ELLSWORTH — Dozens of employees at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital are seeking to unionize, but hospital officials say it would be a bad move.
“The technical employees at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital have indicated their wish to be organized with us, the union,” said Vanessa Sylvester, a spokeswoman for the Maine State Nurses Association (MSNA). The state organization is an affiliate of National Nurses United.
Sylvester said on Tuesday some 60 hospital employees would become part of the union if the effort is successful.
A hospital spokeswoman said Maine Coast received a notice on Nov. 6 that MSNA “filed a petition seeking to represent a group of technicians and licensed practical nurses at the hospital.”
Suzanne Spruce, chief communications officer for Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems (of which Maine Coast is a part), said hospital officials “recognize and respect our employees’ rights to explore associations with unions.”
“However, we do not believe that MSNA representation is in the best interest of our patients, employees and the hospital,” Spruce said. “We much prefer to deal with our employees directly.”
Sylvester noted MSNA has represented nursing staff at Maine Coast for more than 30 years.
Spruce said she addressed questions on behalf of the hospital about the unionization effort this week because Kelley Columber, who usually serves as spokeswoman for Maine Coast and Blue Hill Memorial hospitals, was unavailable.
The next step in the process is for the technical employees to take part in an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. That federal agency states on its website that “if a majority of those who vote choose the union,” it will certify the union as the employees’ representative for collective bargaining. Sylvester confirmed that is how the process works.
She said, however, that EMHS is “delaying the process” and “holding up the election.”
“We are waiting for an election date so these employees can vote,” Sylvester said.
Spruce placed blame with MSNA.
“Any delay to this point has been the result of the union’s apparent inability to identify with clarity the group of employees it is seeking to represent,” Spruce said.
Sylvester called that response another delay tactic.
Spruce said hospital officials “expect the election process will proceed in the ordinary course.” She said if an election is scheduled, Maine Coast “will post election voting times and locations to ensure every eligible employee has an opportunity to vote and we strongly encourage all eligible employees to vote and have his or her voice heard.”
Sylvester said nurses from Maine Coast, Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and other EMHS member hospitals made a request to management on Monday “that no patient care dollars be spent on anti-union activity.”
“It’s our hope that EMHS will honor this request,” Sylvester said.
Spruce said the hospital will “bring appropriate experts in to educate staff and make resources available to them.” She said Maine Coast wants to make sure its employees “are aware of the actual facts.”
“Just as the union has been meeting with employees at Maine Coast and sharing their views about this, we will share our views so that affected employees can make an informed decision,” Spruce said.
The push to unionize technical employees at Maine Coast comes in the midst of a certain amount of dissatisfaction at the hospital in the wake of its affiliation with EMHS two years ago.
In recent months, nurses, former doctors and doctors who work at Maine Coast but are not employed by it have spoken out in news articles and letters to the editor about their concerns regarding decisions made at the hospital.
One Maine Coast employee was fired from her job after she wrote a letter to the editor on the subject. Hospital officials said she violated a policy about dealing with the media.