Earlier this week members of the city's Wage Review Committee met with members of Pittsburgh City Council to discuss findings in a report they released in December. The report was the result of two days of testimony from 130 hospital and service workers along with healthcare experts and economists.
Marla Blunt testifies before city council
"Many hospital workers work so many extra hours weekly to try to make ends meet to support their families. After receiving their paychecks, many workers qualify for public assistance," said Marla Blunt, a food service worker and member of SEIU 32BJ who serves on the committee. "Service workers have to stand in line for hours at a time at food pantries and food banks to feed their families. They are forced with decisions of feeding their children or their lights or gas being turned off. What a choice to have to make."
Among the Wage Review Committee's recommendations is that council endorse the demand of hospital workers to be paid at least $15 per hour. It also recommends that council "actively support workers' right to form a union
without interference or intimidation from hospital management,
" and "incentivize hospital employers to improve pay and working conditions for hospital service workers, through the exercise of
authority in the areas of budgeting, contracting, zoning and building codes, public health and safety."
"I look forward to digesting these recommendations. What I heard today though was really confirmation of already existing suspicion," said Council President Bruce Kraus. "My question is this, where do we go from here. There has to be a concrete plan of action we can take."
Much of the discussion at Tuesday's post agenda meeting focused on hospital service workers, namely those at UPMC facilities who have been working to form a union in an effort to increase their wages and benefits. But the conversation about poor wages and benefits for UPMC service workers has been going on for several years and some at the meeting asked what's next.
"We had a lawsuit against UPMC as the city, and I don't know what's happened. I understand from the papers that the mayor has dropped that lawsuit, and I think that was really a strength that we had," said Councilor Darlene Harris. "So what could we do? We could follow through with the lawsuit we started with."
launched by former mayor Luke Ravenstahl challenged UPMC's nonprofit status. In his remarks before council, another Wage Review Committee member Nicholas Cafardi, a Duquesne University Law professor, also questioned UPMC's tax-exempt status.
"There are some scholars of nonprofit law, myself among them, that would say that any charity that bonuses its executives out of excess revenues has conferred a private benefit," Cafardi said of the high wages earned by top UPMC executives. "One major healthcare organization in Pittsburgh has a long history of bonusing its top executives. "
The question of UPMC's nonprofit status
has been raised frequently over the years. And taking away UPMC's tax-exempt status has been threatened as a form of leverage to improve working conditions for their employees to no avail.
"Folks working a full work week at a public charity should not be on food stamps or medical assistance, at least not while the top executives use their power over the organization to walk out the door every year with millions," said Cafardi. "Now of course those executives work hard and deserve a market rate wage but not at the cost of depriving those at the bottom of the pyramid of a living wage. That is a private profit, and I believe that it it disqualifies such an organization from tax exemption in Pennsylvania."