An ongoing dispute between the UPMC health system and a union working to organize service and maintenance workers at three Pittsburgh hospitals escalated Wednesday, when the National Labor Relations Board charged UPMC with violating federal laws regarding employees' rights to organize a union.
In a 30-page complaint against the Pittsburgh health care provider, the government detailed a pattern of intimidation of employees to discourage union-organizing efforts and retaliate against those the health provider knew were engaged in union activities.
Robert W. Chester, the regional director of the labor relations board, said Wednesday that it was the biggest case brought against a single employer in the four years that he has headed the Pittsburgh office.
UPMC has denied the allegations. A hearing is scheduled for February.
The complaint seeks to have the hospitals repay any suspended employees for lost time at work, and to reinstate and pay back wages to employees fired for union organizing. The board is also wants the health provider to allow the union access to bulletin boards where employee notices are normally posted and to expunge unlawful policies.
The case comes out of the nearly year-long effort by SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania to organize the health system's service and maintenance workers at UPMC Presbyterian, UPMC Shadyside and Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.
"The issuance of a complaint does not mean that UPMC has committed any violations of labor law," UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said in a written statement. "The SEIU has filed several charges against UPMC with the National Labor Relations Board, which has been investigating the claims for months."
She noted the labor relations board did not find merit in all of the union's allegations. "The NLRB has dismissed some of the SEIU's allegations, but has decided to issue a complaint regarding some that remain. UPMC looks forward to this opportunity to tell our side of the story."
The complaint lists two instances in which employees were fired, one in which an employee was suspended, and others in which employees were given verbal or written warnings for union organizing.
The charges put forth by the labor relations board detail a long list of instances in which UPMC supervisors created the impression they were watching employees' union activities and told employees to report the union activities of other workers.
In one instance last February, the government charges, Betsy Yetiskul, the unit director of the gastrointestinal laboratory at UPMC Presbyterian, told employees to call the police and not to let union supporters or organizers into their homes.
"She was telling us if they come into your house, that they wouldn't leave," said C.J. Patterson, 47, of East Liberty, a tech in that lab who was at the meeting. In an interview Wednesday, he said he and his co-workers were also told they could discuss the Steelers, the Pirates and the Penguins, but they were not allowed to talk about the union.
In March, the labor relations board alleged, Mara Schubert, a unit director at UPMC Presbyterian, held a staff meeting with seventh-floor employees during which she threatened to fire anyone who gave the union contact information for other employees.
Chaney Lewis, 30, of Edgewood was listed in the complaint by the government as having been issued a written warning, saying his union organizing activities violate UPMC's policies and procedures. He said Wednesday that he has been ordered out of the hospital on his days off for coming in to talk to employees about the union.
A hearing on the complaint has been scheduled for Feb. 5 before an administrative law judge.
Ann Belser: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1699.