LOS ANGELES, Calif.–Nearly 700 caregivers at Keck Medical Center of USC in Lincoln Heights launched a 24-hour strike today to protest conditions that “compromise patient care” and plans to impose a one-year wage freeze, but management said it would be able to run the facility without them.

The job action at the former USC University Hospital began at 6 a.m., when the strikers, many in scrubs or lab coats, started marching with picket signs. National Union of Healthcare spokesman Leighton Woodhouse said the picketing is scheduled to end at 6 p.m.

The strikers, who are represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, include respiratory care practitioners, radiology technologists, surgical technicians, housekeepers and others.

“Workers are asking that management agree to provide frontline caregivers with a contractually enforceable means of addressing short-staffing problems that compromise patient care,” according to a union statement. “To date, their proposal to protect patients has been rebuffed by hospital administrators.”

The union also complained that management has proposed a one-year freeze on hospital workers even though USC holds a $2.9 billion endowment and the hospital, according to the statement, generated $3 million in profits in the last quarter.

In response, the hospital’s administration said it had a plan to provide services despite the strike, and it disputed the union’s characterization of the dispute, saying union negotiators have not previously raised concerns about patient safety.

“We have activated a plan to ensure smooth operations and the safe working environment that our patients, families and employees expect from us every day,” said hospital CEO Mitch Creem, adding that the plan includes “adequate, qualified staffing” and extra security.

Creem said employees covered by the National Union of Healthcare Workers receive a competitive wage and benefits package and are “among the highest paid in the region.”

“At a time when many competitors are demanding concessions, we have offered numerous enhancements,” he said.

USC acquired the hospital from Tenet Healthcare in 2009. This is the first time USC and the Healthcare Workers have negotiated a contract. The hospital reached a deal with the California Nurses Association earlier this year.