By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Nurses and other healthcare workers in the Twin Cities are once again on the verge of walking a picket line.

About 1,800 unionized staff at HealthPartners voted overwhelmingly to walk off their jobs on Feb. 19 to wage a seven-day strike, over proposed cuts to their health care. Cheers of unity shrouded their discontent and anger after the day of voting.

“They offered us a measly wage increase that doesn’t even keep up with the rising cost of inflation,” 31-year HealthPartners employee Kate Lynch said.

Outside one of 40 HealthPartners clinic and dental offices, nurses, dental assistants, techs and midwives promised a strike, unless management backs off demands for deeper cuts in the cost of employee health insurance.

“We deserve respect. HealthPartners needs to give us the respect we deserve,” HealthPartners lab tech Clara Boykin said.

After four months of bargaining, talks broke off a week ago. In a statement, HealthPartners said, “we believe this is a fair and reasonable proposal, especially given the financial headwinds facing the health care industry.”

Patients like Tom Obinger hope the 10-day cooling off period brings both sides back to the table.

“If they go on strike it will have a huge impact on all of us,” Obinger said.

HealthPartners, the state’s second-largest medical provider, avoided the nurse’s strikes back in 2016. Now that same issue — the rising cost of healthcare for healthcare workers — may well bring its network of 40 clinics, dental offices and care sites a strike of their own.

It’s now up to a federal mediator to possibly call the sides back to the table. Barring any settlement, union workers would begin their seven-day strike on Feb. 19.

HealthPartners released a statement in response to the vote Friday morning:

Today’s vote announcement is disappointing. We value our SEIU-represented colleagues and are grateful for the work they do to help improve the health and well-being of our patients. That’s why the proposal we put forth would ensure they maintain market-leading benefits.

The modest changes we proposed to their health plan would support better health and encourage our colleagues to get care in high-quality, more affordable settings. We believe this is a fair and reasonable proposal, especially given the financial headwinds facing the health care industry.

A federal mediator has been part of the negotiating process, and it will be up to the mediator to call both parties back to the table. We remain committed to reaching an agreement on a new contract that is fair to all.