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Activists Want Better Wages For UPMC Service Workers

UPMC employs more than 55,000 people in the Pittsburgh region, but according to the group Pittsburgh United, the wages the health care giant pays its service workers are weakening the middle class.

According to a report released Thursday by Pittsburgh United, UPMC’s service workers earn between 8 and 30 percent less than the lowest sustainable family wage.

Barney Oursler, executive director of Pittsburgh United, said UPMC employs as many as 32,000 low wage service workers.

“We are calling on UPMC to start sharing some of its profits to raise the standards of their workers so they can raise the middle class with the jobs they’re providing, and we’re also calling on UPMC to stop attacking workers who are trying to stand up for themselves to get into the middle class,” he said.

The report also said that in 2012, UPMC paid its top 27 executives $47.5 million and in the last three years, the nonprofit recorded surplus of $1.3 billion.

Based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and interviews with UPMC employees, Pittsburgh United estimates service workers earn a median wage of $12.18 per hour. The group also cited information taken from the Economic Policy Institute that says two adults with two children in the Pittsburgh area need to earn an hourly wage of $15.85 to live “modestly”—that’s $64,000 in yearly income.

Pittsburgh United said if UPMC raised the median wage by a dollar an hour, it would generate between $27 million to $38 million in economic stimulus for the Pittsburgh region.

In a written statement, UPMC spokeswoman Susan Manko said Pittsburgh United’s report doesn’t reflect the benefits that UPMC offers its employees.

“UPMC’s compensation package far exceeds what other industries offer, and we continue to provide benefits most major corporations and governments are reducing or eliminating," the statement said. "A full-time service worker’s earnings far, far exceed the federal poverty level thresholds.”

Local activists, city officials and former UPMC employees gathered outside of the U.S. Steel Tower Thursday to call on UPMC to not only raise wages, but also allow employees to form a union.

Former employee Jim Staus said he was eventually fired after wearing a sticker on his shirt supporting union workers.

“It’s a multi-billion dollar enterprise and they can’t afford to pay their employees like they deserve,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Staus made $11.81 an hour working as a supply specialist at UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland before being fired on July 1.

In December, the National Labor Relations Board released a 30-page complaint containing more than 80 allegations of unfair labor practices by UPMC executives and managers. The report said the health system violated federal laws regarding employees’ rights to unionize.

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."