Registered nurses from Keck Hospital of USC and Kenneth Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center began a 2-day strike Tuesday, asking for an increase in staffing.

The demonstrations are being led by the California Nurses Association and will take place July 13-14, after a June vote where nurses overwhelmingly supported a strike.

“We don’t want to strike, but our patients’ safety is jeopardized by chronic short staffing and the hospital’s excessive reliance on outside contractors without the appropriate skill mix to provide safe care,” Joshua Duarte, registered nurse at Keck Hospital of USC said in a statement released by the California Nurses Association. “USC needs to do better.”

In contract negotiations with the hospitals that began in November of 2020, the California Nurses Association asked for nurses to be prioritized in hiring ahead of independent contractors, increased rest periods surrounding surgical procedures and “rotation for nurses in infectious disease units to help address moral, physical, and emotional distress.”

In response to the strike, Keck Medicine of USC said it was “disappointed” that an agreement could not be made between the two negotiating sides.

“During the pandemic, we were consistently above staffing thresholds determined by the California Department of Public Health,” the hospital said in a statement. “Currently, approximately five percent of our nurses are contract nurses. Contract nurses undergo a rigorous screening process before they are hired and receive the same training, orientation and education as any other nurse in our organization. In fact, many of these nurses go on to accept full-time positions with the health system.”

Keck added that union-represented nurses will not be allowed to return for a minimum of five days, leading them to contract replacement nurses for those days.

“Nationwide, health care systems are facing a shortage of nursing and other clinical staff,” Keck said. “At Keck Medicine, we are committed to safely staffing and have had a strong year recruiting nurses, including a new group starting this month. Our staffing levels are regularly audited by the California Department of Public Health, and these audits confirm that even during the height of the pandemic, our staffing levels were consistently higher than required.”

The picketing nurses will be at the entrances of the hospitals, with morning and evening demonstrations scheduled, and a virtual demonstration that will be streamed on Facebook Wednesday at 12:30 p.m..

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