Union Pickets MPTF Hospital, Clinics

Charges and countercharges fly as the SEIU considers whether to picket Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Saturday pre-Oscar fundraiser.

Caregivers and other employees of the Motion Picture & Television Fund picketed the organization's Woodland Hills care facility and hospital Thursday, protesting staffing levels, wage rates, proposed new health insurance premiums and a proposed freeze of their pension plan.

The Hollywood Reporter observed about 25 picketers at any one time, and a union spokesperson said about 60 in all had picketed the facility as of about 1:30 p.m. PST. The spokesperson added that about 50 people had picketed other MPTF locations.

"Management is not bargaining in good faith," MPTF employee Milton Morataya said. "We just want to keep what we have, and we are not budging."

"MPTF deals fairly and equitably with its labor force and continues to believe that the best place to negotiate with SEIU is around a table and not on the street or in the press," MPTF CEO Bob Beitcher responded in a statement.

The union is the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West. It alleged the hospital scheduled a mandatory training seminar at the last minute Thursday to keep attendance down during the noon hour, when Morataya and employee Sadia Ramos spoke to assembled picketers.

Beitcher expressed confidence that industry members will "be able to see through the (union's) rhetoric."

Undecided is whether the SEIU will picket Saturday's Night Before party, the annual pre-Oscar fundraiser for the MPTF organized by Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Ramos alleged that management's negotiating stance is in retaliation for employees having supported the hospital's residents in a fight several years ago to keep the facility open. The intended closure, announced in 2009, was reversed two years later.

"Now we're being punished," Ramos said.

A key focus of the dispute is staffing levels. Morataya said that during the day, these range from 1:7 (one caregiver for every seven hospital residents) to 1:10, but at night they range from 1:13 to 1:20. Employee Isela Bautista asserted that these ratios have contributed to more falls by residents and longer response time when they buzz for nursing attention.

The union spokesperson said the SEIU continues to work under its expired contract, including honoring its no-strike clause. However, the spokesperson added, that state of affairs is assured only through March 13, the second of two scheduled bargaining dates (the first is March 7).

After that, a strike could be called at any time. Members of the SEIU's 500-person bargaining unit voted Jan. 30 to authorize union leaders to call a strike at their discretion.

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