Caregivers at MPTF to Vote on Strike, Citing Benefits and Staffing Levels (Exclusive)

Union members are upset about cuts to their benefits and staffing levels that they deem unsafe

Nurse aides, licensed vocational nurses, medical records workers and other support staff at the Motion Picture and Television Fund's long-term care center and hospital are voting this week on whether to authorize a strike, a union representative told TheWrap.

Discussions between the Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers West and the Hollywood non-profit's administration are ongoing, but the two sides remain far apart, the representative said.

Roughly 500 employees are being asked to double their healthcare premiums and to accept a freeze in retirement contributions, Eric Kizziee, area coordinator for the union, told TheWrap.

"The consensus is that our members are not taking what management is offering," he said. "They're asking for all these cuts, while they're not offering an additional dime."

Kizziee also said that the management has rejected the union's request to bolster staffing levels. He said that in the past the staffing levels have been as low as 1 caregiver to 20 patients, but that has improved after prior negotiations.

Today Kizziee said staffing ratios vary, ranging from one caregiver to seven patients in some places to one caregiver to 12 patients in other parts of the facility. The union initially proposed that the MPTF ensure that staffing ratios do not exceed one caregiver to every eight patients, but that request was rejected in September.

Of the 500 SEIU members at the MPTF, 120 are caregivers, a union spokeswoman said.

Also read: State Investigates Mysterious Death at Motion Picture Home

"The safe staffing was beyond us," Kizziee said. "Why would they think of turning it down? It's more than one person can handle. If your mother or loved one was in the hospital, wouldn't you want them to get proper care?"

A spokesman for the MPTF declined to comment to TheWrap.

Union members' contracts expired in October and there have been two subsequent extensions. The latest contract extension expires on Wednesday, Kizziee said.

Voting on a possible strike began Monday and will conclude Wednesday. Roughly 230 members have voted on the proposal so far, but Kizziee did not say how many have approved authorizing a strike.

"They are very supportive [of a strike]," was all he would offer.

Critics of the hospital have often complained that staffing levels were insufficient. Those charges were sharpest when the non-profit tried to shut down its hospital and long-term care facility in 2009, citing budget shortfalls. The MPTF abandoned those plans nearly two years ago, but the feelings among some of the family members of patients remain raw.

"If you’re ever seen an elderly person with dementia waiting to be fed while trays of food are available within reach then you can picture what's going on in long-term care at the Motion Picture Home," said Richard Stellar, whose mother Mary Stellar was a patient at the facility before she died in 2010.

Stellar, who was part of a grass-roots effort to keep the hospital open, said that a long-term care worker told him recently that the number of patients who have fallen has increased at the home because staffing levels are insufficient.

"Every family member who demonstrated for the continuation of long-term care should be standing with the caregivers, because although we won the battle, we have not won the war," Stellar said.

Controversy over staffing levels at the hospital dates back to the 2010 death of Carrie DeLay, an 89-year woman who was found at the bottom of a staircase at the long-term care facility after suffering a fall. She died a week later.

In 2012, the MPTF was slapped with an $80,000 fine from the California Department of Health (CDPH), which condemned its handling of the DeLay situation and faulted the non-profit for failing to eliminate hazards and provide adequate supervision of its patients.

In response to the ruling, MPTF Chief Executive Officer Bob Beitcher said that following the state's investigation, the MPTF hired an outside safety consultant and undertook extensive audits of its policies and procedures. It also conducted additional staff training and made physical changes to its facility.

The spokesman for the MPTF declined to offer information about current staffing levels or to respond to claims that falls at the facility have increased.

In addition to its hospital and long-term care services, the MPTF offers a range of charitable programs, such as financial assistance, counseling and health care support for members of the entertainment community.

For the record: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that current staff ratios were 1 caregiver to between 15 to 20 patients and that the union was requesting a ratio of 1 caregiver to 12 patients.