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Latest News - February 2013

February 21, 2013
UPMC, SEIU tussle over email policy
Source: Pittsburgh Business Times
By: Kris B. Mamula,

Hospitals are like no other business, therefore management is allowed to restrict employee communications on the hospital’s electronic network.

That was the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s position Wednesday in justifying making its email network off limits to union messages, employment attorney Mark Stubley told an administrative law judge at the National Labor Relations Board in downtown Pittsburgh. The Service Employees International Union has been trying to organize support staff at UPMC’s flagship Oakland hospitals for about a year, but a vote has not been scheduled. Wednesday’s hearing was held to hear arguments on the email issue.

A ruling against the SEIU could deprive the union of an effective way of communicating with UPMC employees in what has been the most aggressive unionizing effort at Pennsylvania’s biggest non-government employer.

“The interests of a health care environment are unique,” Stubley said.

Stubley is a shareholder in Greenville S.C., offices of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart P.C. Lawyers for both sides have until March 27 to file briefs in the case, with a ruling anticipated some time after that date.

Hospital employees are required to read every email, so union solicitations violated their constitutional right to be free from the messages, Stubley said.

“The hospital requires people to read emails because of the risk of not doing so,” he said.

Use of UPMC’s email network for union interests was the remaining issue in a raft of alleged labor law violations the SEIU filed against UPMC. A settlement agreement was reached on most of those issues Feb. 7.

NLRB attorney Janice Anne Sauchin said an investigation was continuing into two other cases brought by SEIU against UPMC.

SEIU lawyers said employers were not allowed to discriminate in the kinds of email that would be prohibited, allowing anti-union messages, for example, while forbidding union solicitations, according to a 2007 NLRB ruling involving an Oregon newspaper. UPMC had at least three electronic messaging policies for employees in recent years, but the union was unsuccessful in introducing evidence to support UPMC’s anti-union web pages and messages to demonstrate policy inconsistencies.

“The restrictions are unlawful,” said Kathy Krieger, a union lawyer at the Washington D.C. offices of James & Hoffman P.C

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