Unions Accuse UPMC of Wielding Market Power Against Workers

A coalition of labor teams on Thursday filed an antitrust criticism with the Justice Department towards UPMC, the large Pittsburgh-based hospital employer, accusing the system of utilizing its huge clout to depress wages and hurt staff.

In its criticism, the group, which incorporates SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, claims UPMC staff are topic to a “wage penalty” as a result of of the well being system’s dominance in native markets. The criticism describes nurses who’re given heavier workloads than nurses at different hospitals, creating issues over affected person security, and catalogs what the coalition considers to be labor regulation violations that it says illustrate the powerlessness of workers to enhance working situations.

“We have watched UPMC develop and collect energy,” stated Matthew Yarnell, the president of the SEIU group there, which has lengthy sought to arrange staff on the well being system, which is essentially non-unionized. After a sequence of acquisitions, it’s Pennsylvania’s largest personal employer with greater than 40 hospitals, 800 medical doctors’ workplaces and clinics, and a well being plan. With working income of $26 billion final 12 months, it employs about 95,000 folks.

While antitrust instances often handle how highly effective organizations can function as monopolies and unfairly increase costs, an organization may also be accused of working as a monopsony wherein it exerts unfair leverage over suppliers, together with workers.

Health care and authorized specialists say it is a novel authorized strategy to contemplate the consequences on staff of widespread consolidation within the well being trade.

In the criticism, the unions declare that UPMC’s monopsony energy has additionally prevented staff “from exiting or bettering these working situations by a draconian system of mobility restrictions and widespread labor regulation violations that lock in sub-competitive pay and dealing situations.”

Reached for remark, a spokesperson for UPMC didn’t instantly handle the unions’ declare that it violated antitrust regulation, however defended its therapy of workers. The system “is among the many greatest locations to work in all of the areas we serve,” Paul Wood, UPMC’s chief communications officer, stated in an e-mail. He stated the system’s common wage was greater than $78,000 yearly.

“There are not any different employers of dimension and scope within the areas UPMC serves that present good paying jobs at each stage and a median wage of this magnitude,” he added.

He additionally stated that the well being system assigned nurses based mostly on affected person wants and that there was no coverage that will prohibit an worker who left one facility from being rehired at one other one.

But federal regulators have signaled an elevated willingness to take a look at the consequences of an employer’s market energy on staff, and concern about how consolidation impacts labor markets “is gaining loads of momentum and a focus,” stated Jaime King, a regulation professor on the University of Auckland and an antitrust knowledgeable.

“The drawback is way larger than a single merger in a single market,” stated Marka Peterson, authorized director for the Strategic Organizing Center, a labor coalition previously often called the Change to Win Federation.

The Justice Department may resolve whether or not to undertake its personal investigation and whether or not any costs can be warranted.

The Biden administration highlighted its issues in regards to the influence of focus on labor markets in a 2021 govt order, and the Federal Trade Commission lately issued a proposed rule that will ban the use of non-compete agreements.

Increasing consolidation within the well being care trade has additionally targeted some consideration on fallout among the many work drive. Some analysis into hospital mergers has proven a discount in nurses’ wages. “Health care stands out as being focused on each side,” stated Kate Bahn, an economist and analysis director on the Urban Institute.

And well being care staff, many of whom suffered extreme burnout throughout the pandemic, are in brief provide throughout the trade. The excessive workload led to quite a few strikes by nurses, together with current walkouts at New York City hospitals.

UPMC has usually been criticized for what some describe as anticompetitive conduct, and a report launched earlier this 12 months echoed some of the problems raised within the criticism.

But whether or not the Justice Department will pursue motion towards the well being system stays to be seen. While federal regulators might seem sympathetic to the speculation underlying the unions’ criticism, these instances are difficult. “Monopsony instances should not new, however they’re very arduous to show,” stated Matthew L. Cantor, an antitrust lawyer and associate at Constantine Cannon.

This can be the primary case to rely totally on the argument {that a} highly effective well being care employer is utilizing its clout in ways in which hurt staff, and prosecutors should resolve whether or not they have sturdy sufficient proof to take motion. “They’re not going to need to struggle a case they do not suppose they’ll win,” stated Elena Prager, an economist on the Simon Business School on the University of Rochester who has served as a visiting scholar with the Justice Department.

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