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UPMC workers protest in Downtown Pittsburgh for better pay and benefits

111821 UPMC walkout labor strike.jpg
Julia Zenkevich
90.5 WESA
Demonstrators held signs outside of UPMC's headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh as part of a one-day protest.

Demonstrators gathered at UPMC’s downtown headquarters as part of a walkout in protest of pay and other issues.

Besides a $20 per hour minimum wage, protestors want more affordable health insurance and for medical debt incurred at UPMC facilities to be eliminated. Organizers are also asking to form a union “without interference.”

The nonprofit UPMC is the largest non-governmental employer in Pennsylvania, and it employs more than 50,000 people in the Pittsburgh region.

upmc health care protest demonstration.jpeg
Julia Zenkevich
90.5 WESA

Some UPMC employees say they don’t make enough money to pay their medical bills, despite working for their medical provider, which is also their insurance carrier.

“It’s shameful that my coworkers and I have been pushed into medical debt while working for the largest medical provider in the state,” said Nila Payton, an administrative assistant at UPMC. “Can you imagine receiving collection calls from your employer while on the clock? That’s my reality as a UPMC worker.”

The current starting rate of roughly $15 an hour isn’t enough to cover employees’ monthly expenses, like rent, said Summer Viscusi, a student behavioral associate at UPMC’s Western Psychiatric Hospital.

“Any raise that is less than the rate of inflation is actually a pay cut. And we need $20 an hour,” Viscusi said.

"We're overworked, underpaid and stressed out. UPMC doesn’t care,” said Tosh Lindsay, who works in environmental services at UPMC and was participating in the walkout.

Demonstrators said problems that existed before COVID-19, such as short staffing and mandatory overtime, have been exacerbated during the pandemic. Some said they have been asked to do the work of two or more jobs without additional compensation.

upmc nurse health care protest demonstration wage.JPG
Julia Zenkevich
90.5 WESA

UPMC gave staff a one-time bonus of $500 for work during the pandemic.

Viscusi called the bonus a “poor excuse for hazard pay.”

“We’re fed up. And we’re going to keep fighting until we get what we want. And if we don’t get what we want ... we’re going to shut it down. We’re going to keep striking and we’re going to keep leaving them without staff, because that’s what they deserve.”

The health care provider made $1 billion after expenses last year.

In a statement, a UPMC spokesperson said “We have 45,000 employees in Allegheny County. 43 participated in the walkout. Patient services at all our hospitals proceeded without interruption today.”

Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at jzenkevich@wesa.fm.
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