UPMC workers looking to unionize plan to confront hospital board members
The Carnegie Mellon University
Nelson, 26, pivoted to the health care field after majoring in art and music, then spending several years doing sales, customer service and waiting tables while teaching art classes. Nelson took a job in July as an assistant to the director of a UPMC neuroscience research lab in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood.
Nelson likes the role, colleagues and manager, and generally enjoys working there.
“But the pay isn’t good enough to cover cost of living and medical debt, so I still teach profit art classes out of a library in East Liberty three times a week during the school year, and I waitress on weekends, for more than 60 hours a week. Soon, I’ll be working seven days a week,” said Nelson, who makes $14.50 per hour at UPMC.
What Nelson doesn’t like is what the lab assistant and worker advocates have described as a years-long push by UPMC to squash attempts to galvanize the institution’s tens of thousands of employees around the goal of unionizing. Their hope is to win the power to negotiate better wages and benefits packages. They also want to have a larger say, or at least ensure their voices are heard, when it comes to high-level decision making made by those at the helm of the multibillion-dollar nonprofit organization.
‘Force that takes down the giant’
On Tuesday afternoon, Nelson plans to join a few dozen UPMC workers — including food service, mainte
In addition to calling for unionizing and workers’ rights, they plan to reiterate concerns about the broader community, including seniors and cancer patients affected by the looming split of UPMC and Highmark. Without court intervention, the split and ensuing prepay-in-full rule for out-of-network patients takes effect July 1.
They’ll be joined by union supporters, community and faith-based leaders and elected officials, including Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner and Democratic state Reps. Summer Lee and Ed Gainey.
“I’m going to try to make an e
UPMC flatly disputes any claims that its executives and supervisors have done any so-called “union-busting,” nor have they discouraged employees from discussing how much they make or the possibility of forming a union while at work.
They say that history has shown a majority of workers at UPMC don’t want a union.
“The SEIU has tried unsuccessfully for over seven years to organize UPMC service workers,” said John Galley, UPMC senior vice president and chief human resources officer. “Our employees have ignored these efforts because they realize that they are already a part of team that works in unison to provide the best care in the regions we serve.”
At a one-day strike organized by labor groups calling for similar goals this past fall, UPMC said that “only 44 of our
While it is unusual for non-
Employees say they feel silenced
Alexandria Cutler of Verona, a food service attendant for UPMC, says that in her view many employees are not participating in the protests because they are afraid to discuss their pay and support of unionizing for fear of repercussions from supervisors.
She says she’s not too disappointed with her wage, a little more than $15 an hour after merit-based raises in recent years, but claims to know people who’ve worked at the organization for decades making less than she does.
Union advocates argue that UPMC continues to violate workers’ rights to
An Aug. 6 decision by the National Labor Relations Board in Pittsburgh ordered UPMC to stop unlawful intimidation, threats and surveillance of workers and the removal of union literature from a break room. That order was issued against UPMC Presbyterian, Shadyside, Children’s and Mercy.
The SEIU argues that the health system “has yet to implement any remedies.”
Kreps said that is not true: “This matter is complete. Each UPMC hospital involved complied with the remedies issued by the administrative law judge who decided the case.”
The NLRB also in August ordered UPMC to rehire illegally fired workers at UPMC Presbyterian and Shadyside, pay them for lost time, stop anti-union practices and inform employees of their rights to form a union. Three workers were fired. That matter has been appealed by both the union and UPMC, Kreps said.
From $15/hour to $8.5M/year
UPMC — Pennsylvania’s largest employer outside government — touts that it became one of the first major organizations to voluntarily hike its starting pay above the minimum wage.
In 2016, UPMC pledged to increase pay for entry-level positions to a minimum of $15 per hour by 2021.
As a nonprofit, UPMC must pump revenue back into services and fulfilling its mission, which can include the salaries of the people who run it.
UPMC CEO Jeffrey Romoff made $8.54 million — a raise of $2.4 million from the previous year.
“That’s more in one day than I make in a year,” said Nelson, who wants to see UPMC share its financial wealth by increasing compensation for lower-level employees. “I’m sure he didn’t put a year of work into one day.”
Nationwide, CEO pay has been flagged as an equity problem at nonprofit as well as for-profit companies, with the pay of all CEOs ballooning from about 75 times the average worker in the mid-1980s to more than 400 times today, federal data show.
At the nation’s largest for-profit health care companies, CEOs make an average of more than $25 million.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .