WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) -- Nurses at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester have authorized union leaders to schedule a one-day strike.
About 83 percent of the nurses who participated in the secret ballot vote Thursday supported the measure, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association. The result gives union leadership approval to call a strike at a future date if they feel it's necessary.
The union represents about 2,000 nurses at UMass Memorial.
The nurses are in the midst of contract negotiations over staffing levels and benefits. Negotiations have been going on for longer than a year.
The nurses contend layoffs during the past two years put patient care in jeopardy.
"With this vote our nurses are sending a strong message to management that something has to change; our patients are suffering, and nurses are struggling every day under dangerous staffing conditions that prevent us from providing the quality care we want to provide, and that our patients deserve," said Margaret McLoughlin, a nurse and co-chair of the bargaining unit.
The nurses say staff cuts were being made even as the hospital system posted more than $87 million in profits in the past two years.
The hospital also wants to cut pension benefits the nurses said.
Hospital management says it was "disappointed" in the vote results and maintains staffing levels are appropriate.
"We disagree with the MNA's mandatory staffing ratio proposal because studies have shown that mandated ratios do not improve the quality of care," management said in a statement. "This is why hospitals across the country have consistently rejected efforts to put mandatory staffing ratios into collective bargaining agreements."
Four more negotiating sessions with management are scheduled through the end of the month, a union spokesman said.
UMass Memorial nurses last held a strike in 2007 for five hours.