30 cited for blocking street at union rally at UPMC facility
About 30 people demanding better wages and trying to form a union for service workers at UPMC facilities were arrested for sitting in the middle of a busy Downtown street and blocking Wednesday afternoon’s rush hour traffic.
More than 400 protesters gathered at Mellon Square Park at the corner of Sixth Avenue and William Penn Place before marching to UPMC’s corporate headquarters in the U.S. Steel Building at the intersection of Grant Street and Strawberry Way where they planned to be arrested.
“I think the only time anything gets done in this country is when people take a stand,” said Denise Cox, 49, who was among those arrested and described herself as a union worker from Ohioville, Beaver County. “It’s what America is all about.”
The rally was peaceful as protesters calmly chatted and joked with police officials as they waited to be taken into custody. Most wore red stripes on their shoulders to signify they were to be arrested, city police said after talking with leaders of the protest.
Six people were cited for trespassing Wednesday morning in Shadyside as they rallied to support a group of janitors who claim they were fired last month from UPMC for supporting the union movement.
Labor union 32BJ Service Employees International represents the fired janitors. A UPMC spokeswoman declined to comment.
“It’s not about being arrested. It’s about the unfairness of UPMC,” said Donald Cooper, 59, a community activist from Homestead, as he waited to be taken into custody on Grant Street. “You can’t just talk about it. You got to be about it.”
The protesters wants UPMC to pay its service workers a minimum of $15 an hour. UPMC posted $10.2 billion in revenue and $10.1 billion in expenses for the fiscal year ending in June 2013.
Barbara Mathis, who is deaf, told fellow protesters, through sign language and an interpreter, that she was let go this month after 23 years at UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland where she worked as a supply technician.
“They … told me that I had to keep my mouth shut if I wanted to receive any severance pay,” Mathis said. “But I’m not going to let them silence me.“
The Rev. Ronald Wanless, a retired Methodist pastor who led churches in McKeesport, Clairton and the North Side and works with the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, said he and five others went into UPMC Shadyside about 8 a.m. and walked to the medical building. They knocked on the door of Janet Crowley, the building manager and former supervisor of the fired janitors, Wanless said.
“The security people asked us to leave, and we said, ‘No, we weren’t going to leave,’ ” Wanless said. “What we were trying to accomplish was to get some action to right a wrong.”
Wanless said four police officers arrived to escort them from the building. They were told they had been cited for trespassing and would receive a court summons in the mail, Wanless said.
Michael Hasch and Aaron Aupperlee are staff writers for Trib Total Media.