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NLRB accuses UPMC of intimidating workers

| Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 1:57 p.m.

UPMC harassed and intimidated workers trying to form a union at several of its hospitals and illegally fired four workers for their union-organizing efforts, the National Labor Relations Board alleged in a complaint against the hospital giant.

The complaint, which was filed on Monday, is the latest twist in ongoing efforts since 2012 by service and maintenance workers at UPMC hospitals in Oakland and Shadyside to gain union representation. The NLRB and UPMC settled a complaint in February based on similar allegations by the SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania union.

The latest case includes 19 charges against UPMC of unfair labor practices. They stemmed from a complaint the union filed with the NLRB in April alleging worker intimidation and other labor law violations. A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 16 before an administrative law judge.

UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said the hospital network is looking forward to defending itself against the allegations.

“We believe that our employees recognize the value of their current situation and know that they do not need a third party to speak on their behalf about the essential work that they do, which is caring for our patients,” she said.

Among the charges of unfair labor practices, the NLRB alleged in the complaint that managers at UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland “threatened to arrest (UPMC) employees as they were engaged in lawful union activities.” The complaint further alleges that managers interrogated employees “about their union membership, activities and sympathies” and asked them to “write a statement about their union membership, activities and sympathies.”

Bob Chester, director of the NLRB's Pittsburgh office, said last month that he was trying to negotiate a settlement with UPMC over the labor board's finding that UPMC violated labor law. Chester could not be reached because of this week's shutdown of the federal government.

“I will continue to stand up for good jobs here in Pittsburgh,” said Ron Oakes, a former UPMC worker who alleged the hospital system fired him for trying to organize a union. “It is time for UPMC to stop harassing workers and put an end to its anti-worker campaign.”

His firing is one of the allegations in the latest complaint. The NLRB said UPMC fired Oakes in March in retaliation for his union-organizing work. Oakes had been fired once before but was reinstated as part of the February settlement between the NLRB and UPMC.

“We expect our employees to take their job responsibilities seriously. This employee, however, repeatedly violated company policy, including unauthorized breaks and unexplained absences, which are just cause for termination,” Kreps said.

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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