Hundreds of protestors sat down in the middle of Fifth Avenue in Oakland outside of UPMC Presbyterian Saturday, singing “Amazing Grace” and calling on the healthcare giant to make some major changes.
Christoria Hughes, 56, works in the dining hall at Presbyterian for $12/hour, and said the rally wasn’t just about the employees of UPMC.
“UPMC needs to do better, not just by its workers, but by Pittsburgh in general,” she said. “Because they’re holding Pittsburgh hostage, by paying low wages, not paying taxes, and deciding not to accept the healthcare insurance plans of other healthcare providers.”
This was the sentiment echoed throughout the event by politicians, community leaders, UPMC workers and Pittsburgh residents.
Chelsa Wagner, Allegheny County Controller, said the county recently issued a report looking at the financial impact of the charity status of UPMC and other similar non-profits.
“They need to pay their fair share on taxes, which could fix things, like our schools, transit. It would have such a large impact on our communities,” she said. “They also need to make sure that all of our residents continue to have access to affordable healthcare.”
According to rally organizers, the health system receives roughly $200 million in tax breaks annually, due to its non-profit status.
In the past, UPMC officials have pointed to the number of jobs created and economic activity generated by its activities in the region.
Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak (District 4) was also in attendance, saying she knows of at least seven workers who have been fired by UPMC for union activity. She said that UPMC’s union busting activities are counter to Pittsburgh’s legacy as a pro-labor town.
“My great grandfather was actually blacklisted for supporting the union back in the early 20th century,” she said. “He was thrown off company housing, he wasn’t allowed to use the company store, he had no job. So I come from that line of stock, I think many of us here do, and we’re just fighting for the next chapter to reclaim Pittsburgh’s middle class.”
UPMC maintains that they have not broken any labor laws, and that their non-profit status is legitimate.