Pennsylvania labor groups are taking an unorthodox approach to advocating for University of Pittsburgh Medical Center workers who have been unable to unionize by calling for a federal antirust investigation.
The Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania leads the coalition that filed a complaint with the Justice Department on Thursday that accuses UPMC of engaging in anticompetitive behavior that creates poor working conditions and distorts the labor market. The company has carried out a series of mergers and acquisitions that effectively give its employees fewer choices of alternate employment and imposed noncompete clauses on workers to further tie them to UPMC, the unions allege.
UPMC is Pennsylvania’s largest private employer, with more than 95,000 workers at 40 hospitals, 800 offices and clinics, and its health insurance division. The nonprofit health system recorded $26 billion in operating revenue last year.
Because UPMC exerts significant influence over the Keystone State’s labor market, it can pay low wages, require heavy workloads and limit employees’ ability to advance their careers within the company, according to the SEIU affiliate.
“This is groundbreaking because no one has ever filed a complaint saying that these mobility restrictions and labor law violations are anticompetitive conduct that violate federal antitrust law,” SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania President Matt Yarnell said during a news conference Thursday.
UPMC declined to comment on the antitrust allegations. The average UPMC salary exceeds $78,000 and the health system plans to boost the starting hourly wage for entry level jobs to $18 by 2025, which would be the highest among the state’s healthcare providers, spokesperson Paul Wood wrote in an email. The company does not have a policy prohibiting employees from moving to other jobs at the health system, he wrote. UPMC is “among the best places to work” in the Pittsburgh region, he wrote.
SEIU has been largely unsuccessful in its attempts to organize UPMC workers over the past decade, although it does represent several hundred workers at the health system’s facility in Altoona, Pennsylvania.