It's Time to Pay Back Our Debt to the MPTF Caregivers

Guest blog: We have to see beyond the union and into the hearts of the individuals who do a job that many of us are incapable of

There was a time in my life when I needed help.

Many of us have gone through it. Writing about it makes it seem more dramatic than it was. Most of us get through it. Some of us don't, but those of us who do come out on the other side possess a new-found appreciation for life as a result of someone else's care. Someone recognizes something inside us that we find foreign, or that we avoid, or that we deny.

That kernel of a survival instinct sometimes appears as a button that merely needs to be pushed. Or it's a word that is slipped to us at the right time, where the impact is greatest. Other times it's merely another person's interest in your well-being and his or her refusal to allow you to slip away further than you have.

Care comes in many forms. I know care junkies who always seem to be positioned to put their lives on hold to care for someone else. Often not wanted, probably not needed. Then there are those who have a talent for care. No matter where their care is needed, it's provided with a skilled hand and a compassionate smile.

Care drills down to personal assistance that many would find embarrassing, maybe abhorrent. Care doesn't judge, care doesn't cower, care in the hands of true caregivers is more art than skill, more intuition than disposition.

Then, in an effort to coalesce their own needs into a unified front, they organize. When they do, our perceptions shift and they become more union than caregiver. It's easier to deny a union than it is to deny an individual. There is no need to look inward when chastising a shop steward, or a union negotiator — no matter if he or she dons scrubs or a welder's mask when leaving the conference table. The union brings its own conversation to the role of the caregiver, and in doing that, it obscures exactly what the issues are.

The Motion Picture Home caregivers have been dragged through the same ordure that they clean from those in their charge. Their "demands," as voiced by their union, are filtered and decoded into what appears as an all to familiar rant. We need more, we want more, we demand more. Where "more" may stand for "not less," we don't seem to buy into it for the simple reason that union rhetoric all too often obscures what the real message is, and the message is this:

As a society we face the impending dissolution of the middle class. Those in a position of power devise programs like sub-prime loans that result in foreclosures and homelessness. Those in a position of power devise investment schemes that only enrich others in power while those caught in the aftermath lose pensions and savings. Those in a position of power shift animation and SFX works to cheap offshore labor. It drills down to a point where it hits home. Our home — the Motion Picture Home.

Those in a position of power are denying MPTF caregivers their livelihoods. Those in a position of power, in this case, are wealthy icons of the entertainment industry who will never have to worry about providing health insurance to their families or keeping up with such expenses as educating their children, housing or groceries. 

If you come back and say that everyone is suffering these days, and why should the SEIU be able to advance the demands of their members while others wither in this economy, I would agree with you, to a point. We are sometimes held hostage by unions and their demands.

Except for this time. This time it's about the caregivers, and not about the union. No matter what picture the MPTF paints in its negotiations, or how many people the MPTF load on the news comments section, we are doing harm to the heart of our elder care system.

In a statement to TheWrap, MPTF CEO Bob Beitcher said, "We want to assure all of our stakeholders across the industry that MPTF will continue to provide the highest quality of care for our residents and patients alike during the time the union is away from their jobs," 

The reason why the highest quality of care is the baseline that the MPTF will "continue to provide" is because of the level of care that is handed out at this incredible facility every day by the same people that the MPTF is trying to force out. Certainly, the MPTF board who tried to eliminate long-term care is not responsible for this "highest quality of care." By replacing caregivers, some who have been there for over 25 years, they are in fact going to lower that standard.

Try to see it this way: If the caregivers were refusing to work because of profit sharing, less work hours, more time off, etc., then I would be siding with the MPTF, as strange as that sounds. However, they are not. The caregivers when they first started bargaining wanted safe staffing levels, and it is still on the table. The caregivers also do not want to pay double for their health care.

We have to see beyond the union and into the hearts of the individuals. They do a job that many of us are incapable of. They do a job for a facility that is awash in pledges, donations and finally a positive endorsement from a national media conglomerate. Beitcher, Katzenberg, Spielberg et al. — they can thank the level of care at the hands of the caregivers for that much awaited milestone.

Let's not turn them out to walk a picket line. Their demands are sober, and minimal.

It's time for payback — and we must repay a debt that they delivered with love and care. Let them at least sleep well at night knowing that their families are taken care of, as they take care of our families.

As you look at your Hersholt Award, Mr. Katzenberg, please extend the charity and hope that you've shown to the future of long-term care — to the caregivers. Let's stop this now.