Rally draws hundreds protesting UPMCs tax-exempt status
September 7, 2013 7:01 PM
Charles Patterson of from East Liberty was the among hundreds at a rally protesting UPMC.
By Joe Smydo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Hundreds of people rallied Saturday in Oakland to demand that UPMC respect the city's working-class traditions and use its wealth for community uplift.
The rally and a march that followed were organized by Make It Our UPMC, a group of the health system's workers, elected officials, unions and others upset with UPMC's treatment of employees, large profit margins and battle for customers with fellow health-care giant Highmark. The group has held similar events in recent months.
"Nearly two-thirds of our African-American children in Pittsburgh live in poverty. That sickens me," said Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and one of those who demanded that UPMC pay more in property taxes so the city and county can better fund services.
UPMC is the county's biggest private property owner, yet its status as a tax-exempt charity spares it from paying property taxes on most of what it owns, city Controller Michael Lamb said at the rally. It's also one of the largest employers, but pays low wages to some employees, affecting the amount of wage taxes flowing to the city, Mr. Lamb said, portraying the fight against UPMC as a struggle to make the city stronger.
Because UPMC doesn't pay its fair share of taxes, county Controller Chelsa Wagner said, everyone else has to pay more. "It's costing us more and more every year," she said.
In a statement, UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said, "We believe that the purpose and intent of the rally is to divert the public from the truth and cast UPMC hospitals -- and the great people who work here every day -- in the worst possible light. Rallies of this kind demean the excellent care we provide to our patients -- care that we believe our patients deserve and have come to expect."
UPMC has about $10 billion in annual revenues, and the city this year sued to overturn its tax exemption. The suit is unresolved.
Ms. Kreps said UPMC already demonstrates civic responsibility, having donated more than $622 million in services, including $238 million in charity care to the poor, during the 2012 fiscal year alone.
Besides Mr. Lamb and Ms. Wagner, officials attending the rally included Democratic state Reps. Ed Gainey of Lincoln-Lemington, Dan Frankel of Squirrel Hill, Erin Molchany of Mount Washington and Harry Readshaw of Carrick; state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park; and city council members Darlene Harris, Bruce Kraus and R. Daniel Lavelle. Former U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, a Democrat from Johnstown, also was there.
Workers complained that UPMC not only pays low wages, such as $10 per hour for some service workers, but has retaliated against them for attempting to organize. North Side resident Al Turner said he lost his job as a shuttle driver as a result of his organizing efforts. Supporting him was his pastor, the Rev. Rodney Lyde of Baptist Temple Church in Homewood.
"This movement is deeply connected to our faith," Rev. Lyde said.
Ms. Wagner said UPMC's treatment of employees is sharply out of place in "a city that was built by the working class and is still built by the working class."
Ms. Kreps said average compensation for full-time service workers, a package that includes wages, health benefits, a defined-benefit pension plan and contributions to other pension plans, totals $21 per hour. UPMC also offers tuition reimbursement, she said, in a compensation package that contains more than that offered by most area employers.