Peduto addresses UPMC protests

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At a press conference called late this afternoon to address protests held outside UPMC's Grant Street headquarters over the past two days, Mayor Bill Peduto inserted himself as mediator between giants in organized labor and the healthcare giant.

"A decade has gotten us nowhere," he said of long-running controversy surrounding the hospital giant. "I have no interest in letting another 10 years go by."

It was clear Peduto was trying to situate himself between UPMC and the Service Employees International Union, which has been trying to unionize UPMC service workers. At the press conference, for instance, Peduto said UPMC has been instrumental in helping reorient the Pittsburgh economy around healthcare and education. But he also criticized the non-profit for its treatment of workers, and acknowledged plans to continue the city's lawsuit challenging its non-profit status. (Peduto deflected questions about whether dropping the lawsuit could be used as a carrot in negotiations.)

"No employee of UPMC should live in poverty, nor should they be in need of public assistance," he said.

Peduto said his role as mediator would be aided by relationships he's built with leaders at the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and with UPMC CEO Jeffery Romoff himself, whom Peduto said he'd be meeting tomorrow. But, he added, there have not yet been negotiations scheduled that include both SEIU and UPMC, and there is not yet a deal on the table with UPMC.

The mayor announced the press conference after more than 1,000 protesters rallied outside the U.S. Steel tower, blocking traffic yesterday. Today, demonstrators stormed the front plaza and held a sit-down protest near one entrance to the building.

That escalation seemed to prompt a plea from the mayor to wind the protests down, though city officials said no arrests were made.

"Today, I want UPMC workers and protesters to know that I hear you," Peduto wrote in a statement that his chief of staff, Kevin Acklin, read to the demonstrators this morning. "And I ask you to join me in bringing everyone together to talk about a plan to lift workers out of poverty; to ensure access to affordable healthcare; and to make sure that our city is getting its fair share of investments from all of our stakeholders."

"Our entire city has heard your concerns," the statement added, "and I believe it is time to disband this assembly and return home to your families."

The protesters appeared to heed that suggestion and quickly dispersed, aided by city police officers who blocked intersections between UPMC's headquarters and the United Steelworkers building on Stanwix Street.

A larger piece on what the protests mean for organized labor across the region will appear in tomorrow's print edition, and on our website tomorrow.

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