Food drive irks some UPMC workers

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What was meant as a goodwill holiday gesture at a couple of UPMC hospitals has landed with a thud among some employees.

Fliers recently began appearing in UPMC Shadyside break rooms asking employees to contribute nonperishable food items to a food pantry "for UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside associates in need."

Most years, such a posting might generate canned good donations, not controversy. But UPMC's nonclinical staff is involved in a union-organizing effort with the Service Employees International Union, and getting paid a livable wage is one of their primary demands -- a wage, presumably, that would not necessitate trips to a food pantry.

"My unit director came to me with this flier and said they were hearing what I was saying," said Leslie Poston, a Wilkinsburg resident who is a secretary at UPMC Presbyterian. Miss Poston said she has spoken at union-organizing meetings about having to use food bank donations to feed her family of four.

Having a supervisor comment on her personal situation "was hurtful and demeaning," she said.

UPMC spokesman Susan Manko said late Tuesday the food pantry idea was started by UPMC Mercy employees more than a year ago to help fellow employees deal with personal emergencies such as a house fire or family crisis. This year, UPMC staffers at Presbyterian and Shadyside decided to do something similar for co-workers at their facilities.

"It's unfortunate in this holiday season that no good deed goes unpunished by those promoting other agendas. The food pantry at UPMC Mercy ... has nothing to do with their wages."

Miss Poston insisted, "That was not how it was put to me. [The unit director] came to me personally" to tell her about the food bank. Miss Poston also said she knows other UPMC employees who use food banks so they have enough to eat, and they are upset about the fliers, too.

"We would like to purchase our own food," she said. "It's just the fact that UPMC doesn't get what they're doing to their employees and the community."

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Steve Twedt: or 412-263-1963.


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