Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a union city that has made tremendous inroads as defenders of laborers, wages, work hours, working conditions and employee training. The University Medical Center of Pittsburgh (UPMC) has been under siege to allow union representation by the largest health care union, The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Health Care and has ignited a firestorm of controversy for unionization of the enterprise. The bone of contention centers around UPMC’s refusal to increase the wages and benefits packages offered to nonclinical employees and to negotiate in good-faith with union representatives to resolve pay and benefits related issues amicably. Many would agree that this dispute should be addressed in a non-threatening manner to either side. There are cases in other states in which unions have worked hand-in-hand with a hospital health system to effect change. While all concerns cannot be mutually satisfied, as long as there is a willingness to hear, listen and work together, and ultimately this would be a step in the right direction.
The sense of security which normally comes from developing excellent employee relationships simply does not exist in today’s health care climate, according to Kevin Haeberle, (n.d.) Senior Vice President and Senior Advisor of Integrated Healthcare Strategies. Hospitals can no longer avoid union activities. Unions are now looking for hospitals where the majority of employees are dissatisfied. Organizations perform surveys that only look at averages which make it difficult to recognize the potential of very dissatisfied employees in the midst of positive employees.
Labor unions believe that the time is ripe for a major surge in their efforts to revitalize union membership with health care workers feeling greater anxiety over wages and job security due in part to market and policy pressures to reduce healthcare costs. Low wage earners are particularly concerned when wages haven’t gone up in three to five years (Carlson, 2014).
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is seeking to organize more than 10,000 of UPMC’s service workers, and demanding that the hospital system be a leader in raising wages and compensation benefits (Greenhouse, 2014).
SEIU Healthcare Union is the largest healthcare union with more than 1.1 million members (Service Employees International Union, n.d.). The union is diverse consisting of physicians, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, lab techs, environmental service workers, and dietary workers. The ultimate goal of this union is to unite healthcare workers throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico and to deliver the highest quality care for more than 60 million patients across 29 states and two countries (SEIU, n.d.).
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) is the largest private sector employer in Western Pennsylvania and is an integrated nonprofit health system comprised of a network of hospitals, physician practices, a health insurance division and an “international and commercial services division”, which had over $10.97 billion in operating revenue in 2013 combined with 22 hospitals, 400 outpatient sites, and more than 62,000 employees (Marvit, 2014). Employees range from physicians, nurses, and entry level positions such as lab technicians, medical coders, transporters, environmental services, and dietary aides.
The U.S. health care industry is an attractive target for organized labor because it is stocked with well-paying jobs that cannot be outsourced. Wages and benefits account for roughly three-fifths of a hospital’s expenditures. A 2009 study by the Heritage Foundation calculated that if the U.S. health care industry becomes as unionized as in Canada, it would “raise the cost of hospital coverage by