By Peter Garland
On Thursday starting at 5AM, nurses and staff from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) hospitals walked out after a strike took effect early that morning. The workers formed picket lines before marching to a rally downtown in the afternoon outside UPMC’s headquarters in the U.S. Steel Tower, where they presented their demands. Workers are fighting for a minimum wage of $20 an hour, safer staffing levels, affordable healthcare without medical debt, and the right to form a union without interference from management.
UPMC is the largest private-sector employer in Pennsylvania and has recently brought on a new high-salary CEO, Leslie Davis, however its employees report that they struggle to make ends meet due to low wages. Many employees report that they only make about $15 an hour and work in dangerous conditions due to understaffing.
Workers at the rally chanted “We work, we sweat, now treat us with respect!” Some workers and supporters approached the front doors of the U.S. Steel Tower attempting to enter in order to present executives with a letter of demands, but were blocked by security guards. One worker in the group held a sign referring to the previous CEO Jeffrey Romoff’s salary during 2020, which was $8.96 million, equating to $4,000 an hour.
Davis has given workers a one-time bonus in an attempt to buy their loyalty, but some workers remain unconvinced. One nurse, Jodi, told Tribune: “Nothing has changed since Leslie Davis took over. They gave us a $500 bonus to quiet us– sorry, it’s not even $500 because that’s before tax, it will be taxed away anyway. We worked through Covid in the ICU, it’s insulting. It’s really just been shuffling of executives.”
“It’s all empty gestures, Leslie Davis has never worked at the bedside, which I find insulting that she claims to know what it’s like,” Jodi said, “Now she just sits there at the top and takes money from us.”
Abigail, who works at the UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, told Tribune, “I want to do the work, but I haven’t been here very long and I’m already feeling burned out because of the conditions. I’ve been chased down a hallway, shoved into walls. But I want to make it very, very clear, the problem is not the patients. It’s UPMC. We have less and less staff with more and more to do. I’m expected to work all alone.”
The strike was organized the by the Service Employees International Union, which has now organized its fifth strike within five years. Despite engaging in multiple strikes, workers have been unable to take an official vote to unionize due to repression from the University hospital system.
When Jodi was asked how workers should deal with the repressive hospital owners, Jodi mimed a jabbing motion with an umbrella and proposed: “Drag them out of that steel tower.”
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