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Nurses on strike at Kaiser's Los Angeles Medical Center

Nurses started a one-week strike at Kaiser Permanente's Los Angeles Medical Center on Tuesday. It's set to last until Tuesday, March 22.

There were about 500 nurses marching in front of the Kaiser facility, according to Karen Chan, a union representative with the California Nurses Association. Some began marching beginning at 5 a.m., Chan told KPCC. About 95 percent of the nurses were joining in the protest, according to Chan.

The strike follows an inability to come to terms between Kaiser and the union. Patti Clausen, chief nurse executive at Kaiser's L.A. Medical Center, said that Kaiser has offered its nurses a wage increase that is "at least 15 percent higher than the market in Southern California."

“We sure hope that the CNA union would like to sit down and bargain with us again. We are open to any dates that they provide to us,” Clausen said.

Nurse Devika Wijesinghe said that there weren't enough staff to care for patients and that nurses were being overworked, asked to work overtime and to be on-call. She also said that nurses in other parts of California are making more money, including in Fresno.

"We are all here supporting for better wages, but more importantly, for patient safety, and having enough staff to take care of our patients well," Wijesinghe said.

Kaiser said in a statement that the strike was not about quality or staffing levels, citing that their L.A. Medical Center was named one of the 10 best hospitals in California by U.S. News and World Report. It also said that its nursing staff ratios either meet or exceed state guidelines.

While the nurses union is protesting, they do have a squad of a dozen nurses available in case there's an emergency that Kaiser needs them for, Chan said.

Clausen said that the medical center is fully staffed during the strike with qualified nurses. 

"This planned action by the union is simply a disappointing tactic to try to influence the bargaining of a first time contract," Kaiser said in a statement. "It is unfortunate that this union is calling on our nurses to walk away from their patients’ bedsides. We believe it is entirely inappropriate to attempt to disrupt patient care or service as a bargaining tactic."

Kaiser said that it has supported organized labor for 70 years and is committed to preserve and strengthening its relationships with unions.

"As many of our labor unions can attest, their contracts with Kaiser Permanente serve as a model for other health systems and hospitals," Kaiser said in its statement.

Wijesinghe said that she disagreed with how Kaiser is using its money, citing the company's work with the Super Bowl and the new Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine that was announced for Pasadena.

"When we are understaffed and overworked, that translates into the service that the patients get," Wijesinghe said.

Kaiser said in a statement that it disagreed with the nurses association saying that funding for the Kaiser medical school would have an impact on the Medical Center.

"Funding for the future School of Medicine is from our nonprofit charitable dollars, separate from our medical center operations funds," Kaiser said in the statement.

Chan cited Kaiser having $14.4 billion as a reason that they should give more money for nurses and staffing.

"Every single day, the nurses tell Kaiser about the resources they need in order to effectively take care of their patients, and Kaiser ignores them," Chan said.

Chan said that it had been six years since the last contract that they were satisfied with. They planned to picket from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day of the protest, with rallies at 12:30 p.m. Clausen said that all nurses would be welcomed back next Tuesday with no "repercussions" for the strike.

This story has been updated.