The Minnesota Nurses Association has invited 14 Twin Cities hospitals to return to the bargaining table in an effort to resolve their simmering labor dispute.

The union proposed resuming talks June 22, the day after 12,000 registered nurses vote whether to authorize an open-ended strike.

"We are willing to modify our proposals, but we must protect our patients and our future," the union said in letters sent Tuesday to the hospitals' chief executives.

At least publicly, however, both sides still expressed a reluctance to change basic negotiating stances.

Hospital officials said they will return to negotiations only if the union is willing to modify its proposals, said Maureen Schriner, spokesperson for the hospitals.

"The union needs to reconsider its position," she said, adding that hospitals are likely to issue their response on Wednesday. "The response to these letters will depend on whether the union is willing to address the hospitals' issues," she added.

In its letter, the union said that if negotiations resume, it expects the hospitals to seriously consider the nurses' contract proposal, which it described "as the starting point for a discussion, not the ending point."

"Let us be clear," the letter said. "The Union is willing to modify our proposals if the employer will engage in meaningful discussions."

The nurses, who staged a one-day walkout last week, have since raised the ante by threatening an open-ended strike. They are set to vote Monday on authorizing such a walkout. If 66 percent of the membership votes to strike, then the union can issue a notice that it intends to strike in 10 days or later.

Union officials said Tuesday that federal mediators, who have been assisting negotiations for several weeks, did not encourage the return to bargaining. The hospitals have said through mediators "that nothing has changed unless the MNA changes its position," said Susan Mason, lead negotiator for the union.

But members have made it clear to the union leadership that they hope there can be a settlement, Mason said. "We talk to people who want them [the talks] to continue every day," she said. "It's always on their mind."

Mason said she does not think the strike vote Monday will influence the hospitals' position. After all, she said, the one-day strike, which won a 90-percent authorization by nurses, had no effect on the hospitals' position.

"The nurses are concerned that there wasn't any movement," she said. "The situation grew more serious after the one-day strike."

Mason said the union's letters were sent to the hospitals' chief executives instead of their negotiators "in the hopes that they might listen."

But she said she believes the hospitals are girding for a strike.

"I don't believe they are going to the change their minds about anything," she said.

Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394