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Pittsburgh city controller questions mayor walking away from $40 million from UPMC to fund initiatives

Pittsburgh city controller questions mayor walking away from money from UPMC to fund initiatives
Pittsburgh city controller questions mayor walking away from money from UPMC to fund initiatives 04:33

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — City officials are reacting after a KDKA-TV investigation into the influence of a powerful labor union on the administration of Mayor Ed Gainey and whether SEIU Healthcare is orchestrating a war with the city's largest employer, UPMC.

A KDKA Investigation on Monday showed how SEIU Healthcare funded the mayor's campaign to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, co-chaired his transition committee and secured key positions in his administration.

KDKA-TV showed you emails in which SEIU Executive Vice President Silas Russell provided talking points for the mayor ahead of negotiations with UPMC CEO Leslie Davis, negotiations that broke down not over money but over the mayor's demand for an SEIU Healthcare union for UPMC workers. 

Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb says Gainey has walked away from a $40 million commitment from UPMC to fund city initiatives.

"That's a big number we're leaving on the table right now," Lamb said. "And we can't just walk away from that. On behalf of the citizens and taxpayers of this town, we've got to engage and we've got to have conversations and continued conversations with our largest employer."

But since negotiations broke down with UPMC last summer, the Gainey administration seems to have cut off all communication with UPMC. The mayor was a no-show at the groundbreaking for the new $1.4 billion UPMC Presbyterian Hospital Tower and the final beam placement on the new UPMC Mercy Hospital.

Emails obtained by KDKA-TV show in January the city even declined UPMC's help to train the city's employees in CPR and AEDs. One from the city's Chief Administrative Officer and former SIEU Healthcare Vice President Lisa Frank stating quote: "The more I think about the offer to be a partner in UPMC's program the more I think it's a mistake."

"I think of what's a vital interest to this community is that the largest employer is paying it's fair share, and we're not going to get there if we're not at the table," Lamb said. 

In a statement, the Gainey administration questioned whether UPMC's financial commitment of $40 million was real, saying it was promised under the former administration and wasn't fulfilled. It said it will challenge the individual status of properties instead.

"The so-called $40 million commitment did not include any dollars coming into the general fund. Our approach through the mayor's executive order will lead to us having more resources to pay for our bridges, snow removal, police, fire and EMS officers," the statement said.

But Lamb said he takes UPMC at its word.

"They're talking about $8 million a year for five years," Lamb said. "That's a big number, that's a bigger number than we've ever received combined from all of our nonprofits. That's a big number for this community that would go a long way to help a lot of people."

KDKA-TV's report also raised concerns with Pittsburgh City Council on SEIU's influence. The administration has nominated SEIU's Russell for a position on the City Planning Commission, but Council President Theresa Kail-Smith has referred it to the State Ethics Commission for review.

"We are holding the appointment, which we anticipate will be approved, but we're holding it until we hear from State Ethics," Kail-Smith said.

Despite giving UPMC the cold shoulder for about a year, the mayor's office says it's now ready to meet again.

"If UPMC or any other area non-profit want to meet with us we would be happy to sit down with them and discuss how we can work together to move our city forward. But the reality is that we all believe they should pay their fair share," a statement sad. 

The statement does not say whether the demand for the union would still be on the table. 

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