FILE - Registered Nurse RN Healthcare Health Care Medicine Hospital

(The Center Square) – Nurses at one of Maine's largest hospitals will vote next month on whether to drop union representation they approved more than a year ago.

A proposal would decertify the Maine State Nurses Association as the union representative for about 2,000 registered nurses working at the Maine Medical Center in Portland, the flagship hospital for the state's Medicaid program, and other locations. Voting is expected Aug. 17 or 18.

The proposed decertification comes more than a year after 57% of nurses voted to unionize under the MSNA, a process that was certified by the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that oversees employment relations. The Maine union is an affiliate of National Nurses United, one of the largest nurses unions.

New rules adopted by labor board in 2020 allow unionized workers to request a decertification vote, but they must wait at least a year after the initial certification vote to put the referendum up for consideration by its membership.

The nurses who pushed for the vote are backed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which argues that the certification vote was approved by a "dubious" mail voting process. The decertification vote next month will be held in person at several locations.

"Maine Medical Center employees are more than reasonable in their desire to oust Maine State Nurses Association union officials, who came to power at the facility through a questionable mail-ballot vote and have failed to produce a contract in over a year," Mark Mix, the group's president, said in a statement.

"No health-care worker should be subject to the monopoly control of a union that they don’t believe serves their interests," he added.

The group argues that mail balloting elections "benefit union organizers" because of lower turnout among voters. It also argues that mail balloting has resulted in "post office errors that disenfranchise workers" and alleges that union organizers engage in "ballot harvesting" which "undermines the privacy of workers’ votes."

While the nurses have had union representation for more than a year, they have still yet to finalize a contract with the Maine Medical Center. That has led to recent job actions with nurses calling for improved working conditions and other workplace issues.

The foundation says it has provided legal advice to public sector workers in several states – including Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Massachusetts – to "remove unwanted unions" from hospitals and other health-care settings.

But representatives of the nurses union say they are close to reaching a deal on a contract with the medical center, and predict that the decertification effort will fail.

"The question in this election is if nurses want to continue using their collective voice to make things better at Maine Medical Center, or hand all of the decision making power back to management," Todd Ricker, a chief negotiator with the Maine State Nurses Association, said in a statement on the upcoming vote.

"The strong majority of nurses wants to win this election, keep the union, and continue winning real improvements for their patients and themselves," he added.