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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Thousands of nurses around the country could soon walk off the job.

National Nurses United represents 7,000 nurses in 15 HCA affiliated hospitals, including two right here in the metro. There’s never been a major nurses strike in Kansas City, but some believe one could be closer now than ever.

National Nurses United said it’s been working to negotiate a new deal since March for a contract that expired in May.

More than 1,000 nurses at Research Medical Center in Kansas City and Menorah Medical Center in Overland Park are affected. An estimated 90 percent of union members at both hospitals have now voted to authorize a strike if necessary.

They said the biggest issue is staffing levels, which nurses claim is out of compliance in some units at Research Medical Center more than 70 percent of the time.

“We feel the hospital has the tools to put in place for the staffing grids to be filled with the nurses we have. We have nurses who are PRN, part-time and full-time, and we feel like the hospital has the ability to keep the nurses we have and recruit new nurses to come in. So we’re just asking them to look at that and examine that and make that a number one priority,” said Leslie Rogers, staff nurse and union member.

The union is urging hospitals to take immediate steps to follow their own staffing guidelines to prevent rapid turnover and keep patients safe.

If it gets to a point where nurses decide to walk off the job, they have to give 10-days notice, so the hospital can make arrangements for patient care. But they’re hoping it doesn’t come to that.

Hospital Corporation of America, Research and Menorah’s parent company, issued the following statement in response to the ongoing negotiations:

“We are very proud of our caregivers and the culture of compassion we have developed at our hospitals, which is based on open communication and a shared commitment to providing the highest quality of patient care. It is not uncommon for tactics like this to be used when a union and an employer are in contract negotiations, as we are with this nursing union.

“We have bargaining dates scheduled later this month and we look forward to continuing our negotiations over wages and other items.

“Importantly, we want to assure our community that neither this – nor any other action – will ever come between us and our commitment to the high-quality care and services we offer our patients and this community on a daily basis.”