Updated: Oct. 4, 7:41 a.m. | Posted: Oct. 3, 11:10 p.m.
Thousands of nurses at five Allina Health hospitals in Minnesota have rejected the company's latest proposal, pushing their strike into its fifth week.
The Minnesota Nurses Association did not release vote totals, but described the result as a "resounding" rejection of Allina Health's offer.
Union executive director Rose Roach said nurses sent a clear message that they won't return to work until they get a better contract.
"This was a deliberate choice by the members. Each of them voted with their conscience and with their patients and their families in mind," Roach said.
Allina said it was disappointed by the vote and urged a speedy return to the bargaining table.
Health insurance has been the focus of negotiations for the past eight months as Allina has attempted to shift nurses from their union-only plans to less expensive corporate insurance. The issue has been a major sticking point in negotiations.
Nurse leaders say they're still unhappy with the terms of that transition. However, they say the discussion has completely overshadowed their own contract priorities.
"We didn't go to the table to talk about health insurance. We went to the table to address our staffing concerns and that didn't happen," said Bunny Engeldorf, a vice president with the nurses' union.
The union says in future contract negotiations addressing nurses' staffing concerns will be a priority. The nurses have proposed freeing up charge nurses from patient duties so they can be available to help other nurses they oversee. Allina rejected that scenario, calling it a one-size-fits-all approach. But the company said it would be willing to set up a committee to look at the issue.
In a statement, Allina Health said it's disappointed in the vote outcome. The company said the proposal was "eminently fair" and addressed many of the issues the union raised during negotiations.
"It's simply unrealistic to provide what the union was asking for, which was essentially a guarantee that there would be no changes made to any health insurance plans forever. That's just not the world we live in," said spokesperson David Kanihan.
He said Allina negotiators are prepared to go back to the bargaining table as soon as the union offers a new counter proposal.
"We've got to get back to the table and solve these issues. The issues are not solved by continuing to strike and just prolonging this," he said.
Nurses have already lost more during the strike than they can make up in wage increases and other benefits.
On Saturday nurses lost their health insurance. They're now on the hook for the entire premium.
The strike has also been costly for Allina. The company won't say what it has spent on replacement workers. But during a one-week walkout in June, Allina spent $20 million.
The hospitals affected by the strike, which began on Labor Day, are Abbott Northwestern and Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis, United in St. Paul, Mercy in Coon Rapids and Unity in Fridley.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.