Nurses represented by the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) have rejected the latest offer by St. Luke's Hospital and authorized the negotiating team to call a strike, the union said Friday. The vote came after a 17-hour negotiating session on Wednesday that failed to produce a tentative agreement.

"Nurses have been coming to the table with intentions to come to an agreement that benefits patients, nurses, and the hospital," said Pete Boyechko, a St. Luke's nurse and member of the negotiating team. "Hospital management has been unwilling to work with us to solve problems at the hospital, like recruiting and retaining nurses as well as the short staffing crisis."

In a prepared statement, St. Luke’s said both sides have agreed on many non-economic issues, with recent talks focusing on compensation issues. The health system said it offered increases of 3 percent, 3 percent and 2.25 percent for the contract’s three years. 

“These increases match the recent Essentia contract and metro-area contract wage increases,” St. Luke’s said. Further, according to the St. Luke’s news release, the system offered an additional $10 per hour for nurses who take on extra shifts, proposed additional pay for nurses who train newly hired staff and offered student loan reimbursements.

MNA said it has filed an unfair labor practices (ULPs) complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, condending St. Luke's has failed to bargain fairly with nurses, including unlawful surveillance of union activity and interfering with the nurses’ ability to go to union meetings. 

"Nurses are prepared to do what it takes to get a fair contract." Boyechko said. "We still stand together as MNA members because we need a fair contract for all nurses working here and for all the St. Luke's nurses to come."

Any strike must be authorized by a supermajority of the nurse membership at the hospital, and the decision of when a strike would begin and how long it would last will be decided by the elected nurse members of the negotiating committee, MNA said. The committee would also decide when to file a 10-day notice of a ULP strike with the hospital. If they do, about 650 nurses would walk off the job. 

St. Luke’s President and CEO Kevin Nokels recently told BusinessNorth that health care systems are facing declining reimbursement rates and constantly must work more efficiently to remain economically viable. Nonetheless, he said in a news release that the average hourly wage rate for a St. Luke’s RN is higher than the rate paid by Fairview Range Regional Health, Essentia Health Virginia and St. Mary’s Medical Center/SMDC Medical Center.

According to the MNA, St. Luke's nurses have been fighting the hospital's proposal to take away earned sick and vacation time from newly hired nurses in place of a Paid Time Off (PTO) program. 

"Nurses will continue to try and negotiate with St. Luke's," Boyechko said. "We hope to settle this contract soon and return to our patients."  

St. Luke’s said it prioritizes maintaining safe and appropriate staffing levels. 

“Nursing unit staffing per patient has increased 8.4 percent in 2019 over 2018 levels,” Nokels said in prepared remarks. “St. Luke’s has made, by any reasonable measure, a fair contract proposal. We are committed to constructive talks, solution-seeking and transparency. We are hopeful that MNA will return to the negotiations table and that we will be able to come to a fair agreement.  “