Twin Cities nurses will strike 14 metro hospitals for one day on Thursday, June 10, if contract talks fail to produce a deal before then, the union announced Friday. Leaders said the strike would begin at 7 a.m. and last 24 hours.
But union leaders also said they plan to resume negotiations with the help of a federal mediator in the hope of reaching a settlement before the deadline.
The threat of a strike "is what's needed to get bargaining going again," said Nellie Munn, a nurse at Children's Hospitals and Clinics and a member of the union's negotiating committee.
The hospitals, however, said the announcement was disappointing.
"This is not in good faith," said spokeswoman Maureen Schriner. "It is disappointing that the nurses' union used the pretext of returning to negotiations just one day ago to then turn around and one day later order a strike."
Late Friday the nurses said they and the hospitals have agreed to resume talks on June 2 and 4.
In the meantime, hospital officials said, they will start laying out plans for a strike, with details to be announced next week. Patients would be affected for more than one day because hospitals will need time to reduce the number of occupied beds and then fill them again, officials said.
Hospitals are expected to cut back on elective surgeries and procedures, but how much will depend on the number of temporary nurses they can hire, said Ken Paulus, president of Allina Hospitals. Their priority will be providing emergency, mental health and maternity care, he said.
The strike date, announced at an afternoon news conference packed with nurses wearing red Minnesota Nurses Association T-shirts, capped several weeks of events designed to call attention to the most difficult contract talks in a quarter century.
The nurses overwhelmingly voted on May 19 to authorize a one-day strike. Since then, each side has accused the other of not doing enough to avert what could be the biggest strike in U.S. nursing history.
The hospitals have said the nurses might not be able to return to work after one day if replacement nurses have been hired, a tactic the nurses described as a "lock-out."
"They have threatened that," said Joni Ketter, director of organizing for the MNA. "It's pretty hard to replace 12,000 nurses."
Nurses said they were willing to take the risk.
"I think that they think we would not have the guts," said Michelle Belair, a nurse at North Memorial Hospital.
On Wednesday six hospital groups representing the 14 hospitals e-mailed letters to the union representing 12,000 nurses, asking to restart talks and to include a federal mediator. At the news conference Friday, union officials said they had agreed.
"We are hopeful we won't have to go on strike at all," Munn said.
The hospitals also said they were willing to extend the current labor contract, set to expire May 31, through June 30. But the MNA said that wasn't necessary "nor do we believe it would improve the chances of a settlement."
The nurses have asked for 3 percent pay increases in each of three years and formal nurse-patient ratios. But at the news conference the red-shirted nurses said staffing ratios were by far the most important item on their agenda.
"We will not be bought out," said Cindy Olson, a nurse on the negotiating committee, eliciting an explosion of applause among the nurses.
Hospitals have asked for more flexibility in scheduling, and proposed annual raises of 0, 1 and 2 percent, plus cuts in pension contributions.
"We are glad that the union is agreeing to federal mediation and returning to the negotiating table," Schriner said, "but only if there is going to be a genuine effort to look at the proposals and negotiate on them, because we haven't had that since March."