Clergy, unions, employees march against UPMC wages

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BETTER WAGES—Many Blacks take part in the protest march against UPMC for better wages. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

After pushing for UPMC to have its service workers organized during the Labor Day parade, Pittsburgh United, coalition of union officials, community activists, local politicians and members of the faith community marched on UPMC again just five days later calling again for better wages.

Blocking traffic on Fifth Avenue, hundreds of marchers accused the nonprofit of harassing workers who want to unionize, and harassing the public with its ongoing battle against Highmark and its threats to discontinue serving patients with “the wrong insurance.”

“As the largest employer and largest landowner in the city, UPMC has a disproportionate impact on our lives and economy, and it’s critical that we, as a community, understand the full scope of UPMC’s influence,” said Pittsburgh United Executive Director Barney Oursler.

A White Paper the coalition released earlier this year notes that though the healthcare giant reported more than $1 billion in profits over the last three years, it pays its non-medical service employees an average of just over $12 per hour.

Though UPMC employs more than 55,000 people, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, in 2012, the four UPMC hospitals in the heart of Pittsburgh (UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside, UPMC Mercy, Magee-Women’s Hospital of UPMC and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC) employed roughly 23,000 people. Of these 23,000, the largest category of workers—larger even than registered nurses—are the “non-professional/non-technical” workers, who number over 7,600. A separate group, “unlicensed assistive personnel,” comprises another 600 employees.

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UPMC FOR US—Rev. Jacqueline Lyde, center, of Baptist Temple Church, and daughters Jelisa, right, and Jada, cheer as speakers call on UPMC to do more for its service employees and the community. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

The White Paper also notes, that as the region’s largest employer, UPMC’s stance on wages contributes to regional wage depression, primarily effecting African-Americans. Among its findings:

•34 percent of African-Americans in Pittsburgh work in service positions and,

•Pittsburgh’s 31 percent poverty rate for working age African-Americans is the third highest in the country.

Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network President Rev. John Welch said he is concerned that UPMC is retaliating against employees who want to form a union and that employment at a fair wage is key.

“Everyone would like to see more employment in the Black community, and I would like to see better wages for already employed,” he said. “If that is via a union, fine. Either way, UPMC should not be shortchanging the people who serve the patients and caregivers. They need to be better corporate citizens.”

In a prepared statement, UPMC spokes­woman Susan Manko said the compensation numbers cited by Pittsburgh United for service workers don’t take into account healthcare, pension and matching savings benefits which bring the average salary up to $19 an hour. She also said UPMC provides tuition reimbursement for employees and dependents as part of the benefits “most major corporations are eliminating.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourtier.com.)

 

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