Local groups demand UPMC "pay what they owe" to city tax coffers | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Local groups demand UPMC "pay what they owe" to city tax coffers

click to enlarge On the left, a Black man wearing sunglasses stands at a podium in front of the steps of the Steel Building. He is addressing supporters at a rally and standing next to local politicians and organizers.
CP Photo: Jordana Rosenfeld
Chris Smalls addresses supporters in Downtown Pittsburgh, standing next to City Councilmember Deb Gross, congressional candidate Summer Lee, and campaign organizers calling for UPMC to pay more to the city.

UPMC reported an almost $1.5 billion surplus at the end of 2021, but its nonprofit status meant it didn't pay any of this back to the city or county through property taxes. Organizers of the "UPMC: It’s Time to Pay What You Owe" campaign say the health care network, as one of the region's largest landowners and employers, can't reasonably justify this privilege.

Today, State Rep. Summer Lee, Pittsburgh City Councilmember Deb Gross, and national labor leader Chris Smalls joined several dozen Pittsburghers and representatives from Pittsburgh United, Pittsburghers for Public Transit, Just Harvest, Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid, ROC Pittsburgh, and Bend the Arc to demand UPMC voluntarily contribute to Pittsburgh’s budget.

“For years, UPMC has cheated the system - claiming to be a nonprofit while bringing in billions and paying a fraction of what they should in taxes,” said Jennifer Rafanan-Kennedy, executive director of Pittsburgh United, one of the organizations leading the campaign. “UPMC has gotten a free ride off what we contribute, withholding resources and costing our communities.”

Organizers say this is the first in a series of actions demanding that UPMC make payment-in-lieu-of-tax to the city. UPMC pays PILOTs on property it owns in Erie and South Fayette, but not in Pittsburgh or Allegheny County.

Speakers addressed many municipal services that they say the city could afford if tax-exempt organizations like UPMC contributed more money, including improvements to sidewalks and streets, community centers, and a food justice fund that would fight food insecurity.

“How many years, how many times have we all been here together, and still UPMC has not paid a single dime to the city of Pittsburgh?” asked Gross. “I’ve been on council eight years. Not a dime to support your sidewalks. Not a dime to support your playgrounds. Not a dime to keep your libraries open. Not a dime to keep childcare facilities open. Not a dime to open swimming pools. You are covering all of those costs.”

One PA executive director Erin Kramer told the crowd UPMC's failure to make some form of contributions to the city demonstrates its interests lie outside the community.

“[UPMC is] not watching out for us. They're not watching out for our communities… They owe the city of Pittsburgh $28 million, at least, every single year,” says One PA executive director Erin Kramer. “They owe Allegheny County and the school district in total with the city almost $75 million a year. They are the largest employer. They are the largest land owner and they are not paying one cent.”

Local organizers were joined by Chris Smalls, leader of the Amazon Labor Union, which lead the historic effort for successfully unionizing the first Amazon warehouse earlier this year in Staten Island. Smalls pledged ALU’s support for the Pittsburgh campaign.

“It’s important that we come together as people and we bring it right to their doorsteps and we keep the pedal to the metal, because it’s a war, it’s a long battle,” Smalls says. “There’s gonna be some Ls, gonna be some days where you’re gonna feel like you’re defeated. But you got to keep fighting because when we fight back, we win. Every damn time.”

“We gotta remember 2024 is around the corner. Gray skies, murky waters. But what we can all do as people in the working class is withhold our labor…the ultimate power is the working class. And we have to remind these billionaires who really make them rich. It's us,” Smalls says.

Pittsburgh is home to a number of large non-profits in addition to UPMC. A report published earlier this year by Controller Michael Lamb's office found the five largest non-profits would pay out $127.5 million in local, county and school taxes if they were incorporated as private companies.

In a statement released after the rally today, Lamb voiced support for the protesters.

"Unfortunately, none of the "Big Five" institutions have adequate PILOT agreements in place," his statement say. "This is unacceptable. UPMC and Highmark must come to the table."

UPMC maintains it invests heavily in community-focused programs that serve Pittsburghers. The non-profit says it spent $1.5 billion on “community benefits” in 2021. UPMC has not yet responded to further requests for comment from Pittsburgh City Paper.