Unions support organizing effort at UPMC during Labor Day parade

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While celebrating the history and tradition of organized labor, union members in Monday's annual Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh also turned a bright spotlight toward ongoing efforts to organize service workers at UPMC.

From the parade's opening, with dignitaries marching in Downtown behind a banner that read "Allegheny County Unions Support Workers at UPMC," the theme threaded throughout the parade as many union groups -- from Steelworkers to Teamsters to Postal Workers to the United Food and Commercial Workers -- held signs that read "We Stand Behind UPMC Workers" and "UPMC Stop Bullying Pittsburgh."

For the past 18 months, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania has been trying to organize service workers at UPMC, a campaign that on Monday included a boisterous rally at the U.S. Steelworkers Building following the parade and will continue Saturday morning with a planned rally in Oakland.

Jack Shea, president of the Allegheny County Labor Council, said he believes UPMC "has the best health care in the world. It's certainly helped me and my relatives. But the people in their labor and human resources are terrible. They are constantly firing people who speak up for the union."

At the post-parade rally, Democratic mayoral nominee Bill Peduto described service workers as part of "a new coalition," a contemporary version of the steel workers, iron workers, electricians and other trades workers who composed the region's middle class for much of the 20th century.

"Now it's time to restore that middle class," Peduto said.

Also at the rally, UPMC dietary worker Christoria Hughes said she has been at UPMC Presbyterian for five years, currently making $12.11 an hour, but "when I look at my paycheck I can see that I'm not moving ahead." She added, "There's no pride in having to budget for a hamburger."

UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps responded Monday that UPMC's compensation package "far exceeds what other industries offer, and we continue to provide benefits most major corporations and governments are reducing or eliminating."

She said the average compensation for full-time service workers amounts to $21 an hour, including health and retirement benefits, a defined benefits pension plan and a savings plan with matching contributions, as well as tuition reimbursement for employees and dependents.

"That is much more than most of the region's employers offer," Ms. Kreps said.

Mr. Shea said 50,000-plus people marched in Monday's parade. Some parade veterans said spectator attendance appeared lighter than previous years, though it made for good viewing for even the smallest of spectators. After forecasts called for unsettled weather, speculation was that some people decided to make other plans.

That did not deter Carolyn Bergeron of McCandless, who arrived more than 30 minutes early and found a spot directly across from the reviewing stand so she could see her daughter Christine, a tuba player in the North Allegheny High School band.

While not directly involved in a union herself, Ms. Bergeron, a homemaker, said her grandfather, William Kearns Sr., was a charter member of the AFl-CIO and her father John was a Teamster.

Unions "probably still are important in some industries that need to be protected from the big corporations," she said. "The little people probably need the protection from the big dogs; otherwise you're stomped all over."

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Steve Twedt: stwedt@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1963. First Published September 2, 2013 2:15 PM


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