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Union nurses at Maine Medical Center stripped of paid-leave benefits

The hospital announced last week it terminated nurses' paid leave for bereavement, jury duty, and military service.

PORTLAND, Maine — In a holiday-themed showing of disapproval, nurses at Maine Medical Center in Portland compared hospital president Jeff Sanders and other management officials to "Scrooges" on Wednesday.

Outside the south entrance of the hospital, nurses held a press conference, speaking out against their employer after their paid-leave benefits for bereavement, jury duty, and military service were terminated.

The nurses are part of the Maine State Nurses Association. The union's contract with the hospital went into effect Sept. 22, 2022.

"The theft of these longstanding paid benefits from Maine Med nurses has already had a devastating impact on us," Katrine Fesmire, an operating room nurse, said.

According to a Maine State Nurses Association release, no other employees at the hospital lost these benefits. A spokesperson for Maine Medical Center confirmed no changes to paid time off, including leaves, were made for employees not covered by the union's collective bargaining agreement.

The spokesperson did add that if a proposal to keep those paid benefits was made during contract negotiations, the hospital would have considered keeping the benefits in place and bargained over it "in good faith."

Many speakers at the event said the decision to terminate their benefits was "illegal" as it related to labor laws.

Maine Medical Center disagrees. 

"[The hospital] believes it is following the terms and conditions laid forth in the contract that was agreed to by both parties" the spokesperson added in an email.

Registered nurse Emma Cooper also spoke at the event and said she wanted to work at Maine Medical Center largely because of the nurse's union.

"While it would be wrong to pull this nonsense on nurses at any time of year, it is especially egregious for Maine Medical Center to illegally strip away these important benefits for the nurses during the holidays," she said.

A Maine Medical Center spokesperson said the collective bargaining agreement would expire on Dec. 31, 2025, and hospital management is willing to meet and discuss any midterm proposals the union may bring up.

There is a grievance process, the spokesperson added, for these types of disputes. As of Wednesday, the union has not initiated that process.

Credit: NCM

Cooper added she is glad the nurses at the hospital are part of a union so they can use their collective power to fight this.

Maine Medical Center did release the following statement during Wednesday's rally:

“The collective bargaining agreement that was finalized in September after more than a year of negotiation spells out the terms and conditions of employment for nurses at Maine Medical Center, including compensation and benefits. All parties are subject to the contract’s terms and conditions as a matter of federal law. During the course of negotiations, there were no proposals made by nurses’ representatives concerning paid leave that the union has expressed concerns about today. Had such a proposal been made MMC would have considered and bargained over it in good faith. Our collective bargaining agreement outlines the process for working together to find a resolution.”

The request from the union to hospital management is to reinstate the paid leave benefits that were stripped away and compensate the nurses who lost pay due to the end of the benefits. Lastly, the union is asking Maine Medical Center to apologize to its nurses.

"We hope [hospital management takes] this opportunity right now before they start seeing Christmas ghosts in their sleep," Fesmire concluded.

This news comes as the capacity at Maine Medical Center is almost full. One factor is a lack of beds at long-term care facilities in Maine, meaning patients stay at the hospital waiting for a bed. The hospital spokesperson said there are about 70 patients waiting for discharge to a long-term facility on any given day.

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