MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Strike preparations will begin this weekend after registered nurses at 12 out of 13 Twin Cities hospitals voted to reject a proposed contract, a union spokeswoman said.
More than 80 percent of the 8,800 nurses cast votes Thursday, said Jan Rabbers, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Nurses Association.
"This is a huge stand for patient and nursing care," Rabbers said early Friday. The union did not immediately release vote totals, but Rabbers said the rejection was by a "huge" margin.
The union could call a strike as early as June 1, the day after the current contract expires. A 10-day notice must be given before a strike is called. In the meantime, a federal mediator is expected to bring the parties together for more contract talks.
Rabbers said they are still open to negotiations.
"We would be happy to go back to the table between now and June first," she said.
The proposed contract had included an 18 percent wage increase over three years. But the union, which is asking for wage increases of 25 to 30 percent, said the hospitals' offer is not enough to attract new nurses to a profession facing a serious shortage.
Shireen Gandhi-Kozel, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Hospital and Healthcare Partnership, said the hospitals were disappointed in the vote and believed the offer was fair.
"The hospitals worked hard to put together an economic package that would be favorable," Gandhi-Kozel said. "The 18 percent pay increase would have brought the pay for nurses right out of school to $45,000 and up to $70,000 for more experienced nurses."
The hospitals also are eager to return to the bargaining table in an effort to avoid a strike, Gandhi-Kozel said.
"We are committed to using the next two weeks to do all we can to reach a resolution that works for the nurses, the hospitals and the community," Gandhi-Kozel said.
The 13 hospitals account for 61 percent of the admissions in the metro area. The Minnesota Hospital and Healthcare Partnership said the $72 million package would keep Twin Cities RNs among the highest paid in the nation.
Nurses at one hospital, North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, approved the contract after the hospital unexpectedly broke ranks with the other hospitals and improved its offer during the day.
"I don't want to strike, but I certainly want the benefits we're striking for," said Annie Burton, a nurse at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids. "We also want to be recognized for the work that we do."
The last nurses' strike in the Twin Cities area was in 1984 and lasted 39 days.
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