SEIU protests replacing union cleaners with nonunion workers

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Don Malcolm used to work days at a banquet hall and five hours a night cleaning a UPMC Shadyside medical office building.

He spent Friday morning protesting the loss of that second job.

He didn't have union representation when he started cleaning at UPMC. He did not receive vacation time or personal days and he was paid $7.50 an hour. Then about seven years ago, he said, Service Employees International Union started to represent the workers in the office building.

He saw his part-time salary go up to $12 an hour and he had two weeks vacation and three personal days. He worked from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. five days a week to help support his family by adding to the wages he earns at his other job at a banquet facility.

The company he worked for, the ServiceMaster franchise in Pitcairn, was replaced when UPMC hired a nonunion contractor, Manage It, to clean the building. Six of the workers, including Mr. Malcolm, lost their jobs. Another four were re-hired by the new contractor at $9.50 an hour, he said.

The hospital chain has not changed contractors on any of the other buildings it owns that are cleaned by outside companies. Gloria Kreps, a UPMC spokeswoman, said UPMC has not made any decisions regarding other buildings.

Friday, Mr. Malcolm, 55, of Shaler was called to take the microphone as he stood on the bed of a pickup truck parked on Centre Avenue in Shadyside. He was addressing the 200 people who had turned out to support him and his co-workers.

The Service Employees International Union, Local 32 BJ, organized its members, members of the clergy, elected officials, members of other unions and local activists to protest outside the building Mr. Malcolm used to clean.

“ServiceMaster is a great company,” Mr. Malcolm said. “I don’t think they lost the contract, [UPMC] just didn’t want the union in there anymore.”

About 200 people briefly blocked Centre Avenue in Shadyside, but returned to the sidewalk to let traffic through.

In addition to the usual chants, of “shame, shame, shame” the group also directed a chant to UPMC’s vice president who oversees the hospital chain’s real estate: “Greg Peaslee you can’t hide, you kicked us out of Shadyside.”

The protesters also were treated to a bit of theater of the absurd when a young man in a top hat and tails playing the part of UPMC CEO Jeffrey Romoff had protesters spin the “Wheel of Misfortune,” which included “prizes” such as “Bankruptcy” and “Get Evicted.”

Sam Williamson, district director of SEIU Local 32BJ said the group wasn't protesting just for the families affected by the layoffs: “It’s the whole middle class they’re attacking.”

Ann Belser: or 412-263-1699.

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