Later today, hundreds of community members will take to the streets to tell University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) officials that enough is enough. Enough of the poverty wages. Enough of the union-busting. Enough of the predatory insurance practices. Enough of the cut-throat corporate practices under the “non-profit” banner.
Workers at UPMC are organizing a union with the help of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania after years of sub-poverty wages in the face of record profits and bloated administrator salaries. Unlike traditional union organizing campaigns, the workers at UPMC have organized a Pittsburgh-wide coalition under the banner “Make It Our UPMC,” echoing the nationwide “Our Walmart” campaign.
Pointing to the institution’s $1.3 billion in profits in the last three years and 31 executives who collectively take home $54.5 million annually, the coalition says in a press release for today’s protest that Pittsburghers are “increasingly frustrated that UPMC pays its service workers—the biggest group in its hospitals—8% to 30% below what it takes to live in Pittsburgh, making it impossible for them to get ahead in the new economy. For the cost of UPMC’s $51 million corporate jet alone, the institution could raise all of its Pittsburgh service workers to a median wage of $15 an hour.”
Make It Our UPMC has continued to ramp up its organizing efforts since this past December when UPMC officials responded to employee demands for a living wage with calls for donations of canned food for “associates in need.” As reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at the time:
Fliers recently began appearing in UPMC Shadyside break rooms asking employees to contribute nonperishable food items to a food pantry “for UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside associates in need.”
Most years, such a posting might generate canned good donations, not controversy. But UPMC’s nonclinical staff is involved in a union-organizing effort with the Service Employees International Union, and getting paid a livable wage is one of their primary demands — a wage, presumably, that would not necessitate trips to a food pantry.
UPMC officials seem to find ways to fan the flames of outrage. Earlier this month, ten janitors were fired in what organizers see as retaliation for union organizing. Rehiring the fired janitors was the focus of a rally this morning at a UPMC Shadyside.
This morning’s rally follows a raucous protest on July 11th that brought dozens into the streets to protest UPMC practices.
This morning’s rally this morning serves as a kind of protest pep rally for the much larger march expected this afternoon. Beginning at 4:30 pm, Make It Our UPMC says hundreds of UPMC workers, janitors, faith leaders, union members, community groups and other Pittsburghers will march to UPMC’s headquarters Wednesday afternoon to tell the mega-employer it needs to stop standing in the way of workers who want to make the “eds and meds economy” work for Pittsburgh.
UPMC workers are forming a union at the employer to provide a path out of poverty and strengthen the middle class, but organizers say that UPMC has continually stood in the way of their efforts with retaliation and even firing. The federal government filed two historic complaints against UPMC alleging over 100 violations of US labor law. And despite simple math showing UPMC’s ability to pay its workers a living wage, UPMC Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Greg Peaslee’s response to workers’ calls for better wages was highlighted in the New York Times: “There is a fundamental difference of opinion between us. Should every job in America individually support a family of four? I think that’s a great notion, but it’s not realistic.”
Workers participating in today’s protest have a different vision of the American economy than Peaslee. “The only way the eds and meds economy will work is if the jobs in it are good jobs,” said CJ Patterson, a Patient Care Technician at UPMC Presbyterian. “The reality is UPMC is the largest employer in the eds and meds economy—and in Pittsburgh period—and it pays thousands of us poverty wages. If I wasn’t on public assistance, my family would be on the streets. And I still skip meals so my grandkids can eat. We can’t live like this anymore. That’s why we need good jobs with a union at UPMC now.” The Make It Our UPMC coalition argues for an economy that rewards good, honest work and does not allow hugely profitable corporations to force their employees to seek public assistance to meet their families’ needs.
Today’s protest march will feature a range of speakers including faith leaders, UPMC workers, laid off UPMC workers, a fired UPMC-contracted janitors, among others. The march is expected to include UPMC workers, clergy, community leaders, and student groups. A large contingent of women will be marching to highlight how UPMC’s poverty wages disproportionately impact women.
Here are some highlights from this morning’s rally as seen through Twitter: