote was in 2000, when affiliation with the Service Employees International Union was rejected 622-509.

But this time union supporters argued that nurses at the Portland hospital were overworked and underpaid. Friends of Maine Med Nurses issued a statement this year in support of the work they do.

“They are underpaid. Too much is demanded of them. They put patients first, but too often they are not given the respect they deserve. And all of this was true even before COVID-19,” the group said.

Maine Med management has led a campaign against unionizing, hiring Florida-based Reliant Labor Consultants to try to persuade nurses not to join the union. The move generated controversy, including a rebuke from Gov. Janet Mills, when members of the out-of-state consulting team were given COVID-19 vaccinations in January against state policy to vaccinate only Maine residents.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, reiterated his support for the nurses Thursday evening and called on the public to make sure that Maine Medical Center management works with the union.

“After a tough year responding to a global pandemic, MMC nurses deserve to have their voices heard and respected by management when it comes to providing first-rate care to Maine patients,” Jackson said in a statement.

“Now that the votes have been counted and it’s clear where nurses stand, I expect Maine Medical Center to stand by their own words so both parties can get to work negotiating a fair and transparent contract,” Jackson said.

Nurses weighed in as well.

“This is a dream come true, to bring us the unified strength we need to improve patient care conditions and workplace standards at Maine Med,” Jackie Fournier, a pediatrics nurse at Maine Medical Center, said.

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