Essentia Health nurses have overwhelmingly voted to ratify the tentative agreement reached between the hospital company and the Minnesota Nurses Association, MNA said Wednesday. The vote effectively puts into place a new three-year contract for nurses at Essentia's hospitals in Duluth, retroactive to July 1.  The nurses have been working without a contract since the last one expired on June 30.

"The Essentia nurses are happy to put this difficult bargaining process behind us," said Chris Rubesch, an Essentia nurse and negotiations team member. "We're looking forward to focusing on our patients and delivering the top-notch healthcare that Duluth patients deserve."

Nurses and the hospital agreed to add contract terms that respect nurse's work at Essentia and serve to retain experienced nurses and help recruit new nurses for the future, MNA said in a prepared statement. The contract includes workplace violence protections that compensate injured nurses before worker's compensation takes effect, student loan reimbursement of $2,400 for a two-year degree and $3,600 for a four-year RN, extra emergency department pay to ensure staffing is meeting patient demand, and wages equal to what Twin Cities' nurses won in their recent contract agreement.  The pay increases are 3 percent in the first year of the contract, 3 percent for the second, and 2.25 percent for the third year. 

"Nurses are also happy that will be working with Essentia on the Vision Northland project," Rubesch said. "Nurses will be part of the transition, and we will be able to advise Essentia Health about the plans to create a system to deliver the highest quality healthcare available." 

Nurses at St. Luke's hospital, however, continue to bargain for a new contract. The next scheduled bargaining date is set for September 11, but the nurses' negotiating team has also scheduled a strike vote for September 12, if a tentative agreement cannot be reached.

A strike vote by the membership at St. Luke's authorizes the negotiating team to call a strike if they decide it's necessary.  The strike vote must pass by more than a two-thirds majority to authorize a strike.  The negotiating team then has the authority to decide if, when, and how long a strike may take place at St. Luke's.