Earlier today, the city's Wage Review Committee released a report stating that "wages paid to hospital workers are insufficient." The committee recommends that Pittsburgh City Council endorse the demand of hospital workers to be paid at least $15 per hour.
The committee was established in October by Pittsburgh City Councilor Ricky Burgess as part of his "City for All" agenda addressing inequality in Pittsburgh.
At today's council meeting, a dozen hospital workers testified in support of the committee's findings and reiterated the struggles they face as a result of being paid less than $15 an hour.
Photo by Rebecca Nuttall
Aseia Glover testifies before Pittsburgh City Council
"After 9 years, I make $12.75 working at UPMC, a multi-billion institution. It's difficult to afford gas for the car, let alone buy a new car. Forget about it," said Louis Berry. "It's not just me and my co-workers. Today, 46 percent of workers in the service sector make less than $15 per hour. Income inequality in our country is as stark as it's ever been before."
Today's effort is part of a years-long struggle to improve working conditions for employees throughout the region. Service workers at hospitals, fast food restaurants and the Rivers Casino in particular have complained of low wages and inadequate benefits. Previous attempts to improve workers' rights have included fights to unionize workers at UPMC hospitals
and the Rivers Casino,
which have failed thus far; and a campaign for paid sick days,
which resulted in a city-wide mandate
approved by City Council earlier this fall.
Several members of City Council have long been openly supportive of the local efforts to unionize and increase wages. In April of this year, council approved a "will of council"
supporting efforts by fast food workers.
The Wage Review Committee is recommending 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 it's authority in the areas of budgeting, contracting, zoning and building codes, public health and safety."
"It's clear that left to their own devices, hospital employers don't pay workers a living wage," said Zach Zobrist, executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. "To lift service workers out of poverty, we have to take action to correct that imbalance of power between those who set wages and those who do the work."
Today's testimony zeroed in on UPMC, which has been the target of complaints from Pittsburgh's workers' rights movement. In March 2014, UPMC protesters shut down Downtown streets during two days of protests before Mayor Bill Peduto stepped in
to say he would negotiate with UPMC leadership on their behalf.
But to date, the mayor's office hasn't released any results from those negotiations.
"We gave UPMC a break last year as they were supposed to meet with the mayor. It's time for us to get back in the street," said William Anderson, a local activist who also testified today. "It's time for us to hold UPMC accountable."