The Minneapolis Star Tribune said the hospitals' management was coping with what it called the biggest nursing strike in U.S. history by bringing in about 2,800 replacement nurses from across the country and beefing up security.
"It's pretty much business as usual, but with a lot fewer patients," said Terri Dresen, spokeswoman for United Hospital in St. Paul.
"We've delayed elective surgeries and moved some patients to community hospitals," Dresen said, "but we'll start building back our hospital census on Friday. We'll be back to normal very quickly."
Key issues in the contract impasse include the hospitals' desire to cut contributions to the nurses' pension fund by a third, and nurses' demand to improve patient-staffing ratios, wages and other benefits. Talks broke off June 4 after federal mediators failed to broker a deal.
Mary Johnson of St. Paul, one of the nurses walking the picket line, said she hopes contract negotiations get back on track soon.
"I'd rather be inside than outside," Johnson said. "But this is where I belong right now. I'm out here because I care about my patients and the nurses who will follow in our footsteps."
At least one patient showed solidarity with the nurses: A pregnant woman in a patient's robe walked out of the hospital to the picket line to talk with some of the nurses, picked up a picket sign and then returned inside, the Tribune said.
Meanwhile, leaders of California's most powerful nurses union said Wednesday their members will abide by a judge's temporary restraining order that they not strike against University of California hospitals, the Los Angeles Times reported. As many as 12,000 nurses had planned to walk out.
Nurses there planned to rally, however, to voice their demands for a new contract. The nurses at five hospitals and four student centers have been without a contract since talks broke down last year.
"Our No. 1 priority remains correcting the chronic staffing issues at University of California medical centers, which we have been unable to resolve," said Beth Kean, a California Nurses Association negotiator.