Dozens of health care workers and advocates testified Thursday before the city’s Wage Committee urging it to increase pay for service workers at area hospitals.
The committee was formed by City Council as part of the A City For All initiative to, “protect, preserve and expand affordability and livability for low and moderate income residents in the city of Pittsburgh, to establish a Wage Committee that investigates the wages paid to service workers.”
Councilman Ricky Burgess convened the committee of council members, community development leaders and healthcare economists to listen to those in the city’s largest industry: hospital and medical service workers.
Burgess said many of those workers are receiving wages insufficient to protect their own health.
Jeanie Williams works at UPMC Presbyterian as a sterilization technician. She said she works 96 hours every two weeks and works as much overtime as she can, but struggles to pay her bills.
“So last year from what I can recollect UPMC grew their operating revenue to $12 billion dollars. They make so much money on their surgeries it’s disgusting. But people like me, and I’m sure many others in this room, get shut off notices from their gas bills and can’t afford to pay them,” she said.
Louis Berry of Braddock worked in the housekeeping department of UPMC Montefiore for nine years. He compared his pay to those who worked in steel mills in the 70’s. He said those workers could afford a decent lifestyle and had pensions thanks to unions.
“Now instead of steel mills we have hospitals. They’re the biggest game in town. But none of the people I worked with could afford to buy a home. We have 401K’s but most of us can’t pay into them. We don’t make enough money. And if you even own a car you can’t afford to fix it. Instead of pensions we leave our families debt,” he said.
City Controller Michael Lamb told the committee low wages for workers in anchor institutions such as health care can impact the city’s entire economy.
“When everyone in Pittsburgh has a good economic future, we are bound to have less crime, less drug use, less homelessness, better health and healthier populations, better schools and just generally fewer problems to deal with,” he said. “Higher wages for workers might sound expensive, but it’s not nearly as expensive as what we’re doing now.”
Nina Esposito-Visgitis, President of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, spoke in favor of increased wages because she said all research shows the number one predictor of a child’s educational success is family income.
“And it’s not because wealthier children are smarter, or harder working or better in any way. It’s because having parents who have the time and money to go to museums and go on other educational trips matters. It’s because having books at home matters. Having clothes and shoes matters. Having plenty of nutritious food at home matters,” she said.
The committee will listen to more testimony at 3:30 p.m. Friday at the Central Northside Banquet Hall, 302 West North Ave.