It was an incredible day in Pittsburgh.
Yesterday, healthcare workers from UPMC hospitals across the city walked out to demand $20/hr, safer staffing, better working conditions, and the right to form their union without retaliation or interference.
In the past year, these essential frontline workers watched UPMC — the largest private employer in the state — rake in $1 billion in profit in its best year ever while workers struggle to make ends meet, drown in medical debt, and carry an immense burden of overwork and grief.
“We’re so understaffed management is constantly mandating us to work overtime. I’m working 6 days a week and I have coworkers who have been working seven days a week for months,” said Tinisha Brockman, who works at UPMC Presbyterian. “Even with that overtime though, I’m still struggling to pay for everything – especially my medications. I’m paying UPMC for its “Gold Plan” insurance, but I still have to pay $300 for all my medicine. I have bad asthma, but last month I couldn’t afford to get my Flovent inhaler.”
Joined by Pittsburgh’s union community, faith leaders, Jasiri X (who composed a special song, “People Over Profit” for workers) and elected leaders including Mayor-Elect Ed Gainey, UPMC workers made it clear that ‘‘Heroes Work Here” signs and a $500 bonus won’t solve problems of generational poverty and chronic understaffing at UPMC.
All across the state and the country, major health systems – including many of UPMC’s peer institutions – are partnering with hospital workers through their unions to drive innovative approaches to employee engagement and the delivery of high-quality patient care, to achieve safer and healthier work environments, to enhance job satisfaction, and to improve population health outcomes and racial and gender equity, by giving everyone a seat at the table.
“Our values and our voices matter!” Zarah Livingston shouted out at Thursday’s strike. “UPMC needs to honor and respect our right to form our union.”
Thanks to so many of you who joined courageous caregivers on a blustery Pittsburgh day. If you’d like to contribute to the strikers’ support fund, you can do that here.
Matthew Yarnell is the president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania’s largest union for healthcare workers.