Calais hospital staffers plan to strike as labor dispute escalates

Nurses, lab workers and radiology staffers at Calais Regional Hospital plan to go on strike

Nurses, lab workers and radiology staffers at Calais Regional Hospital plan to go on strike for two days next week, ratcheting up an ongoing labor dispute that included a recent call for the hospital’s CEO to be fired and raising new concerns about what they said has been a poor response to a coronavirus outbreak that recently infected six of their colleagues.

The strike will take place next week on Wednesday and Thursday, according to a written notice that Maine State Nurses’ Association, the union representing the workers, provided to the hospital on Friday. The staff members would return to their jobs on Friday morning, Nov. 20, for shifts starting at 7 a.m.

The union has about 50 members at the Calais hospital, including registered nurses, medical laboratory scientists, laboratory technologists and radiology technologists. The vote to strike was “nearly unanimous,” according to labor representative Todd Ricker, who declined to provide an exact vote tally.

The group initially authorized a strike in 2019 as part of a stalled contract negotiation, but decided to hold off on striking after the hospital declared bankruptcy that September. Nurses at the hospital have been working without a new contract since the fall of 2018.

In a statement on the hospital’s website, administrators said they were “very saddened that union members have chosen to strike” in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, which caused a recent spike in infections in Washington County, including among a half-dozen of the hospital’s workers.

The hospital said it has a plan to keep operating if the union proceeds with the strike, relying on non-union staff who could be temporarily reassigned to different roles and one temporary worker. But the facility may have to delay some non-essential services, including testing for COVID-19 and elective procedures, according to the statement.

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