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Workers at Facility for the Elderly Hold Protest : Reseda: Employees cite poor labor conditions, decline in services at the home. Some residents dispute the claims.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

About 20 employees of the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda picketed outside the home’s Eisenberg Village campus Thursday, protesting what they say is poor treatment of workers and worsening living conditions for residents.

But while employees, who want a union, contend recent financial problems at the home have brought a decline in services, several residents seated under trees nearby reacted to the protest with surprise, bordering on derision.

Upon hearing that the protesters were faulting the home for inadequate supplies and staff, 94-year-old Sylvia Harmatz threw up her hands: “And there’s no monkeys! No coconut trees!” she cried.

Three female residents sitting in a row of lawn chairs wouldn’t give their names but denied there were problems with care at the home: “Nobody’s hungry,” said the first. “That’s for sure,” said the second. “We are satisfied,” said the third. “Do we look hungry?” added the second.

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Jewish Home for the Aging spokesman Michael Turner said care and food at the homes’ two Reseda campuses remain good. He said the service employees’ local is trying to bolster its membership by recruiting staff at the home.

Workers waved signs and yelled “we want a contract” to passing cars Thursday, while extra security men in dark suits, hired as a precaution by the home, hovered near the gate.

The protesters contend that since the Jewish Home for the Aging began having financial problems last year, food is short, workers are overtaxed and residents’ complaints are increasing.

Scott Washburn, organizer with Local 399 of the Service Employees International Union, said that in recent months management has been watering down orange juice, not replacing staff who go on vacation, and cutting health and other benefits for employees.

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Anna Tachin, 30, a nursing assistant at the home, said forming a union would improve conditions for hourly employees who endure hard work, low pay and disrespectful treatment at the homes.

“There are cucarachas (cockroaches) in the food! Every day we find three or five in the food cart,” said Tachin, a single mother from El Salvador who supports herself and her child on a wage of $5.92 per hour. “It is a hard job but we don’t mind as long as we are treated nice,” she added.

Washburn said 85% of the 350 or so hourly employees at both campuses have signed cards saying they want to join the union. However, management has declined to meet with union representatives, he said.

The board of directors of the home does not favor unionization of its work force, said Turner. The home is a client of the law firm of Littler, Mendelson, Fastiff, Tichy & Mathiason, a firm that represents exclusively employers on labor issues, and is advising the home on the unionization effort, he said.

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The Jewish Home for the Aging, home to about 750 elderly, is among the largest elderly board-and-care facilities in Southern California. This year, the home had an $800,000 deficit, which Turner blamed on a combination of increasing costs and recession. The deficit was the first in its 81-year history.

The home laid off a handful of administrative staff in response to the shortfall, Turner said. Also, workers’ health plans were changed, though some may have their old policies restored, he said.

County and local elderly-service workers say that the Jewish Home for the Aging has no record of improper care of residents.

“They have had no trend of problems that we are aware of,” said Ruth Schwartz, coordinator of Los Angeles Senior Services Long Term Care Ombudsman Program in the San Fernando Valley, a federally funded program that provides volunteer oversight of nursing homes.

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Michael Stampsli, assistant supervisor of the Los Angeles County Health Facilities Division North District Office, which surveys nursing homes for the state Department of Health Services, called the Jewish Home “an average or above average” facility in terms of quality of care. Surveys over the last year have yielded no citations at either of the campuses and a minimal number of complaints and deficiencies, he said.


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