A lengthy campaign to organize the registered nurses (RNs) at Maine Medical Center (MMC) in Portland, Maine, culminated in an overwhelming victory last Thursday, April 29. The RNs at MMC voted 1,001 to 750 in a mail-ballot election, counted by the National Labor Relations Board, to form their first-ever union.
The Maine State Nurses Association, an affiliate of National Nurses United (NNU), will now represent the nearly 2,000 registered nurses at Maine Medical Center.
“We are thrilled to welcome Maine Med nurses to the labor movement. Their solidarity, courage and strength throughout this pandemic and in the face of an expensive, divisive anti-union campaign by hospital management is remarkable and an inspiration to all workers,” said Maine AFL-CIO President Cynthia Phinney (IBEW) in a statement from the state labor federation.
“This is a historic union victory at the largest hospital in northern New England," Phinney continued. “We hope other health care workers in Maine will become inspired and organize together to win a voice in their workplaces.”
For over a year, Maine Med RNs have been speaking out against inadequate staffing, overscheduling, a lack of adequate meal and break relief, and inappropriate staffing assignments, among other workplace concerns.
When it became clear in January 2020 that the nurses at MMC would be heading toward a union election, Maine AFL-CIO Organizing Director Sarah Bigney McCabe leaped the action to garner as much community support as possible.
“We realized pretty quickly how this would be a historic opportunity for workers in Maine,” McCabe said.
McCabe worked to form the Facebook group “Friends of Maine Med Nurses,” which gained more than 4,500 members who have been using it as a tool to share stories, photos and encouragement throughout the campaign.
“The energy in the group just immediately took over, it was like wildfire and you couldn’t stop it,” McCabe said.
Another great aspect of community support during the campaign came from state elected officials, especially from Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, who both spoke out against the hospital’s choice to vaccinate out-of-state union-busting consultants in January ahead of the hospital nurses.
“This hospital serves our entire state—all four corners,” McCabe said. “If you have a serious surgery or injury, you go to this hospital. We want the nurses to have a good staffing ratio, to be well taken care for, because the nurses are such advocates for their patients. That’s why so many people—nurses, patients, union members, felt a stake in this.”
Due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, MMC nurses did not have any in-person rallies. Alternatively, the Maine AFL-CIO worked with the campaign to produce lawn signs and window posters.
“The lawn sign became the hottest-ticket item in Maine,” McCabe said. Throughout the campaign, union members and leaders from the Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Fire Fighters (IAFF) and several other unions came together to help distribute lawn signs as well as door-knock at homes and apartment buildings near the Maine Medical Center. According to McCabe, the nurses were overjoyed to see the solidarity from neighboring buildings as they commuted into work.
“The statewide support that we received on this campaign was unbelievable,” McCabe said. “When we can all come together on these drives and support them, it’s for the better. Here in Maine, we stick together, we have each other’s back. All of our affiliates came out in support of the nurses, and the next time they have a campaign, we’ll be out there for them.”
And next stop for the Maine AFL-CIO?
“Passing the PRO Act,” said McCabe.