State Sen. Jim Ferlo was more than a little ticked last week that Allegheny General Hospital was employing the services of a purported union-busting firm in a likely attempt to discourage the unionization of its 1,500 service employees.
"I'm sick and tired of hearing the hospital say, 'We don't have the resources for this' and 'We don't have the money for that' and then go out and pay $10,000 a week on a company to stop workers from unionizing," Ferlo told a meeting of state and local leaders as well as union representatives on June 2. "This is going to be a war," he told the gathering at the Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church on the North Side.
The meeting was meant not only to announce the workers' intentions to unionize, but also to call attention to the hospital's hiring of Management Science Associates of Kansas City, Mo.
MSA did not answer a request for comment by press time. According to its Web site, the firm specializes in such work as "Employee/Labor Relations Vulnerability Audits," "Crisis Resolution (Strikes, Job Actions, etc.)," and "Strike Preparation and Management." Officials of the Service Employees International Union say MSA has been employed for such work by such hospitals as Health Midwest of Kansas City, the University of Iowa Hospital, Catholic Health Care West in California and Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut. In 1997, the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages reported that MSA promotional material "boasts that it's 'the nation's recognized leader in assisting hospitals to counter union organizing efforts.'"
Allegheny General spokesman Tom Chakurda wouldn't directly answer whether MSA was hired to serve in a union-busting capacity. He did say, however, that the hospital was "not going to be dragged into a debate on what we consider inaccurate and self-serving perceptions that the union conveyed to the public [on June 2]." He said MSA has already offered suggestions to improve the work environment for employees, although he did not provide specifics.
Although Laura Yund, an Allegheny General employee and spokesperson for the workers, says the firm's local work so far has been limited to distributing informational flyers, they expect to see a dramatic increase in activity as a union vote nears.
Yund says employees have made countless concessions over the years and want the hospital to finally start giving back. "They talk so much at Allegheny General about moving toward the future," she said. "But it's clear as they move toward the future, they're leaving us behind."
Because nearly 50 percent of the hospital's annual revenue comes from public Medicaid dollars, state Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-North Side) went so far to call MSA's retention a "misuse of public funds" at the June 2 meeting. An SEIU handout estimates Allegheny General spends at least $10,000 weekly on MSA.
Wheatley also said his own support for worker unionization there was a "no-brainer. People have become too happy to just accept whatever their companies are willing to hand them. But you don't have to. You can fight for a better quality of life."