BAR HARBOR — Approximately 75 registered nurses at Mount Desert Island Hospital continue to work without a collective bargaining agreement 10 months after their last contract ran out.
Hospital officials claim that they are at an impasse in the negotiations, a situation confirmed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a late-November 2014 ruling that is being appealed by the nurses’ union. The nurses, however, claim that they want to continue negotiating, and that the hospital has refused at least a half dozen written requests to continue meeting since the two sides last sat down together in June 2014.
By law, the nurses continue to work under the auspices of their expired contract. However, registered nurse Pam Bourke said that the situation is distracting, and that nurses feel disrespected by the hospital’s refusal to continue negotiating.
“You have a lot of experienced and seasoned nurses there … that have dedicated most of their careers there. And to someone that is dedicated to a facility like that, it shows great disrespect for them. And we are going to have nurses leaving the area because of that disrespect,” Bourke said. “When people aren’t happy in their jobs, or feel they are working hard for an institution that doesn’t respect them, you’re going to have those people who just decide to move on.”
Neither side is sharing many specifics regarding the impasse. Bourke said that initially there were differences because the nurses were pressing for a greater say in technological changes. This seems to have evolved into differences over money, with the nurses’ union putting forth a proposal with zero percent pay increases. This, she said, was not enough of a concession to the hospital administration, who said they wanted to take away certain step raises and other merit awards that some nurses had coming to them.
Hospital representative Oka Hutchins said that the hospital put their best offer on the table at the last negotiation session in June 2014, and the nurses’ union chose not to put it to a vote of their members. She declined to say anything more about specifics, citing the ongoing status of the impasse.
Hutchins said that hospital patients have no reason to worry about the quality of care they are receiving, even during this increasingly lengthy contract dispute.
“Patient care is a top priority, and we all share that goal,” Hutchins said. “Everything is very respectful and friendly between all parties involved. And all parties continue to provide the high level of patient care that our community deserves.”
Following the breakdown in negotiations, hospital administrators went through with their proposal to eliminate step and merit raises for the time being. This action was protested by the nurses’ union in a July 2014 filing with the NLRB. The hospital filed a counter claim with the board, claiming that the nurses are “surface negotiating,” Bourke said. The NLRB ruled that the situation was at an impasse, and that the hospital had acted legally by implementing the freeze in step raises. The Maine State Nursing Association is appealing that ruling.
Bourke said that the status of the negotiations is disappointing, and that she could not really understand the cause.
“Negotiations are a give and take. But this is the first time in the history of negotiating that that didn’t happen,” she said. “This was a very different negotiation than all the others, and I don’t know why that is.”