The picket line at Calais Regional Hospital on June 17, 2019. Credit: Courtesy of Todd Ricker

Nurses and medical laboratory scientists picketed in front of Calais Regional Hospital for two hours Monday morning to protest concessions the hospital’s management has proposed.

The approximately 35 nurses and four laboratory scientists, who are represented by the Maine State Nurses Association, cannot agree with administrators on a new contract. The previous contract expired in October 2018, and negotiations on a new contract began last September.

The nurses have asked the hospital, which has faced financial troubles in recent years, to extend the terms of their previous three-year contract rather than ask for new concessions.

In a document on its website, the hospital has agreed to preserve the wages of nurses in the next contract and offer them subsequent raises. It also has proposed changes to their benefits that administrators said are consistent with national standards, but that the union opposes.

In a statement issued early Monday afternoon, the Maine State Nurses Association said the hospital is having its best financial year in a decade at the same time it is trying to impose benefit reductions.

“The hospital is trying to insist on a roughly $1,700 cut in the cash value of our compensation, per employee, per year,” said Sarah Curtis, a nurse at Calais Regional Hospital. “And that doesn’t even count the fact they want to rip our current health insurance protections right out of our contract.”

The union said the proposed cutbacks could jeopardize the quality of patient care at the hospital by making it difficult to recruit new employees or retain experienced ones.

While DeeDee Travis, the hospital’s vice president of community relations, said the hospital did have its best year in a decade in 2018, it still lost more than $500,000. That’s down from the losses of $1 million or more in each of the previous three years.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” she said. “We must continue making improvements.”

Travis said the hospital is in a holding pattern, waiting for the union to respond. The hospital gave its most recent offer in May when mediation ended.

Monday morning’s picketing, she said, did not prevent anyone from coming in or out of the hospital.

Todd Ricker, a labor representative from the Maine State Nurses Association who is leading negotiations for the union, said the union had given the required 10-day notice before picketing Monday. He said this was the only picket planned so far.

The nurses and laboratory scientists were joined on the picket line by the Calais Regional Hospital technical unit, which joined the union June 14, and members of the United Steelworkers Union, Firemen and Oilers, and the Maine State Educational Association.

The Maine State Nurses Association is affiliated nationally with the National Nurses Organizing Committee.