UPMC nonclinical staff pursue union

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For Jamie Hopson, a patient care technician from Swissvale who works at UPMC Montefiore, it's about staffing: "We don't have enough PCTs to provide adequate care for patients."

For Hill District resident Tina Tucker, who has cleaned patient rooms for 22 years at UPMC Shadyside, it's about management's unwillingness to listen: "We want to gain that respect that we once upon a time had."

Their colleague, Chaney Lewis of Edgewood, says he makes less than $10 an hour after nearly eight years at UPMC Presbyterian transporting patients in wheelchairs and on stretchers. He said that makes it hard for him to pay his bills -- including bills from UPMC for $1,500 emergency room visits due to his multiple food allergies.

Those three are among a group of UPMC employees now going public with their workplace frustrations and their efforts with the Service Employees International Union's Healthcare Pennsylvania local to organize nonclinical staff at the region's largest health system.

"We like where we work," Mr. Lewis said. "We like the opportunities that UPMC gives us, but it's not enough. It's time for a change."

The organizing efforts began in January, and UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said the health system has been aware of the organizing activities "for some time."

On Friday, the presidents at UPMC Presbyterian-Shadyside and Magee-Womens Hospital sent a letter to staff members stating in bold-faced print that "We do not want the SEIU here because we do not believe this union or any other union would be in your best interest or the best interest of UPMC and the people we serve."

The letter cautions those contemplating signing a union card to consider costs such as initiation fees, dues and assessments, and suggests that SEIU cannot guarantee any improvement in wages and benefits, or even job security.

Mr. Wood also said UPMC's pension plan is fully funded, while SEIU's "is woefully underfunded."

Teri Collins of Wilkinsburg, a unit secretary at UPMC Montefiore who has worked for the health system for 31 years, said sentiment for organizing has been building for some time. The issues, she said, include years of getting raises that may amount to only 25 cents an hour, with no cost-of-living adjustments, and growing workloads.

There's been talk of organizing before, she said, but "this time is very different. I think the workers are frustrated and a little fed up with the situation."

Mr. Wood said that as of July 1, the hourly wage for new service worker hires will go from $9.08 to $10, and those with 10 years' experience will get $14.09 an hour. In addition, he said, UPMC offers tuition reimbursement for employees and their dependents among other benefits.

Salaries are a sore point with several employees who spoke to the Post-Gazette.

Mallory Jemison of Penn Hills, a 10-year employee who sterilizes and prepares surgical trays at UPMC Shadyside, said he took a similar position for one year at Duke University Hospital in North Carolina for $15 an hour. But when he moved back to Pittsburgh, he said UPMC would only pay him $12 an hour.

"It's like my experience didn't really count," he said.

The workers say they are glad the new wage scale will go into effect July 1, and see that as a sign their organizing efforts are already making a difference.

Mr. Lewis, for example, said he was making $9.57 an hour at the beginning of this year, got a raise to $9.76 in April, and now he will be making at least $10 an hour starting July 1.

"And that was from just talking about a union," he said. "What will happen when we actually get one?"


Steve Twedt: stwedt@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1963.


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