UPMC's anti-union efforts have risen, service workers say

Warning letters, meetings aimed at service employees

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Activity in a six-month effort to unionize UPMC's service and maintenance workers has picked up during the past month on both sides, employees say.

At weekly and sometimes daily meetings, UPMC managers have been trying to persuade workers that they should not join the unionizing effort by SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, a small group of workers said Thursday evening.

"Before they even heard the word 'union,' we never had these meetings," said Charlene Hampton of East Liberty, a housekeeper at UPMC Shadyside. "We never had the attention we have now."

UPMC officials were not available for comment Thursday evening.

About 20,000 UPMC employees would be eligible for the bargaining unit, say union officials. They did not provide numbers for how many have indicated they would vote for a union.

The workers' grievances include salaries that may fall in the $10-$12 an hour wage, or lower, with yearly raises that may be less than a quarter. They say they're also concerned about understaffing, which UPMC Presbyterian nurse's aide Bonita McWhirter of Bon Air said has been exacerbated by the now-frequent meetings that pull them away from their work.

In May, SEIU filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, saying UPMC officials threatened some employees involved in the organizing effort with firing and loss of benefits, among other actions. NLRB spokeswoman Nancy Cleeland said Thursday that the complaint is still under investigation.

Workers said they have been receiving letters that say if they unionize "there may be consequences to you and your family," said Ms. Hampton. "To me, that's a threat."

Union organizers have received support from state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, and state Rep. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline. After Mr. Ferlo sent letters to UPMC employees telling them they have a right to organize, UPMC sent its own letters, questioning Mr. Ferlo's motives and noting that he receives campaign contributions from unions.

neigh_city - businessnews

Steve Twedt: stwedt@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1963. First Published June 15, 2012 12:00 AM


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