An 11-member negotiating committee representing a nurse union has unanimously rejected a final contract proposal from Christus St. Vincent management, possibly provoking a strike by local nurses, says the president of the union.

Union nurses plan to vote on Sunday whether to accept the management proposal—just days before the current contract that covers the St. Vincent nurses and tech employees expires. The union president says more than half of the hospital's some 400 nurses are members who will be able to vote on the offer.

St. Vincent, however, wants the union to accept its offer for a new contract.

"[Management] strongly urges eligible union members to vote and ratify this contract," says a statement released by the hospital. "While the current contract does not expire until July 31st, a ratified contract by this Sunday is critical to avoid any chance of a potential work stoppage in coming weeks. CSVRMC seeks to avert any such perceived disruption to patients, physicians, employees, and the community."

 A statement in the contract that indicates the hospital's
A statement in the contract that indicates the hospital's "desire to maintain staffing at current levels." But the hospital "cannot commit to specific staffing levels in this current health care and economic environment," reads a press release. Hospital management says key provisions of their contract proposals include a nurse practice council "elected house-wide to address issues of standardization and improvement of patient care, patient satisfaction and patient safety." The council would replace the current nurse staffing committee established in the last round of negotiations.Fonda Osborn, president of the District 1199 of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, calls staffing levels for nurses the union's "highest priority" in negotiating a new contract.

She says the hospital rejected the union's proposals that would have reduced hours for nurses and that management recommended language that has "absolutely no teeth" in preventing nurses from being overworked. The hospital recommended that the chief nursing executive, a management position, control staffing levels, she says.

The local 1199 and Christus St. Vincent management have long battled over staffing levels, with nurses saying under-staffing puts patients in danger while management countering patient outcomes at the hospital have improved as it uses industry staffing models.

If a majority of union members vote to reject management's proposal, the union would have to send a ten-day notice for a strike.