The long-running health care dispute between Providence St. Peter Hospital and the Service Employees International Union 1199NW is sliding toward settlement with a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge.

The outlook comes after the most recent negotiations between the hospital and a regional NLRB director, where differences remained unresolved.

At the crux of the issue is that the 1199NW is displeased with the hospital's employee health care plan changes. Providence and the union, which represents hundreds of workers at the hospital, began bargaining on a new contract more than a year ago. The latest union proposal to return to the original health care plan was also quashed by the hospital.

The NLRB has already filed a formal complaint against Providence St. Peter, and hospital officials are set to meet with a Seattle board judge Oct. 21.

Said Susan Meenk, vice president of human resources for Providence, in a statement, “Though we prefer to resolve the matter without a hearing, we look forward to the opportunity to present our case before an objective third party.”