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Justice for Healthcare Workers


Worker Rights at EMMC- Front page coverage in Bangor Daily News
EMMC rally to support employee union Friday, December 09, 2005 - Bangor Daily News BANGOR - Labor union organizers and members plan to rally outside Eastern Maine Medical Center on Saturday in support of about 800 employees they say are trying to organize at the hospital.

According to Jack McKay of the Greater Bangor Area Central Labor Counsel AFL-CIO, nonprofessional workers at the Bangor hospital have been looking into the benefits of forming a local bargaining unit within the Machinists Union since last spring. Certified nursing assistants, housekeepers, food service workers, unit secretaries and other nonprofessional employees are among the workers who McKay said are looking for "a place at the table" when it comes time to talk about pay, benefits, rules and policies.

"People want to have their voices heard so they can make a positive contribution to the health care environment at the hospital," he said. Though the original union proposal would have applied only to CNAs and unit secretaries, McKay said national labor laws require the inclusion of all nonprofessional workers.

Among the workplace concerns, McKay said hospital employees are often asked to train new workers who are paid more than workers with greater seniority. Overly strict attendance policies penalize workers who should be eligible for family medical leave, and employees sometimes are chastised for not projecting a "positive, get-with-the-team attitude," he said.

Such heavy-handed management practices undermine employee morale, McKay said, and create a hostile workplace environment for workers who want to "have their voices respected." Not only that, he said, but people are reluctant to express interest in supporting a union for fear of losing their jobs.

The rally, which is planned to begin at 2:45 p.m. Saturday along State Street, is an opportunity for state union leaders and members to "support workers [at EMMC] who have the courage to stand up for the union," he said.

Unit Secretary Allison Leach of Bucksport said Thursday that she loves her job and the people she works with. But she, too, says "a place at the table" would improve employee morale and the quality of care at the hospital. "EMMC's philosophy is 'Patient First,'" she said. "And if we're all invested and working together, it will improve patient care."

Though she declined to specify any particular workplace problems confronting unit secretaries, Leach said the push to unionize "is about providing justice and decency for the people who do the work" at the hospital where she has worked for the past 61/2 years.

Hospital President and CEO Deborah Cary Johnson said Thursday that she surveys employees three times a year to rate their job satisfaction and that most of the people she has talked with "want nothing to do" with the unionization effort.

"I think there is a relatively small percentage of people who are interested," she said. "I hear more from people who are very satisfied with their jobs.

"I think what we're seeing here is mainly interest from the outside in having us unionized," she said. With losses in traditional blue-collar manufacturing jobs, Johnson said, labor unions have lost members and are looking to health care workers to shore up their organizations.

Johnson said hospital workers have a right to organize and to participate in Saturday's rally so long as they don't interfere with patients or their care.

About 3,000 people are employed at EMMC. Registered nurses at the hospital have been organized for more than 20 years.

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Last modified: 2/18/2010

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