BANGOR – After two days of voting, members of the nurses union at Eastern Maine Medical Center have ratified a new three-year contract, bringing several rounds of intense negotiating to an end and averting a strike.
The ratification vote took place on Friday and Saturday in the hospital’s Mason Auditorium, according to notices posted on the union’s Web site.
Because bargaining team members from the union and the hospital agreed not to disclose the contract’s details until both sides had ratified the agreement, little new information was available over the weekend.
EMMC’s nurses belong to the Maine State Nurses Association, Unit 1.
Ratification of the contract proposal required approval from a majority of the union’s roughly 870 members, Judy Brown, a staff nurse and president of the hospital’s nursing union, said last week.
The final tally from the nurses contract vote was not available over the weekend.
After the ballots were counted, the nurses union posted the following message on its Web site:
“MSNA Unit 1 registered nurses ratified a new three-year agreement Saturday that will substantially enhance their voice in patient care delivery.
“The bargaining team is enormously proud of the nurses for their unity and dedication in standing up for themselves and their patients. The spirit and resolve showed by the Unit 1 nurses created this great breakthrough for their facility and their community.
The notice concluded: “The agreement provides for establishment of Professional Performance Committee of staff nurses elected by their peers to meet with management to address and resolve patient care concerns at the hospital. Full details will be announced following the [Eastern Maine Healthcare] board vote on Monday.”
The makeup and authority of the nurse practice committee, which would have significant input into staffing levels and other decisions, had been a primary obstacle in the contract dispute, with nurses arguing that the hospital is chronically understaffed on most patient units.
Contract negotiations also revolved around wages and health insurance.
EMMC spokeswoman Jill McDonald said Saturday she could not confirm when the trustees’ vote would take place, but that ending the contract dispute would allow all involved to move forward.
“Hopefully, we will all learn from this experience and do better in the future,” she said. “We need to learn from every experience.”
The union’s decision to accept the new contract averted a strike planned for this week.
After failing in previous negotiations, the nursing union issued a 10-day notice last weekend scheduling a 24-hour strike to begin at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
In preparation, the hospital had been making preliminary arrangements to bring in replacement nurses from the U.S. Nursing Corp. of Denver, an agency that specializes in providing temporary nurses to hospitals whose employees are on strike.
The strike has been called off, pending the hospital board’s ratification of the contract.
The nurses’ most recent three-year contract expired at midnight Sept. 30.
The nurses’ vote to accept the terms of the hospital contract proposal came after the successful conclusion of what proved to be a final marathon negotiating session last Wednesday at the Ramada Inn.