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How Maine Medical Center nurses vote yes or no for a union, and what it means for the hospital

The National Labor Relations Board started counting votes Thursday afternoon.

PORTLAND, Maine — Nurses at Maine Medical Center should know by Thursday evening if they will be represented by a union.

The roughly 1,900 nurses had to have their ballots sent in by April 27. Vote counting began on Thursday afternoon at the National Labor Relations Board's regional office in Connecticut. The NLRB is a federal government organization.

Voting is done by mail due to the pandemic.

The board then counts those votes while representatives from the union, National Nurses United, and Maine Medical Center get to observe via video conference.

Either side can challenge any ballots they feel are filled out incorrectly. Those challenged ballots get set aside. It is unclear what happens with those ballots: the NLRB did not return NEWS CENTER Maine's request for information.

The votes are confidential: neither the hospital nor the union knows who voted which way.

Maine Medical Center is encouraging all nurses to vote to make sure their voices are heard. The hospital created a number of campaign materials to inform nurses about the process and why the management encourages nurses to vote 'no.'

Unions can negotiate with employers on behalf of the nurses it represents. The union can negotiate wages, benefits, working conditions, and other terms of employment.

"If a union comes in to represent our nurses here at Maine Medical Center, the opportunity I have as the president, the opportunity our leadership team has to have those kinds of direct interactions with our nursing team goes away," MMC president Jeff Sanders said in a campaign video.

In a statement, the Maine chapter of National Nurses United, said, "by joining the union, they will have a voice to protect their patients and ensure that they continue to receive the high-quality care they deserve, especially during the pandemic."

According to Maine Hospital Association President Steven Michaud, union representatives negotiating better salaries or benefits for nurses can end up costing the hospital.

Michaud said unionization "quite often becomes adversarial, and that's not desirable from a management's point of view."

Maine Medical Center officials expect the vote will be in after 8 p.m. Thursday.