Nurses have voted "overwhelmingly" to reject the latest contract offer from Children's Hospitals of Minnesota, moving a step closer to strike action.
The nurses represented by the Minnesota Nurses Association voted to authorize the union's negotiating team to call a strike after a vote on Thursday evening.
They have been negotiating with Children's, which operates hospitals in Minneapolis and St. Paul along with a network of clinics across the metro area, since March over insurance and wages, but the MNA says "little progress" has been made.
The MNA says that nurses have been struggling with "skyrocketing insurance premiums and high deductibles, and claims that nurses are being charged more even though the cost of its health plan decreased.
"We have repeatedly asked for solutions that would prevent nurses from constantly depleting savings or going into debt to pay for medical costs. Eventually, nurses may have to decide whether they can afford to enter the profession," said Michelle Cotterell, a sedation nurse at Children's Minneapolis campus, in an MNA news release.
It will now be up to the MNA's negotiation team to decide when a strike will happen, and for how long.
A strike can start at any time within 10 days of the union issuing a strike notice to Children's.
In response to the vote, Children's Minnesota's senior director of clinical services – critical care Katie Penson said it's "disappointing" to hear of the pending strike action.
"When you consider the progress we've made over several bargaining sessions, and the fact that the union has declined our requests to use a mediator, it doesn't make sense and it's unnecessary," she added.
"Not only have we agreed to support various union priorities, including workplace safety, we have offered to go higher on wages because we value the important work that nurses do. Nonetheless, the union has chosen to focus on insurance – and have singled out one plan with the smallest number of Children's nurses enrolled."
She goes on to say "it shouldn't be surprising that costs for our most comprehensive plan have risen" given the state of the healthcare market," but Children's "continues to pay the bulk of the costs for this plan, as well as the other two plans available."
Children's says it hopes it can make progress on Friday as it works with the union towards a solution.