Voting is scheduled to begin at 6 a.m. today on tentative contract agreements between 12,000 nurses and 14 Twin Cities hospitals, but the results might not be known until early Wednesday, union officials said.

The Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) said it will not begin counting the votes until after the polls close at 10 p.m., and the final tally is not expected until midnight or 1 a.m.

A strike, which had been scheduled to begin Tuesday morning, was called off last week when negotiators for both sides reached the agreement. A simple majority of voting union members is needed to ratify.

Nurses from each of six hospital groups, and in some cases individual hospitals, will be voting separately on the proposed agreements, the union said. As a result, it is possible that some hospitals could approve the agreement while others reject it, according to John Nemo, a spokesman for the union.

If more than two-thirds of the voters reject the offer, the union could set another strike date, Nemo said. If the contract is rejected by more than half but fewer than two-thirds of the voters in any one group, "those nurses would essentially be back to square one," Nemo said.

The agreement calls for no pay raise the first year and 1- and 2-percent raises the following two years. Under the agreement, union negotiators dropped their demand for strict staffing rules, and the hospitals dropped their demands for cuts in pension and health benefits and more flexible work rules.

Nurses will be voting at MNA headquarters in St. Paul and at Park Center Senior High School in Brooklyn Park.

The agreement affects five Allina hospitals -- Abbott Northwestern, Mercy, Phillips Eye Institute, United and Unity; three HealthEast hospitals -- Bethesda, St. John's and St. Joseph's; two Fairview hospitals -- Southdale and the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Riverside campus; the two Children's Hospitals in Minneapolis and St. Paul; Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, and North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.

In addition, nurses at St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee will vote only on the pension agreement. The polling site at their hospital will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384