Employees say low wages forcing them to food banks. So 1%er UPMC sets up food bank.

How very 1% of UPMC.

A huge health empire in Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), which runs 20 hospitals in the area, has been facing complaints from non-medical employees who say their wages are so low they’ve been forced to go to food banks to find food for their families.

UPMC reportedly responded, not by raising wages, but by setting up their own food bank for their own employees.

Some of UPMC’s employees are not amused.

From the Pittsburgh City Paper:

Since non-medical employees began seeking unionization earlier this year from SEIU, they have been telling the public about the low wages paid by the healthcare giant and how it affects their ability to make ends meet. Many employees, like Leslie Poston, have told the public how they’ve had to go to food banks to make sure they have enough food for their families. Others have said they have to go on public assistance.

But fear not, good workers: UPMC Cares, and they’ve come up with a solution. In fact, since Poston was one of the first workers to tell such tales, UPMC brass decided to alert her to the news first.

“It was two days before Thanksgiving and my unit director came up, put an arm around me and said ‘we’ve been hearing what you’ve been saying,'” Poston told City Paper earlier today. “She pulled out a flyer and said, ‘We’re starting a food bank for the employees.'”

“I turned my head and started to cry because I was so angry, although she thought I was crying because of the gesture. They just don’t get that I’d rather they pay me a better wage so I wouldn’t have to go to a food bank.”

Kind of missing the point, aren’t we, UPMC?

UPMC, for its part, denies that the food bank was set up to help employees who say they are forced to go to food banks because of low wages.  From the Post-Gazette:

UPMC spokesman Susan Manko said late Tuesday the food pantry idea was started by UPMC Mercy employees more than a year ago to help fellow employees deal with personal emergencies such as a house fire or family crisis. This year, UPMC staffers at Presbyterian and Shadyside decided to do something similar for co-workers at their facilities.

“It’s unfortunate in this holiday season that no good deed goes unpunished by those promoting other agendas. The food pantry at UPMC Mercy … has nothing to do with their wages.”

Yeah, I’m not sure it helps UPMC’s case too much to argue, “you’re lying, we never intended to help you.”  And in any case, the employee claims her manager clearly made the connection between her complaints about not earning a livable wage and the new food bank.

SEIU is in the midst of trying to unionize the non-medical employees at UPMC in order to address the wage concerns:

Teri Collins has spent the past 31 years working at UPMC’s Montefiore Hospital — long before UPMC acquired the facility in 1990. And she says things used to be better than they are now.

As Collins tells it, in the early days staffing levels were higher, raises were consistent. Montefiore was a better place to work. But raises are more sporadic now, she says, and there are fewer people doing the work.

“It’s very concerning to me that in 2012 we’re back to fighting for the same things that workers fought for and won years ago,” says Collins on a recent day off from her job as a unit secretary. “I’m a realist. I don’t expect to work at this job and make $60,000 or $70,000 a year. But, my God, there’s no reason that anyone should make less than $15 an hour working at a job in this country. … That’s why we need a union.”

Similar sentiments are percolating throughout the UPMC empire. In January, the Service Employees International Union began seeking to unionize some 20,000 to 30,000 employees — administrative and other non-medical staffers — across the UPMC system. That’s roughly half of the employees at Western Pennsylvania’s largest employer, the second largest in Pennsylvania.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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