A New Day in the Neighborhood
How Pittsburgh’s new leaders can ensure good jobs, union rights, healthy neighborhoods, and a city for all
Pittsburgh is a union town. This city is well known for its rich and deep legacy of manufacturing workers building power, fighting for living wages, and demanding a voice on the job. It is perhaps less well understood that Pittsburgh’s industrial unions are directly responsible for the birth and growth of our hospital industry. Pittsburgh’s scattered charity hospitals became today’s massive healthcare industry largely because Pittsburgh’s workers bargained health insurance into their contracts and fought to create government healthcare programs. Without these victories, there could be no UPMC.
When the steel industry drove the city’s economy, Pittsburgh’s middle class was stable and strong, built on a foundation of family sustaining union jobs. Now, our biggest employer is UPMC. Just as the steel industry set the economic tone in the last century, UPMC is setting the standard for jobs in Pittsburgh today, but with drastically different results.
Today, income inequality is as high as it’s been since the Great Depression, and the middle class is shrinking rather than growing. A phrase often heard around town in recent years is “a tale of two Pittsburghs.” For some, it’s considered the country’s most livable city. For others, living and working here is a health hazard.
Pittsburgh ranks last in the country for Black women in the categories of health outcomes, poverty and income, employment and education. The single largest social determinant of health is wages. And, nearly 7,000 Black families have been driven out of the city in the last ten years due to rising housing costs.
Experts agree that helping workers to form their unions is a key component of creating a livable city. It is also clear that honoring workers’ historic vision for a healthy and caring region will require a more fair and balanced relationship between decision-makers at UPMC and the community that it is meant to serve.
In this report, Pittsburgh United lays out clear, simple recommendations for fixing what ails Pittsburgh. UPMC must:
- Allow workers to organize their union in UPMC facilities without interference.
- Raise minimum pay for service workers to $20.00/hour immediately.
- Eliminate medical debt for caregivers.
Create sustainable paths to safe staffing.
- Reconfigure the Board of Directors to better balance representation from workers and community care advocates, and to reflect our city’s racial, gender and income diversity.
There is also a role for government to play, including:
- Negotiate a robust community benefits agreement with UPMC.
- Refine and update existing regulations and codes at the city, state and federal levels to enhance community accountability.
- Regularly assess taxpayers’ subsidization of UPMC facilities.
In order to make Pittsburgh truly a city for all, UPMC needs to pay living wages and respect workers’ rights to form their union free from harassment and intimidation. Pittsburghers are tired of propping up an institution that pays poverty wages, keeps large swaths of the community sick, and refuses to work with us to meet community needs as the community defines them.
As new leaders take the helm at UPMC and in the mayor’s office, the time is right to ensure healthy wages, healthy workers, and a healthy Pittsburgh