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UPMC fray a sticky situation for Peduto

| Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 10:57 p.m.

Mayor Bill Peduto met Wednesday with UPMC leaders at the urging of a labor union attempting to secure a base wage of $15 an hour for the system's service workers, but some first-year City of Pittsburgh employees earn less.

Tim McNulty, Peduto's spokesman, said Peduto hasn't committed to seeking a specific wage for UPMC workers, only that he supports what he termed “family-sustaining wages.” The mayor has focused on “facilitating discussions among these different groups,” McNulty said.

Pittsburgh United, a labor union coalition, has called for a $15-an-hour base wage for all UPMC workers, which would be an additional $75 million in Pittsburgh-area UPMC employee wages, according to the coalition.

The group contends UPMC wages for thousands of employees can't support workers and their families.

Emily Alvardo, director of policy and outreach for Pittsburgh United, said the $15 base wage is specific to UPMC, unique in its size and profits.

“This is not the public sector,” she said. “This is a corporation.”

In city government, refuse drivers in their first year make $12.38 an hour; a first-year paramedic earns $14.26. A police recruit makes $14.24 an hour, and an emergency medical technician earns $11.83.

Richard Caponi, director of AFSCME Council 84, represents city employees in clerical, technical and professional positions and first-level supervisors. Since Pittsburgh was designated financially distressed in December 2003, wage increases have been dictated by state-appointed overseers under the provisions of state Act 47, which has limited unions' bargaining ability, he said.

Peduto has said he'd like the city to remain in “financially distressed” status until a new recovery plan stabilizes the city pension plans and reduces debt.

Caponi said the city is “moving in the right direction” toward resolving its financial struggles.

Stephen Herzenberg, executive director and economist with the nonpartisan Keystone Research Center, who supports the UPMC wage increase, said the public sector, in general, has a higher proportion of middle-class jobs.

“Public sector wages and benefits are better at the low end, and much, much lower at the high end,” compared to the private sector, he said.

As the region's largest employer, UPMC has enough market power to set wages that could affect those elsewhere, Herzenberg said.

Nathan Benefield, vice president of policy analysis at the free market think tank Commonwealth Foundation, said it is typical for there to be similar jobs with different pay rates in the public and private sectors. Wages in the public sector are often determined by a predetermined scale, Benefield said, while wages in the private sector are often based on merit or education.

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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