PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The battle between a powerful labor union and UPMC is escalating. On Thursday, SEIU Healthcare filed an antitrust complaint accusing the hospital giant of using monopoly power to suppress wages and benefits.
The SEIU has enlisted several elected officials in its fight to unionize UPMC.
Alleging UPMC exerts monopoly power over employees and patients alike, SEIU Healthcare presented workers like Nila Peyton, an administrative assistant in pathology for 17 years, who says she is underpaid, overworked and can’t afford company-supplied health care.
“Most UPMC workers I know struggle to make ends meet. Our medical insurance is very expensive and we’re required to use UPMC medical facilities. I have medical debt to my employer and so do many of my co-workers,” Peyton said.
SEIU Healthcare, which has tried unsuccessfully to unionize UPMC employees for more than a decade, expanded its attack, filing an antitrust complaint against the hospital giant with the United States Justice Department.
“We are urging the Department of Justice to bring the full weight of the law against UPMC to halt its ongoing abuse of its labor market dominance against its hospital workforce,” said Matt Yarnell of SEIU Healthcare.
“UPMC refuses to pay our workers what they’re worth and with control over three out of four hospital jobs, there’s nowhere else for them to go,” added U.S. state Rep. Summer Lee.
The union has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the recent campaigns of Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, now county executive nominee Sara Innamorato and Lee who joined the press conference in support of the action.
Lee said having grown to more than 40 hospitals and employing 92,000 employees in the state, UPMC exerts undue power over employees and patients alike.
“This unchecked power gives UPMC almost total control over the hospital workers they employ and the communities they’re supposed to serve. It allows them to suppress those workers’ wages all while subjecting the patients who depend on them to a lower quality of care and higher medical bills,” Lee said.
As they have in recent weeks, UPMC declined to address the union’s charges in an on-camera interview. Instead, it issued a statement saying, it’s moving to pay all non-union employees a minimum of $18 dollars an hour, the highest in the region, and calls its employee health insurance “competitive.”
“UPMC is among the best places to work in all the regions we served throughout PA, New York, and Maryland due to our wages and our above-industry employee benefits, which are designed to support our employees and their families,” UPMC said.
As KDKA-TV recently reported, sources andindicate the Gainey administration has broken off relations with UPMC over the lack of a union. Lee said the campaign against UPMC will continue.
“That’s why I’m here today because it’s imperative that our elected leaders, our local leaders are here to call to task UPMC and the monopoly power that they have,” Lee said.
While the campaign against UPMC by SEIU Healthcare seems to be escalating, the hospital giant maintains it provides quality healthcare to the region and says the reason there’s no union is that the employees haven’t voted for one.