Hundreds of UPMC workers, community organizers, faith leaders, elected officials and concerned citizens descended on downtown Pittsburgh for a day of action Monday.
Protesters dealt with frigid temperatures and slushy streets to demand that UPMC recognize a workers union, pay higher wages, decrease healthcare premiums and pay taxes on the land that they own in the city of Pittsburgh.
Neal Bisno, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, the union that seeks to represent some UPMC workers, said the day marked the anniversary of a turning point in the steelworkers’ union fight.
“Seventy-seven years ago today, the steelworkers of this community won their union from U.S. Steel,” Bisno told the assembled crowd. “Seventy-seven years later, the workers of UPMC are going to get UPMC to recognize the union for them and to give them the right to form a union.”
Leslie Poston, a UPMC employee, said her take-home pay of $350 a week is not enough to make ends meet.
“We’re not going no where,” Poston shouted. “We’re going to stay here, and we’re gonna fight until we get our union, because me and my co-workers, we are in this to win this!”
Chaney Lewis has worked at UPMC for nine years. He currently works in patient transport, for which he has undergone special training to be sure that he can safely transport heart monitor patients along with all of the necessary electronic equipment.
“Even with … my specialized training, and nearly 10 years at UPMC, I only make $11.97 an hour,” Lewis said.
The 31-year-old father of two said he and his partner, 26-year-old Lucretia Wright, both work at UPMC.
“Working full time at UPMC would just be enough to cover daycare expenses,” Lewis said. “It’s like running in a hamster wheel, working just to have the kids taken care of, but without anything to show for it.”
Present at the noon rally were four members of Pittsburgh City Council: President Bruce Kraus, Corey O’Connor, Dan Gilman and Deb Gross.
They were joined by a sizable delegation from the state legislature, which included Reps. Ed Gainey, Jake Wheatley, Adam Ravenstahl, Brendon Neuman, Erin Molchany, Paul Costa and Dan Frankel.
Also in attendance was Democratic candidate for governor John Hanger, along with candidate for lieutenant governor Mark Critz, and Erin McClelland, who is running for U.S. Congress.
The faith community was also strongly represented, with participation from the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network.
The Rev. Rodney Lyde, who was twice arrested in February for trying to enter the UPMC complex on Grant Street, said the healthcare giant has the power to influence large employers in other cities.
“You can stand with elected officials,” Lyde said. “You can stand with faith leaders. You can stand with unions. You can stand with churches. You can stand with the citizens of Pittsburgh with your head held up.”
Protesters spent the afternoon at four different locations downtown, educating passersby about their position on UPMC labor practices. A second rally was scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
UPMC maintains that they already pay workers a fair wage.
“Comparing UPMC’s service worker starting wage of $11 per hour to the local market service worker starting wage of $9.48 per hour, UPMC pays $1.52 per hour more than average,” read a statement released last week by UPMC. “Our average service worker wage at UPMC is $12.81 per hour or $26,644 annually. $11.00 is 150% of minimum wage.”
The statement went on to say that, when healthcare and retirement benefits are taken into account, employee compensation is closer to $42,000 a year.