Several dozen staffers at Pittsburgh-based UPMC are striking this afternoon in solidarity with workers worldwide who today are protesting for higher minimum wages and greater union rights.
Workers at St. Louis University Hospital and caregivers from AristaCare at Cedar Oaks in South Plainfield, N.J., are also planning to strike today.
The protests come on the heels of UPMC's announcement last month that it plans to raise the minimum wage of its workers to $15 an hour.
The strike at UPMC will not likely impact hospital operations since it is happening off-site and will involve only a small portion of the system's 60,000 employees. Among those striking are receptionists and discharge specialists.
Workers acknowledged that UPMC's move to increase wages was a victory, but the group that's striking says it's about more than money.
UPMC workers say hospital leadership has blocked their attempts to unionize. On Wednesday, the system released a statement saying it would not prevent the participation of any employees who choose to join the strike.
But Josh Malloy, who has worked in the UPMC housekeeping department for more than three years, said he believes some colleagues have been targeted because they want to unionize.
"This is also about management not being able to fire you because they don't like you,” he added.
The Service Employees International Union, which is organizing today's strike, said in a press release that two years ago, UPMC executives said they would never pay workers $15 an hour.
“But, by standing together for workers' rights and better pay, hospital workers and their supporters won the raises their families need and deserve,” the SEIU said.
UPMC's local competitor, Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger Health System, increased its minimum wage to $10 an hour, effective this last September.
And there's a growing list of healthcare organizations answering the call for wage hikes.
Among them is Ascension Health, one of the nation's largest not-for-profit health systems, which upped salaries systemwide to at least $11 an hour last July.
In Boston, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Medical Center and Tufts Medical Center each raised their minimum wage to $15 an hour. Those policies went into effect this year. Tufts Health Plan, a health insurer based in Massachusetts, recently raised its wage floor to $15 an hour.
More than 440,000 low-wage healthcare workers throughout the state of California will see an increase to $15 an hour by 2022.
In New York, healthcare providers have criticized the statewide raises. The Healthcare Association of New York State estimated the increase would cost hospitals, nursing homes and home care providers $2.9 billion if implemented in 2021.