Skip Navigation

Pennsylvania’s largest health care union files antitrust complaint against UPMC

  • Sarah Boden/WESA
UMPC building in Pittsburgh

 Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

UMPC building in Pittsburgh

federal antitrust complaint claims nearly every category of worker within Pennsylvania’s largest medical system is subject to unfair labor practices, according to the filing submitted Thursday to the U.S. Department of Justice.

SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, the state’s largest union for health care workers, and the Strategic Organization Center are asking federal prosecutors to investigate UPMC for potential violations of antitrust laws. SOC describes itself as a democratic coalition of three labor unions: SEIU, the Communications Workers of America and the United Farmworkers of America.

In their complaint, the organizations claim that UPMC’s anti-competitive practices suppress wages and prevent employees from advocating for better working conditions while discouraging people from seeking other employment options out of fear of an alleged “Do not rehire’ list.”

SEIU and SOC say that across the board — from doctors and nurses to housekeeping and food service staff — UPMC hospital workers make an average of 2% less when compared to employees at other health care systems.

Among those most harmed are licensed practical nurses, or LPNs, who earn about $1.31 an hour less than their counterparts at other health systems. Dietary workers, who work on a contract basis, earn about $6.00 less an hour.

Only show in town

“Sometimes people ask, ‘Why don’t you just get another job if you don’t like the one you have?’ And this is where you need to understand just how big UPMC is,” said Nila Payton, an administrative assistant in pathology at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, while speaking at an SEIU press conference to announce the filing.

UPMC is a health care behemoth with nearly 40 hospitals and some 800 out-patient facilities: The complaint cites data that demonstrates UPMC’s market dominance in several pockets of the state, including 55% of Allegheny County. Much of its commercial supremacy has been achieved by acquiring other hospitals and smaller health systems. When counting employees of UPMC’s health insurance and venture capital verticals, the conglomerate is the largest non-governmental employer in all of Pennsylvania, with a workforce of 92,000 people.

Though Payton has been employed at UPMC for 17 years, she said the lack of non-UPMC employment opportunities in Pittsburgh limits her earning potential: With an hourly wage of $20 an hour, Payton said she needs a higher income to support her family. (A number of UPMC’s lowest-paid employees also carry medical debt, despite having UPMC insurance.) Though Payton has searched for other jobs, she said options are sparse due to the organization’s reach.

Even if Payton found a non-UPMC job, SEIU argues she might not be wise to take that position as it’s widely believed that the medical system has a secret “do not rehire” rule for former employees, even if someone left their job on good terms. The union says this discourages people from seeking other opportunities, which results in stagnant wages and hinders career growth.

UPMC chief communications officer Paul Wood says there is no policy that prohibits someone who leaves employment at one UPMC facility from being hired at another UPMC facility.

Physicians say they’re harmed by UPMC’s anti-competitive practices too. The filing cites the experience of a gynecologist who was one of just three providers on a 24/7 on-call rotation — she worked every third night and every third weekend.

The doctor said this schedule was punishing, yet UPMC would not give her more money or time off. She wanted to find a new job with a less challenging schedule for years, yet a noncompete agreement prohibited her from working as a physician within Allegheny County for one year after leaving UPMC.

When the gynecologist did finally quit, she said she ended up in a job with Allegheny Health Network that required her to commute up to three hours a day, even though AHN has multiple facilities in Pittsburgh. The doctor was not allowed to tell any of her patients that she was leaving UPMC, she said.

Trying something new

While SEIU’s request for a DOJ investigation is somewhat unique, the organization is hopeful because Jonathan Kanter, the assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s antitrust division, has a track record of enforcing labor law and anti-competition issues.

“We’re hoping that they take this extremely seriously and launch a vigorous investigation as soon as possible,” said Marka Peterson, SEIU’s general counsel.

In an email statement, Wood notes that UPMC is the first health care system in Pennsylvania to offer paid parental leave and among the first to offer emergency daycare for its workforce. He also said that in 2025 it is moving to an entry-level wage of $18 for non-union workers, which would be the highest of any health care provider in the state.

UPMC’s complete response can be found here.

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Up Next
Regional & State News

Penn State’s budget proposal shifted after private meeting of trustees, university leadership