Joel Gundy, a nurse for UPMC in Pittsburgh speaks at a rally featuring Pennsylvania Attorney General and Democratic Nominee for Governor Josh Shapiro along with union members in front of the Smithfield United Church of Christ on Monday September 19, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania SEIU members and workers from across industries were demanding good union jobs, investments in care for working families, and a democracy that works for all at a roundtable and rally with Pennsylvania Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro.(Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH — A coalition of labor unions has filed an antitrust complaint against UPMC, asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether the hospital system has used its “monopsony” power to suppress healthcare workers’ wages in the region, and limit their options to seek employment elsewhere.
The complaint filed Thursday by SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania and the Strategic Organizing Center, states that UPMC has an “ongoing pattern of acquisitions and elimination of capacity in hospital and labor markets.”
The healthcare giant, which is the largest private employer in Pennsylvania, has been able to “suppress workers’ wages and benefits, drastically increase their workloads, and prevent workers from exiting or improving these working conditions through a draconian system of mobility restrictions and widespread labor law violations that lock in sub-competitive pay and working conditions,” according to the 55-page filing.
“If, as we believe, UPMC is insulated from competitive market pressures, it will be able to keep workers’ wages and benefits—and patient quality—below competitive levels, while at the same time continually imposing further restraints and abuses on workers to maintain its market dominance,” the complaint states. “Because we believe this conduct is contrary to Section 2 of the Sherman Act, we respectfully urge the Department of Justice to investigate UPMC and take action to halt this conduct.”
Matt Yarnell, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, said during a conference call with reporters on Thursday that the complaint was groundbreaking “because no one has ever filed a complaint saying that these mobility restrictions and labor law violations are anti-competitive conduct that violate [sic] federal antitrust law.”
Antitrust cases typically focus on whether a seller is big enough to have monopoly power that allows it to raise prices, for instance, if it has no competitors. In monopsony cases, a company often controls buying in a given marketplace, including in a region where it controls a large portion of jobs. UPMC, the complaint states, has some 92,000 workers.
“Traditionally, workers have two ways to compete for jobs in labor markets,” Yarnell said. “They can leave their current job and look for a better job or they can stay in their current job and try to obtain better working conditions.”
But UPMC has cut off these avenues of competition, he added, using non-compete agreements and “do-not-rehire” practices, and preventing employees from forming unions, he added.
The complaint also states that the worker-to-patient ratios at UPMC facilities have fallen to levels that can affect patient care. “As of 2020, UPMC ratios are on average 19% lower than the average non-UPMC staffing ratios,” according to the complaint.
Jodi Faltin, a nurse at UPMC, said during the conference call that staffing shortages were a constant concern, and that workers often did not speak out for fear of losing their jobs, and fear of being unable to find a new job in the field.
“When three-fourths of the hospital jobs in Pittsburgh are with UPMC, your options are limited,” Faltin said. And I didn’t become a nurse to maximize UPMC’s profit. I’m not concerned about expanding the Empire or increasing executive bonuses. I care about my co-workers earning a living wage, having affordable health care and being supported to provide safe and compassionate care.”
In an emailed statement from Paul Wood, chief communications officer at UPMC, the hospital system refuted the arguments in the complaint.
Nursing care at UPMC “is based on [patients’] acuity and needs, not staffing ratios, enabling us to staff with flexibility, deploying our nurses to best meet patients’ needs,” the statement reads. And there is no policy prohibiting an employee who leaves UPMC from being hired at another UPMC facility, according to the statement.
“UPMC’s average wage is more than $78,000,” the statement reads. “There are no other employers of size and scope in the regions UPMC serves that provide good paying jobs at every level and an average wage of this magnitude.”
U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D-12th District, said on the call that the healthcare system was “abusing its power to exploit its workers and patients on the backs of taxpayers.”
“My hometown Braddock lost our only hospital and largest employer back in 2010 for the same reason McKeesport is closing their ICU this year,” Lee continued. “It’s the same reason Western PA is facing a hospital staffing crisis that’s putting our loved ones’ lives at risk — and the same reason our nurses and health aides, who are paid so little that they’re in medical debt to the hospital they work for, face retaliation for speaking out for their patients being ripped off by sky high health care costs and declining quality of care.”
Read the full complaint below:
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