Registered nurse Doris Plumer speaks during a picket in front of Mount Desert Island Hospital last summer meant to raise awareness of stalled contract negotiations. The nurses’ union this week authorized a one-day strike in light of a continuing standstill in the negotiation process. FILE PHOTO

MDI Hospital nurses authorize strike

BAR HARBOR — Registered nurses frustrated with stalled contract negotiations at Mount Desert Island Hospital (MDIH) voted Monday to authorize their negotiating team to call a one-day strike. No decision on actually holding a strike has been made.

The RNs, voting as members of the Maine State Nurses Association (MSNA) and other unions, voted 44-3 to authorize the strike, RN Doris Plumer said.

“We don’t feel valued by management for the efforts we make to keep the patients safe, especially with pharmacy and technology problems. Our step raises were randomly frozen for no reason except to weaken our contract,” Plumer said. “Our vote to authorize our negotiation team to possibly strike shows how seriously we feel about these patient care issues.”

MDIH Nurses have been working without a contract since June 2014. Until last week, they had not sat down with hospital officials since June 16. On March 30, the two sides met with a federal mediator, but were unable to come to agreeable terms.

Hospital officials said Wednesday that they are committed to the health of the community and do appreciate the dedication of their employees.

“From the onset [of the March 30 mediation session], both parties agreed that they wanted to work to achieve consensus and not have a prolonged negotiation. The session was productive and many items were tentatively agreed upon between both parties; however, at the end of the day, we were not able to reach an agreement primarily due to economics,” a press statement from MDIH read. “It is our sincere hope that we can come to an expedient resolution on outstanding economic issues and achieve a consensus that will be fair and equitable for all parties involved. We look forward to the scheduling confirmation of our next collective bargaining session.”

According to Plumer, MDIH officials froze nurses’ pay last spring. Nurses on March 30 asked for two percent step raises moving forward, she said, along with retroactive pay to cover their flat salaries since last spring. MDIH officials, however, refuse to budge over their offer of one-percent step raises, Plumer said.

MDIH nurses have conceded or come to terms with hospital officials over many of the original demands they began making last spring regarding upgrades to technology and internal communication practices, she said.

“There are approximately 66 nurses and families that are represented at this bargaining table,” RN Lily Sweeney said. “That’s 66 families that live and work in this community and will have to deal with the economic impact of this final contract. I ask the community to stand by us for better healthcare and support your nurses.”

Plumer said that a strike would entail a one-day picket in front of the hospital and would be preceded by a notice of at least 10 days, as required by federal law. During the strike, specialized nurses, such as those in obstetrics and oncology, would be available to work if requested by their managers, she said.

“If patient care were being affected, we would come in. We would come in if management called us in.”

MDIH RNs are represented by the MSNA along with the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC). The union is working in concert with National Nurses United on this issue.

According to a union statement, contract negotiations have been stalled “over the hospital’s refusal to work with nurses on safe and effective medical technology and the hospital’s reluctance to address long term recruitment and retention issues due to random pay cuts.”

“It is our sincerest hope that the hospital will return to the bargaining table and address the concerns of the nurses, the patients and the community,” said RN Cokie Giles, president of MSNA/NNOC.

Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]
Robert Levin

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