- Pennsylvania unions have filed a complaint with the Department of Justice alleging integrated hospital giant UPMC is abusing its dominant market position to suppress wages and retain workers.
- On Thursday, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania and a coalition of labor unions filed a 55-page complaint against UPMC, the largest private employer in the state, saying the hospital system’s size has allowed it to stamp out wage growth, “drastically increase” workload and keep workers from departing to other jobs.
- The unions are asking federal regulators to investigate UPMC for antitrust violations, citing its dominance of the healthcare market in select regions of Pennsylvania. UPMC denied allegations of wage suppression.
The Pittsburgh-based system has seen a rise in labor complaints, according to the unions, as the system has grown into its 41-hospital footprint through a series of mergers and acquisitions. UPMC, which also operates 800 doctors offices and clinics and a handful of health insurance offerings, reported $26 billion in operating revenue last year.
Attempts in the last decade to organize UPMC’s hourly workers have been unsuccessful, according to SEIU.
Matt Yarnell, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, called the complaints groundbreaking on a Thursday call with reporters, saying that no entity has ever filed a complaint arguing that mobility restrictions and labor violations are anticompetitive, and in violation of antitrust law.
The complaint alleges that, for every 10% increase in market share, the wages of UPMC workers falls 30 to 57 cents an hour on average. UPMC hospital workers face an average 2% wage gap compared to non-UPMC facilities, according to a study cited in the complaint.
In addition, the labor groups allege that UPMC’s staffing ratios have fallen over the past decade, resulting in its staffing ratios being 19% lower on average compared with non-UPMC care sites as of 2020.
The unions are going after UPMC for being a “monopsony,” or a company that controls buying in a given marketplace, including controlling a large number of jobs. UPMC has some 92,000 workers, according to the complaint, and has cut off avenues of competition through non-compete agreements, in addition to preventing employees from unionizing.
“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.”
In response to the allegations, UPMC said it has the highest entry-level pay of any provider in the state, and offers “above-industry” employee benefits. UPMC’s average wage is more than $78,000, Paul Wood, UPMC’s chief communications officer, told Healthcare Dive in a statement.
“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,” Wood said.
Healthcare workers are increasingly pushing for better working conditions and pay amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as hospitals grapple with recruitment and retention issues driven by burnout and heightened labor costs.