Leaders of the Minnesota Nurses Association say they rejected a last-minute contract offer from Twin Cities hospitals late Tuesday night because it was loaded with unacceptable conditions -- and they had barely an hour to "take it or leave it."

On Wednesday, union officers spent the day explaining their decision to thousands of members in a series of overflow meetings at the union's St. Paul headquarters.

"They threw this out at us at 11:15 [p.m. and] said you have until midnight," said John Nemo, the union's spokesman.

Hospital officials said Wednesday that they were "deeply disappointed" the union rejected the offer and said there was no reason negotiators shouldn't have presented it for a vote.

The late-night proposal was the first time the hospitals had offered to compromise on two key sticking points -- pensions and staffing levels -- though it fell far short of the union's demands for mandatory staffing ratios.

The hospitals would have dropped proposed cuts to pensions and agreed to collaborate on projects to address staffing concerns. But when the union refused to accept attached conditions -- that it postpone the strike set for July 6 and recommend the proposal to its members -- the hospitals withdrew the offer, shortly after midnight.

Nemo said the union offered to continue talking, without preconditions, but that the hospitals refused. No new talks are scheduled.

Some nurses said the hospitals' short-lived proposal was designed to stir up division within the union's ranks, and there was some evidence it had that effect.

A debate flared on nurse websites, including the union's own, with some arguing that MNA members should have had a right to vote on the proposals.

"Why do we not get to vote on contract proposals?" one wrote on the MNA Facebook site. Another wrote that "the 45 minute window is CLASSIC high pressure sales tactic."

Meanwhile, nurses leaving the union's closed-door meetings Wednesday seemed resigned that a strike is inevitable.

"Hospitals are lying to the public," said Bobbi Pazzelli, a nurse at Children's Hospitals and Clinics. "Every offer has had major conditions on it."

Another nurse, who declined to give her name, said the hospitals have painted the nurses into a corner. "Nurses don't want it," she said of the strike.

marcotty@startribune.com • 612-673-7394 maura.lerner@startribune.com • 612-673-7384