PITTSBURGH (AP) — Protesters blocked traffic in front of a Pittsburgh hospital Saturday as part of a rally and march to condemn what they say is the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's harassment of workers trying to organize a union.
The demonstrators also said that western Pennsylvania's largest employer is taking unfair advantage of its tax-exempt status, and they accused UPMC of trying to deny in-network access to hundreds of thousands of area residents as part of its ongoing dispute with insurer Highmark Inc.
Contracts that provide Highmark members with in-network access to UPMC hospitals and doctors are set to expire at the end of 2014, and the companies don't agree about a possible extension.
"Instead of giving back to the communities that made UPMC the success it is today, the healthcare system has grown into the region's biggest bully," said Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner.
Protesters briefly blocked the street in front of UPMC Presbyterian in the city's Oakland neighborhood. No arrests were reported and the rally and march concluded without incident.
A UPMC spokeswoman denounced the rally.
"We believe that the purpose and intent of the rally is to divert the public from the truth, and cast UPMC hospitals — and the great people who work here every day — in the worst possible light," UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said in a statement. "Rallies of this kind demean the excellent care we provide to our patients — care that we believe our patients deserve and have come to expect."
SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, a labor union for health workers, accuses UPMC of intimidating and retaliating against workers trying to organize, while the city of Pittsburgh is locked in a court battle with the hospital chain over its status as a tax-exempt charity. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl wants to tax certain exempt UPMC assets.
Kreps said Saturday that UPMC has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in charity care and other benefits in the last fiscal year alone, but needs to have a healthy bottom line to continue serving the community.