Pennsylvania Republicans Join Big Labor In Healthcare Fight

Posted: Apr 01, 2014 11:10 AM

The Keystone State has traditionally been regarded as a union stronghold, but recently some lawmakers have taken steps to break their politically motivated partisan influence. Republican lawmakers introduced legislation to change the state’s taxpayer-funded union dues collection system and close loopholes that protect union members from anti-stalking laws. Despite these advances, the Workforce Fairness Institute (WFI) was disappointed to find out that while some lawmakers in Pennsylvania are boldly taking on labor bosses, others are joining forces with them in a healthcare dispute between two private companies.

Over the years, WFI has successfully highlighted the ongoing battle between lawmakers and union bosses in states like Pennsylvania specifically drawing attention to instances where Big Labor has gone too far. Most recently, we brought attention to 10 members of a Philadelphia-based Ironworkers union, Local 101, who were charged with assault and arson. We have also recently written about a longstanding Pennsylvania law that exempts union organizers in a labor dispute from criminal statutes, making it nearly impossible to prosecute intimidating organizers engaging in thuggery.

Although national union organizations are witnessing a dramatic decrease in membership, healthcare has been one of few markets where union membership has actually grown. As state-led union groups fight to retain their footprint in the Commonwealth, groups like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are trying to find ways to engage in local matters. One such example is between Highmark Inc. and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).

SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania has recently endorsed legislation that is spearheaded by Republican lawmakers Representatives Jim Christiana (R-15) and Senator Randy Vulakovich (R-40). House Bills 1621 and 1622, and Senate Bills 1247 and 1248 would force Highmark and UPMC to renew a decade-long contract. Highmark is the state’s largest insurer, and UPMC is the largest employer and also a dominant western Pennsylvania healthcare provider. UPMC chose to not renew the contract based on Highmark’s decision to acquire the West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS), putting them in direct competition not just as insurers, but also as providers.

It’s clear why SEIU has decided to take part in the fight: they have a stake in the success of WPAHS. According to the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, the “SEIU wants to maintain its 2,000 or so WPAHS union positions, which make up about 10 percent of SEIU Healthcare’s total Pennsylvania membership of more than 20,000 employees.”

The SEIU’s engagement in the private healthcare battle isn’t about a patient’s “life-or-death challenge” like their ads would lead Pennsylvanians to believe, it is about preserving their union membership (read: revenue) and footprint in the Commonwealth. This disingenuous approach was on full display when they were recently asked about Highmark’s CEO William Winkenwerder earning $4.3 million last year. Despite publicly attacking UPMC for their executive pay, SEIU declined to comment about the Highmark chief’s compensation, which is not a common practice for organized labor.

To be clear, WFI is not anti-union. We advocate for fairness in the workforce and believe that employees should have the opportunity to make informed decisions about workplace rules in an environment that is neither threatening nor pressure filled. Our organization is dedicated to ensuring that the private sector can thrive without the unfair and unnecessary interference of government bureaucrats, union organizers and special interests.

We encourage lawmakers in Pennsylvania to continue taking steps that ensure workers are never put in a position where their safety and freedoms are threatened, which is currently the case in Pennsylvania. At the same time, legislation affecting industry must never undermine the free market while giving unions bosses, such as those at the SEIU, a leg up with ample opportunity to organize and retain their stranglehold over Pennsylvania.