Maine Medical Center's nurses have ratified their first union contract.
Maine Medical Center nurses hold an informational picket outside the hospital in this April 27, 2022, file photo. Credit: CBS 13

Maine Medical Center’s nurses have ratified their first union contract.

The Friday announcement followed two days of voting and marked the end of more than 13 months of negotiations.

“We feel the imperative of history in our vote,” Michele Flaherty, bargaining team member and pediatric intensive care unit registered nurse, said Friday. “We stand in a long line of Maine Med nurses who have fought for their union over the past half a century. Nurses’ first attempt to unionize at Maine Med was in 1976.”

The nurses announced last week that they had finally reached a tentative agreement with the Portland hospital’s administration after more than 13 months at the negotiating table.

Under the three-year contract, 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 workers.

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 other issues, and an end to mandatory rotating shifts, according to the union. 

“We are overjoyed with how our coworkers have rallied around this contract,” said Emily Wilder, bargaining team member who works in the cardiac intensive care unit. “We have made tremendous gains in patient safety protections and workplace improvements and have won raises that will really help us recruit and retain the nurses needed to care for our community. It’s no surprise that a commanding majority of Maine Med nurses voted to approve our first union agreement.”

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 of nurses, 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.

The group of 500 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 members 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. 

“So many Maine nurses have trained and worked at Maine Med over the years, including myself,” said Cokie Giles, the president of the Maine State Nurses Association. “These new union members are a true beacon of hope to nurses across our state who want to have the strong, united voice that they can have through being a part of our union.”

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