Hundreds of registered nurses braved the cold and rain to walk picket lines in front of Bay Area hospitals on Tuesday as they began another strike in their lengthy battle over a new contract.

Most of the striking employees will be prevented from returning to work until 7 a.m. Sunday because the hospitals brought in replacement workers on five-day contracts.

Nurses picketed in front of 10 Bay Area hospitals, carrying signs with slogans such as "Support Nursing Care, Not Corporate Care," and "When Nurses Aren't Valued, Patients Aren't Valued."

This marks the second time in three weeks -- and the seventh time since September 2011 -- that the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United has gone on strike at Sutter Health facilities in the East Bay. Their last walkout was Nov. 1.

This time, the action also includes two San Jose facilities affiliated with the Hospital Corporation of America: Good Samaritan Hospital and Regional Medical Center of San Jose.

The dispute involves proposed cutbacks in retirement and health benefits, staffing levels, sick leave and other issues.

The affected Sutter hospitals include three Alta Bates Summit Medical Center facilities in Oakland and Berkeley, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, San Leandro Hospital, Sutter Delta in Antioch, Sutter Solano in Vallejo and Novato Community Hospital.

"We're going to continue doing whatever we can to push them to pull back on these unwarranted concessions," said union spokesman Chuck Idelson. "The public interest and patient safety is not served by their ongoing war on nurses."


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Alta Bates Summit spokeswoman Carolyn Kemp countered that even with cutbacks in some benefits, the nurses, who make $136,000 annually for full-time work, would be among the highest-paid in the country.

Although the strike is occurring during Thanksgiving week, the hospitals say they have been able to bring in enough replacement workers.

"Elective surgeries are happening, and babies are being born," Kemp said.

Sandy Kleffman covers health. Contact her at 510-293-2478. Follow her at Twitter.com/skleffman.