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NLRB issues labor complaint against UPMC, union says

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 2:44 p.m.

UPMC will head to a hearing before a federal administrative law judge over allegations that the hospital operator illegally thwarted union organizing, the National Labor Relations Board said.

The agency accused UPMC, the largest hospital system in Western Pennsylvania, of unfair labor practices against workers this year at four hospitals in Pittsburgh, according to an NLRB complaint issued this week.

UPMC “implicitly threatened employees with job loss because they supported the union,” said the 30-page complaint, which seeks an order forcing UPMC to stop its alleged violations of labor law.

The SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania union, which for months has tried to organize service and maintenance employees at UPMC Presbyterian, UPMC Shadyside, UPMC Montefiore and Magee-Womens Hospital, filed charges with the NLRB in May.

The union said the complaint shows that UPMC managers tried “to frighten workers out of taking part in union-organizing activity.”

UPMC denied that it violated labor law and said it looks forward to telling its side of the story during the hearing, scheduled for Feb. 5 in the Moorhead Federal Building, Downtown.

“UPMC believes that our employees recognize the value of their current situation and know that they do not need a third party to take their money in the form of dues or to come between them and the work they are committed to doing, which is caring for our patients,” the system said in a statement.

The NLRB doesn't issue as many complaints as it once did, agency spokeswoman Nancy Cleeland said, but it's not a rare occurrence. The agency issued about 1,300 complaints last year, down from about 2,200 in 2001.

“Our case numbers have gone down in recent years because there isn't as much union activity,” she said.

The union declined to provide an estimate of how many UPMC workers it is targeting. It has not filed with the NLRB to hold an election. It takes at least 30 percent interest from potential union members to hold an election, Cleeland said.

UPMC is the largest private employer in Pennsylvania, with about 56,000 employees.

The NLRB complaint alleges that UPMC managers illegally discouraged organizing by surveilling employees and interrogating them about union activities, threatening to fire employees who gave the union contact information for other employees, threatening action against employees who engaged in union activities during work hours or on UPMC property during off-hours and prohibiting the distribution of union material on UPMC property.

“When UPMC stands in the way of us having better jobs that we can support our families on, it affects everyone in Pittsburgh,” said C.J. Patterson, who works in UPMC Presbyterian's gastrointestinal laboratory. “As a charity that makes huge profits and gets millions of dollars in tax breaks, they should be doing everything they can to lift up their employees and our community.”

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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