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Mayor Ed Gainey joins UPMC workers in calling for higher pay, shorter hours and union

Gainey joins UPMC workers in calling for higher pay, shorter hours and union
Gainey joins UPMC workers in calling for higher pay, shorter hours and union 03:57

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Mayor Ed Gainey and other elected officials joined nurses and hospital workers in calling for higher pay, shorter hours and a union at UPMC.

The event was sponsored by SEIU Healthcare, which has tried unsuccessfully to unionize at UPMC for more than a decade and has recently contributed heavily to Gainey and other progressive candidates.

Monday's round table event brought together nurses and hospital workers who cited UPMC for low pay, long hours, and understaffing and called for a union to remedy the problems.

"We know the solution to this crisis," one worker said. "Nurses and hospital workers must be given a seat at the table. And hospital executives must respect our right to organize a union and have a say in decisions that affect us and our patients."

But after more than a decade of trying, SEIU Healthcare has failed to unionize UPMC and more recently has lavished hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions on the elected officials on the panel: Congresswoman Summer Lee — who sent a representative —  state Rep. and Allegheny County Executive candidate Sara Innamorato — who recently received $92,000 from the union — and Mayor Ed Gainey, who got $350,000 from SEIU Healthcare in so-called independent expenditures.

KDKA-TV's Andy Sheehan: "SEIU Healthcare contributed $350,000 to your campaign. Does that union have undue influence on your administration?

Gainey: "I'm very proud to have the support of nurses and hospital workers. As you can hear today, that was very emotional and effective. Listen, everybody gets donations. If you look at my opponents, they got a lot too. I'm sure you check that out too correct? At the end of the day, we know that's just part of campaigning. But we make our decision, and we do it the correct way."

KDKA-TV recently reported how SEIU Healthcare officials chaired Gainey's campaign, chaired his transition committee and former union officials now hold key positions in his administration. KDKA-TV also reported the negotiations between the city and UPMC broke down not over payments in lieu of taxes but over the city's demand for a union.

This was laid out in a series of emails obtained by KDKA-TV between SEIU Vice President Silas Russell, who supplied talking points to the mayor prior to his meeting last summer with UPMC CEO Leslie Davis. 

The emails said without a union, the city would have no relationship with UPMC despite UPMC's standing offer of $40 million over the next five years to fund projects in the city. The mayor denies this.

Sheehan: "Did you turn down $40 million?"

Gainey: "I did not turn down $40 million."

Sheehan: "Have you withheld a relationship with UPMC because they don't have a union in UPMC?"

Gainey: "No."

Sheehan: "Was that a demand?"

Gainey: "No."

Sheehan: "Did the SEIU provide you talking points as we saw in the emails?"

Gainey: "I don't know how many times you're going to ask me, but let me be clear. We make decisions based on what we feel is best. I've been doing that. I'll continue to do that and that's my answer."

In a statement, UPMC says it will be paying all workers a minimum of $18 per hour by 2025, which it says is the highest minimum in the state. It says there is no union in its systems because the employees have not voted for one.

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