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UPMC reinstates fired workers under NLRB settlement

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 2:55 p.m.

UPMC has agreed to reinstate two workers it fired for union-organizing efforts and settle allegations that it intimidated employees who wanted to unionize at four hospitals in Oakland and Shadyside, the union attempting to organize the workers said Thursday.

The SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania union, which filed charges against UPMC last year, said UPMC reached a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board over 80 charges of unfair labor practices.

“The settlement sends a clear message that UPMC is not above the law,” SEIU officials said in a statement.

UPMC, the largest hospital network in Western Pennsylvania, declined to discuss the settlement but released a written statement.

“The settlement terminates an overstated and disruptive collection of allegations initiated by a labor union that has been attempting to draw attention to itself for more than a year,” UPMC said. “We look forward to closing this chapter and returning our attention to delivering the excellent patient care for which we are well-known.”

The Pittsburgh office of the National Labor Relations Board, which brought charges against UPMC in a December complaint, confirmed that a settlement had been reached, but attorney Kim Siegert declined to discuss the details.

The union, which has been trying to organize service and maintenance workers at UPMC Presbyterian, UPMC Montefiore, Magee-Womens Hospital and UPMC Shadyside, also said the health system will clear the employee records of six workers who were “unfairly disciplined” and post notices throughout the system “detailing its commitment to abide by federal labor law.”

Union supporters hailed the settlement as a victory for worker rights.

“Today we are celebrating the victory of UPMC workers who stood up to the Goliath in our community and showed us that unity and having faith in what is right will triumph,” the Rev. John Welch of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network said in a statement from the union.

The National Labor Relations Board had alleged in its complaint that UPMC executives and managers had intimidated workers by surveilling them and interrogating them about union activities, and threatened to fire employees who gave the union contact information for other employees. It also was alleged that UPMC threatened action against employees who engaged in union activities during work hours or on UPMC property during off-hours and prohibited the distribution of union material on UPMC property.

The two fired workers will receive 80 percent of back pay, the union said.

“After 17 years at UPMC, I wasn't going to just walk away when I was fired for talking about having a union,” Frank Lavelle, one of the fired workers, said in the union statement. “When I go back I'm going to tell everyone that this is proof there is power in numbers.”

One issue remains unresolved, the union said. A trial will be held before an administrative law judge in Pittsburgh on Feb. 20 on the question of UPMC workers being allowed to use work email for union-organizing activities.

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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