Maine Medical Center's unionized nurses have reached a tentative contract agreement.
In this Feb. 24, 2022, file photo, Maine Medical Center staff appear outside of the hospital in a demonstration on demanding that MaineHealth do more to prevent violence against staff. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

The nurses union has reached a tentative first contract agreement with Maine Medical Center in Portland after more than a year of negotiations.

It’s a historic milestone for the fledgling union that comes less than a month after nurses there resoundingly fended off an insurgent bid to decertify their union.

“The momentum from our huge recertification victory gave us the final push we needed to get this deal done,” Nadine Kern, a member of the union bargaining team and critical care nurse, said Thursday in announcing the tentative agreement. “Nurses are more engaged and unified than ever. It’s our unity that makes us strong.”

Under the tentative agreement, all union members will see a 7 percent wage hike in the contract’s first year, with 4 percent gains in both its second and third years, for a 15 percent total rise in wages during its duration, according to the Maine State Nurses Association, which represents the Maine Med nurses.

Additionally, the contract includes guaranteed breaks and mealtimes, guaranteed safe floating practices, minimum orientation times for newly graduated nurses, an independent committee to deal with patient safety and issues facing nurses, and an end to mandatory rotating shifts, according to the union.

Mary Kate O’Sullivan, a bargaining team member and medical-surgical nurse, said Thursday that it took 30 bargaining sessions over 13 months to reach the tentative final agreement with the hospital’s administration.

“But we would not be here without the tremendous love and support our community has shown us since our first election victory last year. We are proud to stand up for you as you have stood up for us. This is truly what solidarity looks like,” O’Sullivan said.

The union will vote next week whether to ratify the agreement. If passed, the contract will be in place for the next three years.

Last year’s union drive was one of the most high profile victories for organized labor in Maine in years. The nurses voted 57.2 percent to 42.8 percent to unionize, a decision that affected roughly 2,000 nurses at Maine Medical Center, the Scarborough Surgery Center and the Maine Med campus in Portland. An earlier union drive in 2000 failed to garner enough support.

The National Labor Relations Board in May 2021 certified the union as the bargaining representative for the hospital’s nurses.

But the young union faced an attempt this summer to decertify it by an insurgent group, backed by the conservative the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which promotes so-called right-to-work laws and backs efforts to dismantle unions, including most recently a Mayo Clinic nurses union in Minnesota in July.

A group of 500 nurses signed the petition to decertify the newly formed union, citing dissatisfaction over the protracted negotiations between the union and hospital management for their first contract.

But the Aug. 18 vote ended in a resounding defeat for the group pushing to decertify the union, with 74 percent of nurses voting to keep the union against 26 percent to dismantle it, an even greater margin of victory than seen in the 2021 vote to unionize.

“Our union and our contract are many years in the making,” said Madison Light, another union bargaining team member and interventional radiology nurse. “So much work was done to lay the foundation of what we have today, which is the right to deal with our management as equals, to make Maine Med the best place it can be for our patients and for ourselves.”

The Maine State Nurses Association represents 2,000 workers at Maine Medical Center and nearly 4,000 statewide.