Two labor organizations have filed an antitrust complaint against UPMC with the Justice Department accusing the healthcare giant of using its market dominance to cap wages and detaining workers in low-paid and unsafe conditions.
In a 55-page complaint filed Thursday, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania and the Center for Strategic Regulation contend that Pittsburgh-based UPMC used its position as Pennsylvania’s largest private employer to “suppress workers’ wages and benefits, significantly increase their workloads, and prevent workers from exiting these working conditions.” or improve them through a severe regime of mobility restrictions and widespread labor law violations that lock in wages and working conditions without competition.”
The organizations are asking the Department of Justice to investigate UPMC for alleged violations of federal antitrust law.
Labor organizations said the complaint breaks new ground in the argument that labor law violations should be considered a form of anti-competitive behaviour.
UPMC employs about 92,000 workers and, through a series of expansions and acquisitions over the past two decades, has become the largest private employer in the state. The healthcare system consists of 40 hospitals and 800 outpatient facilities. It is the 18th largest hospital chain in the country.
“Traditionally, workers have two ways to compete for jobs in the labor markets,” Matt Yarnell, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, said at a news conference Thursday. “They can leave their current job and look for a better job, or they can stay in their current job and try to get better working conditions.
“UPMC cuts off these avenues of competition by preventing workers from leaving using non-compete doctor clauses and informal non-rehiring practices and preventing workers who remain from achieving better working conditions by suppressing their labor rights and attempting to form a union.”
In an emailed statement, UPMC spokesperson Paul Wood said that “there is no policy preventing anyone who leaves work at a UPMC facility from being hired by another UPMC facility.”
He wrote that staffing levels are based on patients’ “acuity and needs”, not staffing ratios, “allowing us to provide flexible staffing, and to deploy our nurses to best meet patients’ needs”.
Most of her co-workers are struggling to make ends meet, said Nella Payton, an administrative assistant in pathology.
“Our medical insurance is expensive, and we are required to use UPMC’s medical facilities,” Payton said. “I have a medical debt to my employer and so do many of my co-workers.”
“Management knows we’re struggling,” she said. “They sometimes send us tips on how to stretch our budget, and we have an internal food bank at UPMC. Where’s the dignity in that?”
The complaint cites a wage study by Econ One Research that shows that “when UPMC’s market share increases, wages for UPMC workers decrease relative to comparable hospital workers by an average of 30 to 57 cents an hour in reduced wages, on average, for every 10% increase in share.” market for UPMC.
The complaint also alleges that the worker-to-patient ratio has decreased while staffing ratios have increased, on average, at other Pennsylvania hospitals.
“As of 2020, UPMC percentages were, on average, 19% lower than average non-UPMC employment percentages,” the complaint says. Moreover, UPMC’s 2020 employment ratios are negatively correlated with UPMC’s market share: UPMC’s employment ratios are lowest where it has higher market shares and higher where it has lower market shares.
There’s rarely a shift where workers don’t worry about hiring, said Jodi Valtin, a registered nurse.
“Will we have to take in additional patients? Will we be drawn into unfamiliar ground? Will we have to operate insecurely to give our patients the care they need? How many corners will have to be cut before it is cut into UPMC’s bottom line?”
“My co-workers at UPMC are afraid to speak out, raise safety concerns, or demand the kind of changes patients and caregivers need,” Valtin said. “They fear that if they make such a fuss that UPMC will retaliate against them by terminating their position and preventing them from being rehired. For nurses in our area, this is a terrifying prospect—when three-quarters of hospital jobs in Pittsburgh are with UPMC, the options are limited.”
The healthcare industry in general has been understaffed, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a problem from hospitals to nursing homes.
UPMC noted that it is raising wages to $18 an hour for nonunion workers by 2025.
The federal and state minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. UPMC and competitor Allegheny Health Network have raised their starting wages to $15 in recent years. Moving to $15 is a trend we see in other sectors.
“This is the highest entry level of any healthcare provider in the state. UPMC is among the best places to work in all of the areas we serve throughout Pennsylvania, New York, and Maryland because of our industry employee pay and benefits, which are designed to support our employees and their families,” Wood said in a statement. statement .
“UPMC’s median wage is more than $78,000,” Wood said. “There are no other employers of the size and scope in the areas where UPMC serves well-paying jobs at every level and an average wage of this magnitude.”
Stephanie Renbaugh is a writer for the Tribune-Review. You can contact Stephanie at [email protected].
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