As Essentia Health works through its final plans to take over operations of Moose Lake's Mercy Hospital, the Minnesota Nurses Association is requesting the opportunity to bargain its contract.

The union alleges its registered nurses were notified that Essentia plans to disregard its contract, which is set to run out in 2021, and move forward with new changes to work and benefits that "will take thousands of dollars from (MNA) members." Essentia denies these allegations, saying it will "absolutely recognize MNA as their representative and commence negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement," according to a statement.

Finalized plans for the takeover were announced in late June. Essentia has billed the takeover as a way to bring stability and more resources to Moose Lake.

Specifically, the union says Essentia plans to change sick-time benefits, increase health care costs, reduce retirement contributions and more.

For example, the union's news release says, a nurse with five years of experience would lose 80 hours of benefit time, as Essentia allegedly proposed that each nurse receives 217 hours of paid time off. Nurses also fear losing accrued sick-time hours, which they say Essentia won't pay out.

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Additionally, the union alleges that Essentia will decrease retirement account matches from 6% to up to 2%, and that it will remove both accrued benefit time during stand-by hours and caps on low-need hours. Minnesota Nurses Association-member nurses are also concerned about health benefit plan changes, which could increase the family plan cost by $2,600.

The union filed a request for information for Essentia's intended health plan benefits for Moose Lake employees as well as for its cost to employer and employees.

Essentia says that it will transition all Moose Lake staff to its standard benefits plan in August, the same benefits that cover thousands of union and non-union Essentia employees.

Additionally, the union alleges that Essentia's human resources department had nurses re-bid for their jobs.

Essentia says over 95% of Minnesota Nurses Association-registered nurses accepted positions and plans to recognize the union as their representative.

Essentia says it's been responsive and provided requested material and information to the Minnesota Nurses Association and other unions at the Moose Lake hospital. It plans to respect other unions at the facility, which "is the accepted practice in transitions such as this," the statement reads.

While the union says its numerous requests to address the contract with Essentia and Mercy Hospital's Board of Directors was met with one response in April, which stated that the company wasn't ready to answer its questions.

"We are going to have quite a fight ahead of us," Ann Bigelow, a registered nurse at Mercy, wrote in the release Tuesday. "We are all more than prepared to take as much time as it takes to get a fair contract."

"We look forward to serving Moose Lake and the surrounding community. We also look forward to providing employment opportunities for many individuals and to properly bargaining and working with any and all unions that represent Essentia Health employees in Moose Lake," Essentia said in a statement Tuesday.