MPTF Hospital Stonewalling Labor Negotiation, Says Union

7:32 PM PST 01/31/2013 by Jonathan Handel

The SEIU has sought a contract extension in order to continue bargaining but says "our members are ready" to strike.

A labor dispute at the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s care facility and hospital heated up Thursday, with the union’s chief negotiator telling The Hollywood Reporter that the company “needs to stop the stonewall” and negotiate “openly,” i.e., in a reasonable fashion.

“We’re not going to set lower standards for the health care industry by regressive bargaining,” chief negotiator Eric Kizziee said, signaling that he would not agree to rollbacks. Still, he added that bargaining would entail “some give-and-take on both sides.”

The union, Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, represents about 500 employees at the MPTF, including about 120 caregivers (such as nurses and physician’s assistants) covered by the contract that expired Thursday.

The SEIU proposed an extension that would run through Feb. 20 and provide two additional bargaining days but has not heard back from the company. If agreed to, this would be the third extension.

Asked whether hospital CEO Bob Beitcher cared about the workers, Kizziee said, “Absolutely not.” An SEIU spokesman walked that back and put the matter more delicately, saying that the union hoped that management would work cooperatively with the union to reach a new three-year deal.

An MPTF spokesman declined to comment for this story and said that Beitcher would likely have no comment. However, the spokesman took questions by email, and THR will update this story with any responses.

Union members voted to authorize a strike Wednesday. That authorization allows the bargaining committee to call a strike. Asked whether there would in fact be a strike, Kizziee said, “Our members are ready.”

The parties appear to be significantly at odds on a quartet of issues:

* Staffing Levels. The union told THR that the ratio of caregivers to patients fluctuated from 1:7 (i.e., one caregiver on duty for every seven patients) to 1:12, with the latter figure exceeding what the union described as the state mandate, 1:10. The union has proposed that the ratio always be at least 1:8. In a statement Thursday, the company said it was at 1:7. Kizziee responded that if that’s true, then “what’s the problem with (agreeing to) 1:8?”

The union characterizes staffing levels as a patient health and safety issue. Of course, staffing-level standards also mean more jobs and more work hours available for union members.

* Wages. The union says wage scales are below industry standard and wants a five-percent wage increase, though Kizziee says there’s still room to negotiate on that point. The company said in a letter to employees Wednesday that “rates for many positions are now above current market rates” and is proposing a one-percent annual increase for current employees.

That one percent would be structured as a bonus, not a wage increase, which would apparently mean that overtime would not be paid at a higher rate than currently. In addition, says the union, employees earning at the top of the wage scale would only get one one-percent bonus over the three-year life of the contract.

And, says the union, the company is proposing rollbacks for new employees.

* Health Benefits. The company letter says it wants employees to pay “relatively modest” health-insurance premiums. The union says the company is proposing to roughly double the premiums.

* Retirement. The company letter says the company is proposing to freeze the current retirement plan and let retirement accounts fluctuate with the market. The company also would provide a 50-percent match of employee 401(k) plan contributions, up to a cap. The union wants to maintain the current plan and says its members “deserve to retire with dignity."

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