SAN FRANCISCO — Registered nurses at six California hospitals went on strike Thursday over staffing levels and other issues during contract negotiations, a move the medical centers called "inappropriate" but said would not interrupt services.
Nurses hit the picket lines at 7 a.m. at Kaiser Permanente's Los Angeles Medical Center and at five Sutter Health corporation hospitals in Northern California.
The California Nurses Association said the nurses are calling on hospitals to increase staffing levels and take steps to retain experienced workers. They are also demanding policies that give them a stronger voice in patient care.
Tessie Costales, a registered nurse for 29 years, estimated there were a few hundred marchers outside the Los Angeles medical center.
"Short staffing means high risk for patients' care," said Costales, 59. "They have to correct this problem."
Kaiser defended its staffing levels in a statement Wednesday, calling the walkout "entirely inappropriate."
To the north, nurses were striking at Sutter Roseville Medical Center, Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, Sutter Tracy Community Hospital, Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital and Mills-Peninsula Health Services.
Officials at Kaiser and Sutter said backup workers would be used to make sure there is no interruption in care.
"Each of our impacted hospitals has contracted with an agency that provides licensed, experienced registered nurses to fill in for those who choose to strike," said Dr. Stephen Lockhart, Sutter's chief medical officer.
The nurses association said the strikers will be joined Friday by nurses from Providence's Torrance hospital and Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica.
The strike comes after as many as 18,000 nurses picketed in November outside Kaiser Permanente facilities in Northern California to express concerns about patient-care standards and Ebola safeguards.
The two-day strike came amid contract negotiations and affected 21 Kaiser hospitals and 35 clinics.
Union officials said nurses were striking over claims that patient-care standards had eroded for months and that the company failed to adopt optimal safeguards for Ebola. New standards are now in place.
A spokeswoman for the nurses association said at the time that the strike wasn't about money.
In January, the union approved a new contract that gave nurses a 14 percent raise over three years.