MPTF CEO Hits Back at Unsafe Staffing-Level Claims After Caregivers OK Strike Authorization

CEO Bob Beitcher says staffing levels are not part of union negotiations

The Motion Picture and Television Fund hit back Thursday at charges that staffing levels at its hospital and long-term care facility are unsafe after caregivers at the nonprofit voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike.

Chief Executive Officer Bob Beitcher said in a statement to TheWrap that staffing levels are better than those mandated by the California Department of Public Health. He said the department requires that there be one caregiver for every 10 residents on a daily basis, and that the MPTF maintains a staffing level of one caregiver for every seven residents.

"Patient safety is the primary concern of MPTF in its approach to providing health care and support of daily living activities to our industry members in the skilled nursing (long-term care) facility on our campus," he said.

The strike authorization vote comes as the employees' union, Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers West, is negotiating for a new contract with the nonprofit's executives. The SEIU-UHW represents nurse aides, licensed vocational nurses, medical records workers and other support staff.

Roughly 300 of the 500 union members working at the MPTF voted on strike authorization, with 98 percent of them favoring the action. The results do not mean that employees will necessarily walk out; it just paves the way for a work stoppage if talks break down.

SEIU-UHW organizers have bulked at the MPTF management's proposals to double healthcare premiums for union members and freeze retirement contributions. Perhaps the issue that has received the most attention, however, is the union's charge of insufficient, even unsafe, staffing levels.

In his statement, Beitcher rejected claims that staffing is a primary concern for the union members.

"Staffing levels has not been a part of our negotiations with SEIU since September 2012," Beitcher said. "Rather, the issues are all economic – wages, share of health insurance costs, and pension benefits. We have made our position clear on all these points."

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

Union organizers initially proposed that the MPTF ensure that staffing ratios do not exceed one caregiver for every eight patients, but that request was rejected. Currently, they say that ratios vary, ranging from one caregiver to seven patients in some places to one caregiver to 12 patients in other parts of the facility.

Eric Kizziee, area coordinator for the union, acknowledged that staffing ratios have not been a part of the discussion since their initial proposal was rejected, but said that they remain a concern. Given that the MPTF claims it meets the levels the union was requesting, he wondered why they did not endorse the union's staffing ideas.

"Why is it so difficult to agree to a one to eight ratio if you’re meeting the state requirement?" he asked. "So why was the proposal rejected? It's jus a game that they are playing."

The current contract expired in October and has been extended twice. The most recent extension ended Wednesday, but Kizziee said that the union has proposed another extension through Feb. 20. The SEIU-UHW gave administrators until 5 p.m. Thursday to agree to an extension but have been told by the MPTF that the deadline may not be met.

Beitcher further elaborated on his position that the MPTF's demands were reasonable in a memo to employees obtained by TheWrap. He wrote that no union member's pay will be reduced, even though he said their rates were above those of other healthcare facilities.

He also argued many of the benefits cuts were an issue of fairness, writing that the MPTF has already changed retirement plans for non-union employees and has increased premiums for those staff members, as well. Beitcher said that healthcare coverage costs are expected to increase by $735,000 this year, necessitating a change.

"We believe the contract terms we are  SEIU-UHW are fair, maybe even generous, compared to other organization, and we have tried to reason as such with your bargaining team," Beitcher said. "It is  our intent to continue to provide a safe and and enriching work environment for all of you."

Kizziee said that Beitcher failed to provide enough facts to support his claims that the MPTF is more generous with its employees than other organizations. He said the union deals with other employers who offer free healthcare or who are more generous with benefits.

He also said the hospital's deals with non-union members should have no bearing on its contract with the employees represented by the SEIU-UHW.

"A lot of [Beitcher's] claims are inconsistent or fabricated," Kizziee said. "He's doing everything he can to mislead our members."