UPMC service workers to strike over labor violations, pay, benefits

Hospital workers from Pittsburgh-based UPMC will strike May 28, the same day the board of UPMC Presbyterian/Shadyside meets for its annual public meeting at UPMC Montefiore in Pittsburgh, according to radio station WESA.  

UPMC patient care technicians, nurses aides, patient transporters, dietary workers, housekeepers, research assistants and specialists, medical assistants, medical technologists and administrative assistants plan to strike until 7 a.m. May 29.

The workers are demanding quality healthcare and living wages for UPMC employees, among other requests, according to a news release. Workers are also demanding that UPMC protect patient access by ending its dispute with Pittsburgh-based Highmark, and advocating for the right to unionize without interference.

Paul Wood, vice president and chief communications officer for UPMC, said in a statement that the system's minimum wage for nonunion employees in  the medical center's urban hospitals is $13.65 an hour and will reach $15 an hour in January 2021.

"This wage adjustment is a clear sign that UPMC is committed to being an employer that invests in its workforce," he said.

Mr. Wood said the average pay for service workers also reached $15.09 in February 2018, and that UPMC offers  comprehensive benefits, including health insurance for employees and dependents.

But workers said their pay is not high enough and that benefits don't cover healthcare costs, according to WESA.

"No caregiver should find himself or herself in medical debt to their employer or be forced to forego critical medical care. UPMC must cancel the medical debt of workers already in this position, and UPMC must provide a clear path to financial assistance for workers," the news release states.

Regarding workers' rights, union officials cited an Aug. 6 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board. The labor board ruled that UPMC unlawfully prohibited off-duty workers from unionization efforts at its Presbyterian, Shadyside, Children's and Mercy locations. According to the Tribune-Review, the labor board also last year ordered UPMC to rehire three UPMC Presbyterian and Shadyside workers who were illegally terminated, give them back pay, end anti-union practices, and notify workers of their rights to unionize.

UPMC did not directly address the NLRB decisions in its statement about the strike, but said that as of early afternoon May 28, 12 of the more than 40,000 Pittsburgh hospital-based employees of UPMC were on strike. 

The strike comes on the same day as a meeting of the UPMC Presbyterian/Shadyside board, which Mr. Wood said will only address issues unique to the hospital, including its community health needs assessment report, as well as its finances within the context of UPMC's overall finances.

UPMC hospital workers plan to attend the meeting.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 1:35 p.m. May 28.


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