Fight for Philly members answered the call to join healthcare workers in Pittsburgh in their fight for higher wages and good jobs earlier this month. Over forty FFP members boarded a bus and traveled five hours through the wintery weather to stand in solidarity with University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) employees and the entire city of Pittsburgh as they demanded good wages from UPMC, the ability form a union, and that the Medical Center contribute more to the city.
UPMC has been a major economic engine in Pittsburgh for years and is the largest non-governmental employer in Pennsylvania. But they’ve consistently failed to do right by the citizens of the Steel City. Their non-profit status has allowed them to avoid millions of dollars in taxes while raking in over a billion dollars in revenue over the last three years. Thousands of UPMC employees work full-time and are paid anywhere from 8% to 30% below what’s needed to make ends meet in Pittsburgh. UPMC’s starting rate for many jobs is $10 an hour, but a unit secretary at Presbyterian with over 30 years’ experience makes only $13 an hour.
Jim Staus, one of thousands of hospital workers taking a stand against UPMC said, “Everyone told me that if you wanted to get ahead go into the healthcare field, so I did and got an associates’ degree. Almost 20 years later, I’m only making $11.81 an hour and I have to rely on food stamps, heating assistance and food pantries to support my family. I came to work at UPMC because I thought there would be opportunities to move up if I worked hard, but I just feel stuck. Forming a union with my co-workers is what’s giving me hope we can make these jobs good middle-class jobs.”
The millions of dollars in taxes UPMC avoids paying could have erased the budget deficit for Pittsburgh public schools and reversed cuts to education. As the leading employer in the city, UPMC has also failed in providing family-sustaining jobs, even though they made $1.3 billion in profits in the last three years, have $4 billion in reserves, and pay 28 top executives $48.8 million a year.
Many UPMC workers rely on food stamps and even public health care to make ends meet. Despite being considered a leading American healthcare provider, UPMC offers their employees below-par medical insurance. Many UPMC workers become indebted to the very same hospital they work for because the insurance provided is just too expensive. Leslie Poston has worked as a medical secretary on the heart and lung transplant floor at UPMC for 10 years. Poston has amassed $15,000 in medical bills that are due to her employer. The bulk of that was for surgery with a $9,000 co-pay!
For two long days, close to 1,000 protestors packed the streets in front of UPMC’s headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh, shutting down streets and making sure the whole city knew we were there. Nurses, janitors, and other UPMC workers, along with clergy, union members, community members, and others chanted “UPMC you’re not a charity, you’re greedy!” Others hoisted signs and banners demanding UPMC allow their blue-collar workers to unionize and increase their hourly wages from $11/hr to $15/hr. A village with tents, signs, food, and drink quickly filled the street in front of UPMC’s tower, as hundreds of people danced, chanted, rallied, and spoke. Rapper Jasiri X performed his song “People Over Profits.”
On the final day of the rally, protestors moved from the sidewalk and street into the plaza of the UPMC headquarters. The crowd filled every inch of the plaza, waving banners that read “UPMC = Poverty Jobs” and chanting “Pittsburgh is a union town!” A group of protestors attempted to stage a sit in, but reconsidered after Mayor Bill Peduto, who was in Washington D.C., sent word that he was cutting his time short in the nation’s capitol and returning to Pittsburgh to address issues between UPMC and workers. The Mayor’s Chief of Staff read a statement from the Mayor asking UPMC and workers to come together and find a way for UPMC to be a good citizen of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania. He then urged protesters to warm up with their families now that their message had been heard.
UPMC could single-handedly lift thousands of workers out of poverty and into the middle class. Instead, it uses its power to bully workers who want nothing more than a voice on the job. UPMC should do better by all the people and communities, and help cultivate a Pittsburgh that works for all.
Want to see more? Click here to see pictures from the rallies.