Maine hospital workers striking to remove CEO

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Employees at Calais (Maine) Regional Hospital plan to strike for two days amid contract negotiations to demand their CEO's firing, according to the union that represents them.

The employees, who are members of the Maine State Nurses Association, delivered the strike notice to the hospital Nov. 6.

The union said the main issue in the strike is related to hospital CEO Rod Boula and employees' belief he should be fired and replaced. Employees sent a petition to the hospital board of directors, hospital board of trustees and the Calais City Council on Oct. 28, calling for the termination of Mr. Boula. In the petition, which was signed by 84 percent of unionized Calais Regional staff and 17 percent of the total hospital staff, union members said they have no confidence in Mr. Boula's leadership ability to guide the hospital and cited issues including what they consider irresponsible spending practices. Union members also allege dangerous working conditions and poor employee morale.

"The hospital did not strictly enforce universal masking until we raised concerns about the outbreak," Megan LaPlant, a Calais Regional Hospital medical laboratory scientist, said in a union news release. "Despite our requests to make COVID screening more accessible to employees, management never fully informed staff of how they could get tested themselves. Some employees were even reprimanded by management for getting screened after they had been exposed to someone with the virus. While we are doing everything we can to keep our patients safe, it is the job of management to keep us and our co-workers safe. They have not done a good job of that." 

Regarding Mr. Boula's performance, hospital board chair Ron McAlpine and hospital board vice chair Everett Libby said in a statement shared with Becker's in October: "Rod Boula is doing what he was hired to do." 

"Why would the board want to fire an individual that is doing their job?' If it hadn't been for his efforts, there would have been a very good chance that the hospital would have had to close its doors two years ago." 

Regarding the union's allegations about safety, the hospital told Becker's it has followed CDC guidelines in requiring masks to be worn, following changes to guidance as it was made by the agency; have sent more than 100 reminders and notices to staff regarding masking, symptoms and testing since March; and immediately put in place additional screenings, assessments and education following a COVID-19 outbreak that was contained to six hospital employees in two non-clinical areas.

The strike is set to begin at 7 a.m. Nov. 18 and end at 6:59 a.m. Nov. 20.

In a statement posted on the hospital's website Nov. 7, Calais Regional officials expressed disappointment about the strike, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the strike occurs as planned, the hospital said it will remain operative and essential services will be maintained; however, non-emergent or elective services, such as the Calais Regional Swab and Send COVID-19 testing and pain clinic procedures, may need to be suspended during the strike.  

"Last year, hospital administration began developing a detailed plan to respond to a strike notice and is confident that essential hospital services will be able to continue as usual," the hospital said. "Knowing a short strike is a common tactic of the union, we felt it was our due diligence to be prepared for this scenario. There is sufficient skilled non-union staff available to provide clinical services. If necessary, temporary skilled nurses and techs with experience covering services at striking facilities will be utilized."

The RN/medical lab scientist bargaining unit began negotiations in 2018, and the bargaining unit of technical workers organized more than one year ago. 

During negotiations, the hospital said health insurance and paid time off are the key issues that have separated union members and Calais Regional, and it will continue negotiating in good faith.

"The hospital has addressed concerns repeatedly and tried to make this a win-win situation.  CRH administration will continue to speak up for our patients and work for the best interests of our staff as a whole," hospital officials said, adding, "We will not be deterred just because we do not agree wholeheartedly with the union position or demands. We continue to offer opportunities to negotiate in good faith with the Maine State Nurses Union."

Negotiations are scheduled for Nov. 10 and Nov. 12.

 

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