LOS ANGELES (KABC) --Hundreds of Kaiser Permanente nurses hit the picket line on Tuesday to kick off a seven-day strike, calling for a deal that includes increased pay and staffing.
Registered nurses at Kaiser's flagship Los Angeles Medical Center started picketing at 7 a.m. Nurses said there will be at least 100 people at the picket line at any given time between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. every day for the next week.
The walkout involves approximately 1,200 registered nurses who are pushing for their first contract after becoming members of the California Nurses Association back in July 2015.
The union says nurses want upgraded patient-care staffing and economic improvements so hospitals can keep experienced nurses and also recruit new ones. The union also says it wants to address frozen wages.
"We care about our patients, we love our jobs, and we do this because we care," said Aisha Ealey, a neonatal nurse.
She says it's time to stand up for herself and her patients, who she feels aren't being treated fairly.
"We are in desperate need of safe patient care. We need staffing in order to do that. We've been in a wage freeze, a contract freeze for six years. Nurses have not had a contract," Ealey said.
Picketers say that contract is a key issue.
"Everybody else in Southern California gets raises every year. We don't," said Yazmin Gaxiola, a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit. "It seems like they give us more work and more work and more work but they don't compensate us."
However, Kaiser calls the strike completely unjustified.
"We believe it's a tactic just to influence our first contract," said Patti Clausen, the chief nurse executive at Kaiser. She said the hospital made an offer last month that would have kept the nurses among the best paid in Southern California.
She also disagrees with accusations of understaffing, saying that they always heed the health department's recommendations.
"It's simply not true that we do not have enough staff for the patient-care needs," Clausen said.
While disapproving of the strike, Kaiser representatives say that they love their nurses and would also love to go back to the bargaining table. That's something that both sides do agree on.
"Let's just fix it. We all want the same thing. We all want to take care of our patients and do it well," Ealey said.
Kaiser officials said the hospital is fully staffed and patient care is not going to suffer at all. Representatives also emphasize that the hospital is open and will remain fully operational throughout the duration of the strike.
Several rallies are also planned as part of the strike - Tuesday and next Monday at the strike lines and Thursday at the corporate headquarters in Pasadena.