Around 20 employees of Pittsburgh-based UPMC health system staged a labor strike Tuesday to protest wages and union rights.
The striking workers, most of which are hourly employees such as shuttle drivers and housekeeping staff, allege UPMC has prevented them from joining the Service Employees International Union-Healthcare Pennsylvania, which is the state's largest healthcare labor group and represents 45,000 workers.
The striking employees are also protesting the UPMC pledge to phase in a $15 minimum wage hike by 2021. The workers claim that UPMC hasn't followed through on promises to raise wages for current workers incrementally. UMPC said it would begin the incremental wage hikes Jan. 1, 2017.
In a prepared statement UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said, “The vast majority of UPMC employees are focused on providing high quality care, and they know that the wages, comprehensive benefit packages and general working environment throughout UPMC are the best in the region and that further wage structure increases are already coming, all without paying union dues.”
Lou Berry, a leader of the strike and an employee at UPMC Montefiore for 10 years, said UPMC hasn't communicated with employees about who will receive a raise or when workers can expect the wage increases to begin. “It seems like a diversion to stop people from organizing,” he added.
Berry said union representation from SEIU will help give hourly workers a stronger “voice” to protest labor concerns. The workers have yet to speak with UPMC executives. Some employees have issued complaints to managers but without any constructive results, he added.
The striking workers claim that UPMC has used intimidation and has even fired some employees for trying to join SEIU.
The National Labor Relations Board has filed multiple complaints since 2013 against UPMC for its efforts to restrict workers from unionizing. UPMC stridently denied any claims of unfair labor practices, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
The strike by UPMC workers is part of the larger Fight for $15 labor movement. Hourly workers and wage activists in cities across the country went on strike Tuesday including in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
UPMC is a 20-hospital integrated health network with more than 500 outpatient offices. The system reported $12 billion in revenue in 2015.
Correction, Dec. 1, 2016:
There were 20 employees picketing. An earlier version of this story had an incorrect number.