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Motion Picture & Television Fund workers protest stalled talks [updated]

February 21, 2013|By Richard Verrier
  • A resident drives his motorized wheelchair past a photograph of Cary Grant and Doris Day in a hallway at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills.
A resident drives his motorized wheelchair past a photograph of Cary Grant… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

Dozens of healthcare workers from the Motion Picture & Television Fund rallied outside the charity's Wasserman campus in Woodland Hills and other locations around Los Angeles on Thursday to protest stalled contract talks with their employer.

The workers, including nurses and other caregivers, said they were picketing after contract talks between the charity and their union, Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers, appeared to hit an impasse over a host of issues.

The charity -- which operates long-term care and assisted living facilities, as well as various health clinics that serve entertainment industry workers -- has balked at the union's demands for pay hikes for about 500 members who work at the fund. For its part, the union has resisted a proposal to replace the charity's pension plan with a 401(k)-type plan and have members contribute to the premiums for their health insurance benefits. The sides also have clashed over staffing levels at the motion picture fund.

"The healthcare workers have been working there for decades and they have gone through the highs and lows of various management changes and they are just trying to maintain the benefits they have,'' said Jarad Kings, a spokesman for the union. "We shouldn't be punishing the caregivers."

The two sides last met on Feb. 14. Despite the presence of a federal mediator, little progress was made, according to people who attended the negotiations, which are scheduled to resume March 7. Union members have already given their leaders authority to call a strike if the talks fail.

In a statement, Motion Picture & Television Fund Chief Executive Bob Beitcher said the fund does not want to negotiate with the union "on the street or in the press. We know that industry members who encounter the informational pickets tomorrow fully understand that there are at least two sides to every negotiation and will be able to see through the rhetoric and trust that MPTF deals fairly and equitably with its labor force. We are proud to serve our industry's union and guild members every day on our campus and in the community to provide a safety net of support."

The dispute comes at an awkward time for the charity, a day before Saturday's pre-Oscar "Night Before" fundraising party, hosted by DreamWorks Animiation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, who has been leading a campaign to raise millions for the charity. The fundraising, along with changes made by new management, have considerably improved the organization's financial health. (Katzenberg and his DreamWorks cofounders pleged to donate $90 million.)

The fund's board in 2009 announced plans to shut its nursing home and an adjoining hospital, citing massive financial losses that threatened to sink the charity, but reversed course last year after residents and their families led a successful campaign to keep the facilities open.

Kings declined to say whether the union would also hold a picket outside the pre-Oscar event at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Meanwhile, the group representing family members at the Woodland Hills facility is staying on the sidelines of the dispute.

"The mediation process should be trusted,'' said Nancy Biederman, spokeswoman for the fund's Family Council. "An effective mediator will be able to find common ground, and perhaps the two sides are not as far apart as might be feared. We have a lot of faith in the SEIU workforce and in the management team that brought the MPTF back from the brink, so we are optimistic that a deal can be worked out."

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