Judge Orders Former UPMC Employees Be Reinstated

Nov 17, 2014

Protestors support UPMC workers at a March rally outside UPMC headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh.
Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Workers’ rights activists and former UPMC employees joined city and state officials in Downtown Pittsburgh Monday to celebrate a ruling that found UPMC violated the National Labor Relations Act.

In a 123-page decision issued Friday, National Labor Relations Administrative Law Judge Mark Carissimi ruled in favor of the Service Employees International Union on 21 issues, including the reinstatement of Ron Oakes, Finley Littlejohn, Jim Staus and Al Turner, who were terminated after engaging in union organizing activities.

“We’ve done nothing wrong,” Ron Oakes said. “[UPMC] fired us illegally.”

UPMC has 14 days to reinstate the workers, as well as pay their lost wages with interest; remove any unlawful disciplinary action from their employee records; and announce the violations to all hospital service workers.

Last week, the four former employees rejected a UPMC settlement offer, saying they wanted to clear their good names.

“If we would have taken UPMC’s offer,” Oakes said, “that would have made us look like we did something wrong.”

Paul Wood, vice president and chief communications officer at UPMC, said the nonprofit did not fire or discipline anyone for union activities. He said the terminations were performance related.

The judge also issued UPMC a cease-and-desist letter, ordering the healthcare company to stop practices such as the surveillance of employees and union organizers; threatening employees with poor performance reviews because of union connections; and preventing employees from wearing pro-union clothing and accessories in non-patient care areas.

Former employee Jim Staus, who was terminated after wearing a pro-union pin, said the ruling is a big win for UPMC employees and the Pittsburgh region.

“Now we need UPMC to make a real commitment and stop violating workers’ rights and let us form a union without illegal harassment or intimidation,” Staus said.

City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak agrees. She said workers should not live in fear for exercising their rights.

“Unfortunately, UPMC has been acting above the law and retaliating against workers who stand up for themselves and their co-workers,” she said, “but the decision by the National Labor Relations Administrative Judge is sweeping and clear. UPMC is not above the law.”

While the Service Employees International Union is working to unionize about 3,500 non-clinical employees, spokesman Paul Wood said most UPMC workers aren’t interested in unionizing.

“The union has failed, and they’ve failed miserably in trying to organize our employees,” Wood said. “At the end of the day, our employees have already decided they do not want a union to represent them.”