Update 12:07 p.m.
Hundreds of protesters organized by the Service Employees International Union have left the area outside the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's offices downtown, after Mayor Bill Peduto issued a statement asking them to "disband" and "return home."
Peduto's statement indicates he's cutting short a Washington, D.C. trip to return to Pittsburgh Tuesday and hopes to "resolve these conflicts."
A group of 300 protesters grew to more than 1,000 on Monday, blocking traffic on a main downtown street at various times. The protesters returned Tuesday morning, but police were hoping to avoid the traffic jams the protest caused Monday.
SEIU HealthCare Pennsylvania has been trying to organize blue-collar UPMC workers, and wants hourly wages increased to at least $15. UPMC says it already pays its service workers at above-market rates, plus benefits.
Ralliers once again disrupted traffic on Grant Street downtown and made access to the Steel Building difficult Tuesday morning as they try to draw attention to what they think are less than acceptable wages for UPMC’s less-skilled workers.
The protest has come to the attention of the mayor’s office, which has ordered police to work to keep the streets open.
Mayor Bill Peduto responded from a conference in Washington, D.C. with a news release which read in part:
“I know that there are families in this city who are struggling, and I respect the demonstrators who have been braving the elements to raise their concerns …
Today, I want UPMC workers and protesters to know that I hear you. And I ask you to join me in bringing everyone together to talk about a plan to lift workers out of poverty; to ensure access to affordable healthcare; and to make sure that our city is getting its fair share of investments from all of our stakeholders …
Our entire city has heard your concerns, and I believe it is time to disband this assembly and return home to your families."
Peduto said he will cut short his visit to a national biking conference where he is speaking, to return to Pittsburgh to deal with the rising tensions.
“I also want to thank our city’s police officers for demonstrating incredible patience and professionalism while maintaining public safety under difficult circumstances,” the statement read.
Peduto said he has been in talks with UPMC and, “As our largest employer and a world-class healthcare provider, UPMC is a major component of the economic engine of our city and a bedrock of our city’s future. We all have a stake in UPMC’s success, and we must work together as Pittsburghers to create a strong and prosperous city.
“I am asking everyone — UPMC, workers and the union, healthcare subscribers and community leaders — to collaborate to resolve these conflicts and heal the divisions within our community.”
Peduto is calling for all sides to come together to build a strong future for the region.
The ralliers are calling on UPMC to pay its lowest-wage workers at least $15 an hour, a sum the Service Employees Union says amounts to a living wage for a family of four with two incomes.
The company says it starts workers at $11 an hour plus benefits, which is above the average for similar positions with other employers in the region. Further, the nonprofit organization notes that on average those lower end workers receive $12.81 and hour plus the same health, vacation, sick time and retirement benefits.