Machias nurses and techs hold historic first strike

Submitted by ADonahue on
Large group of Machias nurses and techs on the strike line with lots of picket signs about staffing and retention

By Chuleenan Svetvilas

National Nurse magazine - April | May | June 2024 Issue

Registered nurses and technicians at Down East Community Hospital (DECH) in Machias, Maine, held a two-day strike on April 30 and May 1 to protest the administration’s refusal to address RNs’ and techs’ concerns about recruitment, retention, and safe staffing. This is the first ever strike by the RNs and techs at DECH and this is the very first strike at a critical-access hospital in the history of the state of Maine. 

NNOC represents registered nurses and technicians at DECH. Technicians include certified surgical technicians, medical lab technologists/technicians, and cardiopulmonary and imaging technologists.

The RNs and techs gave advance notice to the hospital for their event on April 19, following a nearly unanimous strike authorization pledge from nurses and technicians. DECH nurses and technicians have been negotiating since September 2023 for a new contract. The nurses’ and technicians’ contracts expired on Oct. 18, 2023. 

While progress has been made in some areas, key issues remain. The RNs and techs urge management to invest in nursing and technician staff and agree to a fair contract that addresses their concerns about recruitment and retention and prioritizes local nurses and technicians over temporary out-of-town workers.

“For the nurses and technicians this is about making sure all of us who live in our community have the care available locally that we all need,” said Berta Alley, an RN in the infusion clinic and DECH chief nurse representative and negotiator. “We wish the hospital had the same priority.”

The hospital had a total gain in net assets of nearly $20 million between 2019 and 2022, the last year a report is available.

“This is about prioritizing our community and our patients,” said Joelle Jackson, a medical lab tech and DECH steward and negotiator. “Unfortunately, that’s just not what we see happening.”

Recently, the hospital was so busy it was on diversion but continued to accept multiple patients via ambulance. Nurses were extremely dismayed that they did not have the appropriate staff necessary to provide optimal care to all patients in the ER.

“Where was management during this?” continued Jackson. “They were at a retreat with an out-of-state consultant entitled: ‘How to Be the Best Boss Your Employees Ever Had!’”

“Newsflash!” said Alley. “When your employees are heading out on strike and the hospital is being overwhelmed, what makes you the ‘Best Boss’ is to make sure there is enough staff to meet the need and you have to be able to recruit and retain permanent part- and full-time staff to be able to do that.”

The most recent Form 990s show that between 2020-2022, CFO Lynette Parr’s compensation increased by nearly $100,000 a year, or 48 percent, and CEO Steve Lail’s compensation increased over $100,000 annually, or by 37 percent, during that same time period.

Machias nurses and technicians held rallies in downtown Machias in late January in support of a fair contract. 

Chuleenan Svetvilas is a communications specialist at National Nurses United.