Maine patients, community members speak out in support
March 18, 2021
By Ramona du Houx
About 1,500 patients and families of Maine Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital, have signed a letter in support of nurses in their bid to form a union.
Community members made their letter public at a news conference today, with several patients and family members telling their own stories and explaining why they support the nurses forming a union along with comments from several community leaders.
“As a firefighter and a paramedic here in Portland, when myself or a coworker transports a patient to the emergency room, a nurse is often the first person we see. I have seen nurses bring calm to chaos, get the most difficult IV, manage the most complex and critical patients and provide a kind word or gesture that otherwise would have gone unsaid or undone . They are truly the glue that holds a hospital together,” said Evan Kleene, a Portland Fire Fighter (IAFF Local 740). “It has been an especially difficult year for anyone working in healthcare. When more was asked of them, they gave it all, and now they are simply asking for a chance to have a union. The nurses at MMC deserve that dignity and respect. They deserve to have a fair election.”
“Everyone of us has either been a patient, or we have had loved ones, at Maine Medical Center. Whether we were celebrating the arrival of new family members, in for routine checkups, dealing with chronic illnesses, healing from an illness or injury, or saying goodbye to the ones we love, the entire Maine Med family has treated us with respect and professionalism. But nurses have a special place in our hearts….The stronger our nurses feel, the better our health care will be… We support our nurses’ decision to form a union,” reads part of the letter.
After nurses petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to join the Maine State Nurses Association last January, the hospital hired an out-of-state law firm. Their choice: Reliant Labor Solutions, who are known for fighting union efforts.
Rep. Mike Sylvester, D-Portland urged hospital leadership not to spend patient money on union-busting tactics. “They went out, and hired one of the most expensive firms whose sole duty is to make sure that the nurses do not vote in a union.”
Todd Chretien, a high school teacher from Portland who wrote the letter on behalf of Friends of Maine Med Nurses, said it’s wrong for the hospital to stand in the way of nurses making their own decision.
“I heard about the nurses unionizing, and I said, hey, there’s a bunch of us patients and families here, maybe we should get together and write a little letter expressing not only our support for the nurses right to unionize, but really what it’s been like to be patients and family members of patients at Maine Med and our experience with the nurses. So we got together and drafted a short statement, and I was hoping we would get 250 or 300 signatures. As of today we’ve got well over 1,500 signatures,” said Chrestien.
His daughter recently had surgery there, and he recounted saying goodbye to his father at Maine Med with nurses by his side, after years of care at the hospital.
“So when we say we have the nurses backs, and we think they have the right to make the decision to join a union, we say that out of respect, out of love and out of awe for their professionalism and their dedication to their patients and their family members. We want to thank them, and we stand with them,” he said.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor, in 2020 a record 13,000 Mainers joined labor unions. Now, nearly 17 percent of workers are represented by unions, up 3 percent from the previous year.
“Our church enthusiastically supports the drive by nurses at Maine Medical Center to form a union. By bargaining collectively with Maine Med management, the nurses would be in a position to negotiate on behalf of patients for increased staffing levels and reduction in mandatory overtime. They would have a place at the table to demand livable wages and benefits, reasonable work rules and stronger labor protections,” Capello said. “The nurses must be successful in their effort to form a union in order to advocate for their patients and improve their working conditions,” he said Carl Capello of Portland, a member of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Portland.
The union vote is scheduled for the end of March.
The letter and signatures, along with hundreds of comments of support from patients, can be found at www.FriendsofMaineMedNurses.org.