Thousands of Twin Cities and Duluth nurses will be voting Wednesday to authorize another strike of their hospitals, but their colleagues in Moose Lake won't be joining them.

About 50 nurses there reached a tentative contract, likely ending more than a year of negotiations that started after Essentia Health took over operations of their north-central Minnesota hospital in 2020. The Moose Lake nurses will vote on their deal Dec. 9.

"Both parties worked hard at the bargaining table in pursuit of a contract that benefits our nurses, our organization and — most importantly — our patients," said Duluth-based Essentia Health in a written statement.

Terms of the Moose Lake deal weren't immediately available. The Minnesota Nurses Association didn't issue a statement about the agreement or reply to a request for comment Tuesday.

Negotiations have narrowed gaps in wage and contract demands between 15,000 nurses and 16 hospitals in the Twin Cities and Duluth areas. However, they will be voting Wednesday whether to strike for a second time this year.

A yes vote would permit MNA leaders to call a strike at any time and give hospitals a 10-day notice to prepare. The soonest they could strike would be Dec. 10. Union leaders could opt for an open-ended strike or a limited strike akin to the three-day walkout this fall.

Twin Cities and Duluth nurses at one point sought more than 30% wage increases over three years while the hospitals offered around 10%. Talks Monday narrowed the difference at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park — with the HealthPartners hospital offering 14.5% raises and the nurse negotiators seeking 20%.

A new source of disagreement is whether to make raises retroactive to June, which is technically when the nurses' old contracts expired. Negotiations are five to six months overdue for the nurses, who will have to decide whether to OK a strike in the cold of winter and amid a surge in respiratory infections that have clogged hospitals.

The affected hospitals in the Twin Cities include Methodist; North Memorial Health in Robbinsdale; Allina's Abbott Northwestern, Mercy and United hospitals; and M Health Fairview's Southdale, Woodwinds and St. John's hospitals along with the west bank campus of the University of Minnesota Medical Center. St. Luke's in Duluth is part of the ongoing labor talks along with Essentia hospitals in Duluth and Superior.

The COVID-19 pandemic has entrenched both sides. Nurses want raises that exceed inflation, recognize their sacrifices during the pandemic, and halt the exodus of burned-out colleagues that is making work harder for those left behind.

Hospitals agree on the need for retention — with job vacancies in nursing and other patient care roles tripling in just the past year. However, they also are reporting lean finances or even losses that are limiting their ability to increase pay and fund the nurses' solutions to safety and understaffing problems.