Minnesota labor update: Federal mediator tries to head off extended nurses strike

A federal mediator will try to jump start deadlocked contract negotiations between thousands of Minneapolis/St. Paul nurses and a consortium of 14 area nonprofit hospitals by bringing the two opposing sides back to the negotiating table Thursday, June 24, for the first meeting in 20 days, reports the Star Tribune. The move comes following a "yes" vote by the nurses on Monday to hold an extended strike after their June 10 one-day strike failed to gain them any traction in negotiations with hospital management. Eighty-four percent of the nurses voted for an extended strike compared to the 90 percent who had voted for the one-day strike, reports the Pioneer Press. (Strike authorization requires 66 percent support, and a 10-day notice of intent to strike.)

Whether the talks will extend beyond Thursday is anyone's guess, but both sides expressed a degree of optimism. "Our nurses look forward to returning to the bargaining table Thursday and are hopeful we can engage in meaningful negotiations with the Twin Cities Hospitals," the Minnesota Nurses Association said in a written statement to the Star Tribune. "As we stated prior to this week's strike vote, we have given our unilateral commitment that we will not give a strike notice as long as productive negotiations are continuing," the union said.

The hospitals "see the possibility of movement," noted spokeswoman Maureen Schriner. However, the hospitals are concerned that "the union has been making moves to rush to another strike," she added.

Last week, the hospitals had offered to re-start contract talks if the nurses didn't strike in July--an offer that the union rejected. And despite this latest wrinkle, both sides continue to get ready for an indefinite strike. The hospitals have engaged two staffing agencies to hire replacement nurses, and the union is telling nurses how to make financial preparations.

 To learn more:
- read this Star Tribune report
- read these Pioneer Press articles: report 1 and report 2