Pitt students visit UPMC workers’ protest


Friday morning was the last time Mary Hughes ate a meal.

Since then, Hughes, a transcriptionist with imaging services at UPMC, has fasted publicly to raise awareness of the struggle workers who seek to unionize at UPMC face. Hughes and Chaney Lewis, a patient transporter at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, will abstain from eating until this Friday as a part of a weeklong event called “Fast For Our Future” through Make It Our UPMC, an organization that works to unite people to urge UPMC to unionize.

Four Pitt members of the Pittsburgh Student Solidarity Coalition — an organization that helps students from universities in the area coordinate campaigns for justice in labor and social cause — visited Hughes and Lewis Tuesday to discuss the impact of the fast.

“They are our neighbors,” Nick Goodfellow, an organizer for PSSC, said. “Pitt students have a strong connection to UPMC.”

Huddled in a tent outside UPMC’s Downtown headquarters on Grant Street, Hughes and Lewis talked with the students and sipped water.

“I feel fine,” Hughes, 48, said.

Hughes and Lewis are part of a larger force of non-medical employees who have been pushing to unionize under the Service Employees International Union, an effort that has seen contentious times as SEIU claims UPMC partakes in unfair labor practices and methods of intimidation toward its employees.

Susan Manko, a UPMC media relations director, said SEIU organized the protest entirely. Manko said she did not have any additional comment on behalf of UPMC on the fast.

Lewis, 31, said a lot of his colleagues were struggling under current policies and hoped UPMC executives noticed the efforts.

“We mean business,” he said.

Goodfellow, a junior majoring in communication, said the group members wanted to support Hughes and Lewis in their fight for justice.

The group members asked the workers about their aims with the fast during their half-hour visit with Hughes and Lewis.

Julia Radomski, a senior economics and anthropology major, asked the workers what pushed them to publicly fast.

According to Hughes, the goal of the fast is to convince UPMC to allow its workers to unionize. Fasting, Hughes said, could affect people in a powerful manner, as purposefully not eating symbolizes the damage of not having enough money for food.

“[The protest] is more important than other people’s comfort levels,” Hughes said.

She said Pittsburgh community members could be uncomfortable with the symbolic nature of the fast, but that the issues at hand, especially the need for higher wages, were important to publicize.

So far, their efforts have garnered a lot of support from the community.

Kyndall Mason, a member of One Pittsburgh, a community organization that works to build jobs and keep corporations accountable, volunteered at Fast For Our Future. According to Mason, the fast has drawn in a lot of visitors from local unions, religious organizations and UPMC. 

Mason, 35, said many passers-by on the street also stopped in the tents to speak with the workers.

Mason and Glenn Grayson, also a member of One Pittsburgh, manned a tent adjacent to Hughes and Lewis’ where they encouraged visitors to write messages to the workers in a guestbook and collect buttons and flyers.

“It’s been a community and worker-driven fast,” said Grayson, 28. .

Members of PSSC signed the guestbook and collected buttons before speaking to Hughes and Lewis.

Alex Carter, a member of PSSC, said it was very inspiring for him to see the workers because he had the opportunity to talk to them face to face.

“There’s a personal story attached to the movement,” Carter, a sophomore majoring in biology, said.

PSSC previously joined UPMC workers March 3 in a large protest to demand better jobs and higher wages. Mihir Mulloth, another member of PSSC, said partaking in the protest was his first advocacy effort, and it took only one event to spur his passion to show UPMC workers support.

“We really have an interest,” Mulloth, a sophomore majoring in neuroscience, said.