Maine Medical Center. Credit: Seth Koenig / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — Registered nurses at Maine Medical Center have launched a legal process to unionize.

Nurses there filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board earlier this month to join the Maine State Nurses Association, an affiliate of the National Nursing Organizing Committee/National Nurses United.

To pass, it will require a majority vote from registered nurses. The mail-in vote will take place March 29 and be counted by April 29, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

“We are excited to have registered nurses from Maine Medical Center vote to join Maine State Nurses Association,” MSNA and NNOC president Cokie Giles said. “By joining the union, they will have a voice to protect their patients and ensure that they continue to receive the high-quality care they deserve, especially during the pandemic.”

State union membership swelled in 2020, as nearly 13,000 Mainers joined a union — 14.7 percent of the state’s workforce now belongs to a union, the highest level in the past 20 years.

MMC President Jeffrey Sanders opposed the unionization efforts, but supported the right for nurses to decide and vote, according to an internal memo sent to nurses on Jan. 13.

A memo circulated Jan. 19 by Chief Medical Officer Joel Botler and Medical Staff President Nathan Mick explained management’s anti-union position. They said they prefer “a direct, collaborative relationship” with employees over collective bargaining negotiations.

That memo warned medical staff of “important considerations” if a union is formed. In the memo, Botler said that unionization would force several changes: “seniority replaces performance as a measure for everything,” he wrote, adding that “providers can expect an abrupt culture shift from collaborative to adversarial” among other things.

“Our nurses have the right to consider this for themselves, but I believe that a third-party like a union could fundamentally change how we provide care. Today, we deploy a highly collaborative and inter-professional, team-based care model. That could shift toward an approach that is defined by a contract, and not what is always in the best interest of the patient,” Botler said.

The Maine State Nurses Association represents more than 2,000 nurses across health facilities in the state. A local representative from the Maine State Nurses Association declined further comment.