Nurses in Maine appeared to have won one of the largest U.S. union elections in recent years on Thursday, voting by a 57-43 margin to join the Maine State Nurses Association in a preliminary tally.
If the labor board certifies the results of the mail-in election, the union will represent roughly 2,000 workers employed by Maine Medical Center at three facilities, the bulk of them at Maine Med in Portland.
Union elections involving thousands of private-sector workers have become rare in the U.S. The Maine vote is the largest this year aside from the unsuccessful union campaign involving 5,800 workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama.
The pro-union nurses in Maine came out ahead despite an anti-union campaign by the hospital. Maine Med made news earlier this year when it brought in consultants from out of state to persuade workers not to unionize, then vaccinated the consultants against state guidelines.
Portland Press Herald via Getty Images A nurse at Maine Medical Center receiving a vaccination earlier this year. Nurses at the facility voted decisively to unionize.
Maine State Nurses Association President Cokie Giles called it a “new day for nurses and patients” in a statement on the election results.
“I am thrilled for my colleagues at Maine Med, for their resolve to win a collective voice for their patients and their community,” Giles said.
The hospital has a week to file objections with the National Labor Relations Board and said in a statement that it is “reviewing the election results,” but acknowledged that the union appeared to have majority support.
“We had hoped for a different outcome as we believe that the best way for Maine Medical Center to remain the region’s premier provider of medical care is to work directly with our care team members,” Jeff Sanders, Maine Med’s president, said in a statement.
The Maine State Nurses Association is an affiliate of National Nurses United, a union representing 170,000 nurses around the country. NNU won another major election last year at Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, involving some 1,800 workers.
The win in Maine was years in the making. The Maine State Nurses Association had tried unsuccessfully to unionize the hospital two decades ago.
Maine Med acknowledged it had violated Maine guidelines by vaccinating the out-of-state consultants.
This time around, Maine Med hired Reliant Labor Consultants, a “union avoidance” firm that helps employers scuttle organizing drives. Following reporting by the Portland Press Herald, the hospital acknowledged it had administered vaccinations to some of those consultants who had come from out of state, a violation of Maine’s vaccine guidelines. The vaccinations came at a time when many frontline workers were still waiting for their shots.
The hospital said the consultants were meant to “provide support to nurses and managers in answering questions about the impact of joining a union.” The policy violation prompted a censure from Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D), who called it “an inexcusable act.”
The union criticized the hospital not only for vaccinating out-of-staters but from bringing in the consultants in the first place.
“Hospitals talk to nurses about how expensive it would be to have a union, and how their costs would go up,” Giles told HuffPost in February. “I would like to know how much they’re spending on these consultants.”