Patients, family pledge support for nurses' union at Maine Med

Mar. 15—A group that supports nurses at Maine Medical Center in Portland joining a labor union says at least 1,500 former patients and their family members have signed a letter in support of the organizing effort.

The push to organize up to 1,700 registered nurses at Maine's largest hospital was made public in January.

Nurses "have a special place in our hearts" because of the heavy load they carry at the hospital and the intimate relationship they develop with patients and families, the group Friends of Maine Med Nurses says in its online letter.

"They are overworked, they are underpaid. Too much is demanded of them. They put patients first, but all too often they are not given the respect they deserve. And all of this was true even before COVID-19," the group said. It plans to hold a virtual news conference Wednesday to explain its support for the union drive.

Nurses at Maine Med petitioned the National Labor Relations Board in January to join the Maine State Nurses Association, an affiliate of National Nurses United

Hospital owner MaineHealth opposes the move, saying it is not necessary, and that nurses at the hospital are represented by their peers in nursing practices. The health care company hired an anti-union firm from Florida, Reliant Labor Consultants, and required mandatory training on nurses' individual rights and whether they want a union to represent them.

The campaign of public support for unionizing workers grew out of social media activity by backers of the effort and those frustrated by MaineHealth's attitude toward organizing workers, said Friends of Maine Med Nurses spokesman Matt Beck.

"We were trying to figure out different ways to show our support," Beck said. "For the hospital to be running an anti-union campaign during the midst of a pandemic seemed really wrong to us."

Beck is an organizer for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents employees of electric utility and broadcast companies in Maine.

"Anybody who has gone through a union organizing campaign that their bosses and managers have been pushing back against knows it can feel a little overwhelming," Beck said. "This is to let the nurses know there is a lot of support in the broader community and to let the hospital administration know there is support."

In a letter sent Friday to MaineHealth executives, Democratic state legislative leaders said they were concerned about reports that nurses were dragged to one-on-one meetings with anti-union consultants and had supervisors threaten their jobs and benefits. Senate President Troy Jackson, House Speaker Ryan Fecteau and dozens of other lawmakers urged MaineHealth to fire its consultants and allow nurses to vote on a union without interference.

MaineHealth denies nurses have been threatened or intimidated, but said it encourages them to vote no on joining a union.

The health care system was criticized this winter for vaccinating administrative and remote workers, including the out-0f-state labor consultants, in an apparent violation of the state's vaccination priorities. The company defended its vaccination practices, saying it followed state and federal guidelines.