Editorial: UPMC must act as a true non-profit, treat workers fairly

By The Pitt News Editorial Staff

The ongoing lawsuits between UPMC and the city of Pittsburgh have caused intense scrutiny of UPMC and its status as a nonprofit organization. But during a rally in Oakland on Saturday, the health care company’s employees publicized a much more troubling issue. 

In March, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl sued UPMC, challenging its exemption from state payroll and property taxes and citing that the hospital system does not truly operate free of profit. UPMC countersued the next month, claiming that its civil rights had been violated. The hospital system filed the suit under the belief that the city of Pittsburgh had singled it out from Pittsburgh’s other large non-profit organizations for scrutiny.

But this weak attempt by the city, leaving some crying foul play and defamation of the city’s largest employer, is a distraction from the real issue: UPMC’s treatment of its employees. 

On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board completed an investigation of UPMC, examining charges that UPMC violated federal law by firing, suspending and harassing employees who considered forming a labor union. The board found that there was some truth to these allegations, prompting the attempt to reach a settlement between the NLRB and UPMC. This opposition to labor unions is troubling, as UPMC should be willing to have a dialogue between the company and its workers, instead of punishing those who want conversation to take place.

UPMC is the county’s largest owner of private land and one of its largest employers. Annually, the hospital system brings in about $10 billion in revenue. As it turns out, very little of this money is paid out — be it to the city or anyone else — including UPMC employees.

Although many of UPMC’s executives receive lucrative salaries, the lowest-level full-time employees are paid $21 per hour including benefits. Although these wages may seem reasonable, after taxes are taken out of an employee’s paycheck, there is very little left on which to live. This makes it increasingly difficult for employees, many of whom have families, to maintain their lifestyles.

The first step UPMC needs to take if it wants to stand as a true nonprofit organization is to pay its workers reasonably and facilitate dialogue between the company and its workers regarding the feasibility of unionization. Being more financially responsible, in this regard, is a necessity for UPMC.

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial noted that the lowest-level employees received as little as $17 per hour. In fact, the lowest-level full-time employees are paid $21 per hour including benefits, with some employees earning an hourly wage of $10.