UPMC hearing raises concerns that Allegheny County may end up in labor dispute
By Bobby Kerlik
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Some Allegheny County Council members are raising concern that a hearing on Wednesday to discuss UPMC's tax-exempt properties might thrust council into a labor dispute between the hospital system and some of its workers.
More than 80 people signed up to speak at the meeting, which UPMC and Service Employees International Union representatives will attend. The union is trying to organize UPMC workers.
Council last month agreed “to allow the opportunity for public comment” about the tax-exempt status of UPMC property, according to the motion.
Since then, the SEIU has circulated fliers, describing the hearing as “a public hearing to investigate UPMC's treatment of workers and the community.” One part of a flyer claims UPMC has harassed workers who are trying to unionize.
UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said the hospital is educating workers about the benefits of employment without union intervention. He said hospital system representatives at the hearing would talk about its property tax exemption. Wood has said UPMC pays taxes on 49 percent of the 1,100 acres it owns in the county.
“We're looking forward to talking about why it's well-deserved, well-earned, and all the things we do for the community, which often go unrecognized,” said Wood, who noted that UPMC provided $565 million in free charity care and other community benefits during the 2011 fiscal year.
Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon, said council did not vote to hold a hearing about how UPMC treats workers or the unionization effort. An attorney who represents UPMC as outside counsel, Heidelbaugh said that's not driving her concern.
“In excess of 40,000 Allegheny County citizens rely upon UPMC for their job, to feed their families and to, in turn, pay taxes in Allegheny County,” Heidelbaugh said. Though some UPMC employees might have disagreements with their employer, she said, “County Council is not the venue for their grievance.”
Councilman John DeFazio, D-Shaler, will conduct the hearing. DeFazio works for the United Steelworkers of America as its District 10 director and is a member of the union's International Executive Board.
DeFazio said he plans to focus the meeting on the tax-exempt status of UPMC's properties, which he considers an important discussion. He said other nonprofits should be examined as well.
“I don't know what all the people are going to say. If they want to talk about UPMC, I'm going to let them talk,” DeFazio said.
SEIU spokeswoman Krysta Curl said UPMC needs to know how people feel about how it conducts business.
“It's a very broad picture of the whole situation,” Curl said. “When a community decides which organizations get these tax breaks, the organizations have to live up to the values of the community. There will be UPMC workers there and what they'll talk about, that's their experience.”
George Dougherty, a University of Pittsburgh public administration and policy expert, said it might not be wise for council to jump into a labor dispute, but it would be appropriate to examine a nonprofit's land holdings.
“Public hearings are mechanisms to engage citizens on matters public officials need guidance on. A labor dispute that the county is not party to would not be a good use of a public hearing,” Dougherty said. “It's not unreasonable to have reviews or audits of nonprofit properties and their charitable use.”
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Hill District nonprofit’s finances are taking another dive
- Boat owners prepare for winterization
- Newsmaker: Judith Tobe
- Pittsburgh diocese extends peace offering to Catholics, non-Catholics
- Money being raised to furnish Uniontown Marine’s home
- Late Thanksgiving diminishes jingle of Salvation Army kettles
- Parkway North traffic to be restricted nightly Tuesday through Friday
- Food stamp fraud, bloat overshadow debate on farm bill
- Illness briefly sidelines mayor, but he’s back in the game by late week
- Newsmaker: Mary C. Burke
- Companies are rethinking their holiday parties with different kinds of venues