UPMC workers to walk off the job in protest Thursday |

UPMC workers to walk off the job in protest Thursday

Ben Schmitt

UPMC workers at Pittsburgh hospitals plan to take part in a one-day strike Thursday to demand the right to form unions.

The strike will protest “UPMC’s practices of harassing, surveilling, discriminating against and illegally disciplining workers who want to form their union,” the Service Employees International Union said in a news release. It’s unclear how many employees will attend.

The protest coincides with a worldwide “Fight for $15” movement to set a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

UPMC said last month it plans to boost minimum, entry-level hourly pay at most facilities to $15, up from $11.73. Although hospital workers called the raises an important victory, they promised to continue to fight for union rights.

“The reason we’re still striking is we also want the union,” said Nila Payton, 32, of East Liberty, a receptionist at UPMC Presbyterian. “We need a union for a voice: a voice for affordable health care, affordable co-pays and adequate staffing.”

She said $15 an hour is “barely scratching the surface.”

The hospital system issued a statement that it will not intervene.

“We respect employees’ rights to engage in legally protected activities and will not prevent the participation of any employees who choose to join,” spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said.

With 62,000 employees, UPMC is the largest non-government employer in Pennsylvania.

Less than 5 percent of its workforce is organized, according to UPMC. Pay rates for those employees are pre-determined by union contracts.

“We’ve built unprecedented support throughout the community, and together we’ve gotten UPMC to change,” said Jared McCray who discharges patients in the UPMC Mercy emergency room. “We know it’s possible to win the respect we deserve, but it won’t happen if we don’t stand up for what’s right.”

The workers plan to gather at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the City-County Building, Downtown, and to march at 3:30 p.m. from Bigelow Boulevard to UPMC Montefiore Hospital.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or [email protected].

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