Editorial | Happy strikesgiving to UPMC workers

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Patrick Cavanagh | Staff Photographer

A protester rallies with a crowd of UPMC employees on Grant Street during Thursday’s UPMC Essential Worker Strike in Downtown.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

It’s not much of a stretch to say that UPMC practically owns Pittsburgh.

As of 2014, they’re the largest landowner in Allegheny County, and in 2020 the organization brought in a record high $23.1 billion in revenue while remaining the state’s largest private employer. Furthermore, they remain exempt from municipal taxes — though Mayor-elect Ed Gainey intends to change that — thanks to their massive political influence and clever legal maneuvers, such as splitting itself into dozens of separate entities that the City can’t sue as one.

And yet, flush with cash and fresh off upwards of $1 billion in federal subsidies, UPMC refuses to offer their workers — the ones who risked their lives at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and who continue to risk their lives — fair wages and benefits. We fully back employees’ push for better treatment, and condemn the insultingly low value to which UPMC holds its employees.

Though UPMC is bumping pay, freezing health insurance costs and offering $500 bonuses to its roughly 90,000 employees on Jan. 1, this is insufficient and workers know it. The new $15.75 minimum wage is still below a proper living wage and the meager bonus will shake out to even less after taxes. Not to mention the absurdity of health care employees struggling to cover health care costs.

Hundreds of clinical and nonclinical UPMC employees engaged in a one-day walkout on Thursday, demanding a $20 minimum wage, more affordable health insurance and elimination of medical debt. The strike was supported by Service Employees International Union, an organization which has been assisting unionization efforts at UPMC since 2012. UPMC had time Thursday to say patient services were proceeding without interruption, but has been mum about their employees’ grievances.

Beyond the baseline comfort and dignity that workers deserve in exchange for their time, the labor market simply isn’t as ripe for exploitation as it once was. As of Nov. 2, UPMC had 6,000 to 7,000 job openings between 40 hospitals, including 1,000 to 2,000 nurses. If the health care giant truly cares about filling these positions and being able to provide patients with the best care possible, they’ll meet striking workers’ demand and, in turn, attract more employees.

There’s also the fact that many UPMC employees worked through the height of the pandemic — a sacrifice worth more than $500 and yet another helping of health care heroes nonsense. Heroes shouldn’t be saddled with medical debt, and struggling to pay their rent and buy necessities like food and medicine.

The Great Resignation, striketober, strikesgiving — whatever you want to call it — is here. Try as they might through union-busting and mediocre raises, UPMC can’t wait this one out — not hot off their $836 million year.

It’s time for UPMC to recognize the worth of health care employees, and pay them like it. 

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