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Luis Fábregas

Fábregas: All jobs not equal at UPMC

Luis Fábregas
| Saturday, March 8, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

The UPMC workers who assembled this week in front of the U.S. Steel building want nothing but a decent paycheck.

We all can relate to their plight. The gas bill escalates, the government demands a bigger cut and the take-home pay shrinks. America is chronically underpaid.

Demoralizing, for sure, yet we can be thankful that we have a First Amendment that allows us to voice our beliefs, march in front of government buildings and hold up colorful signs.

The protest against UPMC, however, sparks observations that have nothing to do with suppressing free speech. This is, after all, Western Pennsylvania's largest employer and a fundamental part of the region's economic engine.

I'm not talking about the inconsiderate traffic headache caused by demonstrators who spilled onto Grant Street. And I'm not talking about their goal to send a message to UPMC President Jeffrey Romoff, who most likely couldn't even see the crowds from his office.

The protesters' proposed fix to their salary woes is a mathematical conundrum. They argue that service workers such as cooks and custodians should make $15 an hour, up from their $11 entry-level hourly rate.

Perhaps unintentionally, the bump to $15 would make their pay equal to that of workers in other UPMC departments. There are surely plenty of those at UPMC, which employs 62,000 people. Is it fair for all of them to be at the same pay level, when some jobs require more skill, training, education and experience?

If you bump the $15-an-hour workers to $19 an hour, it could trigger a ripple effect that would force pay hikes for even more employees. New pay scales no doubt would infiltrate the territory of professional workers.

Registered nurses with bachelor's degrees start at about $25 an hour. Don't they deserve a raise? UPMC employs 10,000 nurses. Keeping in line with the $4 raise, an increase would cost $83 million a year. Soon enough, UPMC would have to give $4 raises to all of its workers. The cost: $515 million, nearly four times the $132 million in operating income UPMC reported last year.

Clearly, this is a hypothetical scenario that defies guidelines on how employers determine wages and how budgets are calculated. I'm not a human resources expert, but I'm trying to make a point that bestowing raises on select groups comes with managerial and economical implications for an entire organization. Once you give arbitrary raises to some, where do you stop? Smart management calls for increasing revenue to offset increased expenses. Should UPMC do that by raising the cost to patients?

Let's be clear. Not one of these hard-working people should have to struggle to make ends meet. Their jobs are equally important to the success of UPMC as are the jobs of countless others who provide direct patient care. That's not up for debate. The reality is that some jobs are going to pay more than others because they require more education or expertise.

As for UPMC, it behooves administrators to examine this issue with caution. UPMC should want its employees to be happy. In the end, happy employees make happy patients.

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