While I found it necessary to bite my virtual tongue after nearly letting the cat out of the bag with my second blog post on Daily Kos, I think it is safe to continue to chronicle our efforts to bring a union to UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, for those living outside the range of the media blanket of our region). Unfortunately I have not been keeping good notes, virtual or otherwise, so many great activities I have participated in can only be mentioned in passing. On the plus side, this means that my postings can be shorter and more to the point :-) My first diary on this movement can be found here.
On November 7, 2012, with the help of County Councilman DeFazio, Allegheny County Council voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on the not-for-profit status of UPMC. The hearing was held on December 5, 2012. More to follow below the great orange arabesque …
I managed to attend the County Council Meeting on November 7, along with a dozen or more of my co-workers and some SEIU organizers. I was only able to make it because I was working a 6-2:30 training shift at WPIC that day and could kill some time after my shift and then catch a bus downtown. We were asked to wear our uniforms to the meeting, and since it was cool that day, I had a chef coat, white tee-shirt and a black long sleeve thermal shirt along with my jacket. The heat was on in the City-County building, and I had to shed a few layers to get even near comfortable, which is saying something! As a grill cook, I've grown to be practically impervious to heat. Once the meeting got started, it moved really quickly. Councilman De Fazio's motion for the public hearing was the last item on the agenda, and when it passed unanimously, we went back out into the open area outside the Gold Room and posed for pictures. You can find one of these pictures on the Make It Our UPMC Facebook page, November 8 on the timeline.
I was not so fortunate on December 5th, though. I neglected to ask for a PTO day, which would have allowed me to attend the premiere performance of the Nutcracker at Pittsburgh CAPA, where my daughter is a dancer and her boyfriend (a drummer!) played in the orchestra. Things all worked out for the best though, I saw the show the next night when I had my regular day off (it was wonderful!) and I caught a bus downtown when my shift ended at 7 to attend the hearing. Since I knew I was going to be late to the hearing, I didn't sign up to speak until very late. And I only worked on my speech Tuesday after work. I found the suggested 300 word limit for the three-minute maximum speech really focused my mind on keeping it short and on topic. The thought of being able to stand and deliver it to County Council made it really hard to sleep, so I was pretty tired all day at work. So tired, in fact that I violated my "no caffeine after 3 PM" rule and had a Rockstar Lemonade on my second break at 5!
Since I got to the hearing so late, I really have to depend on other's accounts of what went down before I arrived. You can read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's account here We and our supporters packed the Gold Room, requiring extra seats to be placed in the outside hall and a sound system set up so those outside could listen. I was listed as speaker 87. The agreed to time limit was set to around 8 PM, and they only got as far as speaker 45. While disappointed at not getting my chance to speak, I was actually grateful since I was able to stay long enough afterward for a slice of pizza and socialize with the union organizers I've come to know in the short time I've been active in the movement. As an added bonus, I was able to walk over to CAPA and meet my wife and daughter after the Nutcracker ended, and drive home instead of catching a late bus.
One of the more interesting tid-bits I picked up was the exchange between Councilman De Fazio and Councilperson(?) Heidelbaugh. It seems that Heidelbaugh, (the Heather Heidelbaugh whose lawsuit against ACORN exposed a "massive" voter fraud operation in Pennsylvania), was objecting to the testimony of the UPMC employees about their work conditions and UPMC's anti-union activities. After some back and forth, De Fazio told Heidelbaugh that she gets checks from UPMC for her work, and should just be quiet and let the rest of the Council listen to the testimony, after which she left, probably not far behind UPMC representatives. I would also say that the County Council was more than generous about the three minute time limit for speakers - many went over, and of the few I heard speak, I doubt they had any knowledge of a 300 word target for their speeches. And there were some who were either nervous or so emotional that getting through even 150 words would have been difficult. Not all of the 91 scheduled speakers at this hearing were workers fighting for the right to organize, many leaders of various communities hurt by UPMC actions, teachers, church leaders etc. have found common cause in confronting UPMC behavior that has hurt the entire region. I suspect there will be more public hearings to come which will shine more light into the dark corners of this not-for-profit giant that no PR campaign will be able to deflect away. This was the strategic goal of SEIU, to bring together all of these disparate interest groups to see that they also have a tremendous stake in bringing about substantial change in UPMC's interactions with the community and its workers. I'd have to say we're doing pretty good so far :-)
And though I was both relieved and disappointed in missing my chance to deliver my speech, I'm not at all sure I could have written it at all if I had planned to sign up early and take the day off to be at the hearing on time. I've gone ahead and made some slight changes and submitted it as a LTE to the Post-Gazette. They have yet to call me about it, so I'm not real hopeful that it will get published. I printed up some hard copes and took them to work on Wednesday. I've had nothing but positive responses. And it brings me great pleasure to go ahead and publish it here. (I have to give a hat tip to Meteor Blades and whoever uses his "Don't tell me what you believe…" quote as a tag line!!)
Hi, my name is The Ironic Chef and I’m a UPMC employee.
There is an old saying, actions speak louder than words. In other words, don’t tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I’ll tell you what you believe! After working for UPMC for four years as a grill cook, reading the local papers, and living in Pittsburgh for more than twenty years, I’ve seen enough of UPMC’s actions that put the lie to the words “UPMC Cares.” Here is my list of what UPMC really cares about.
UPMC executives care about paying themselves 6 figure salaries while doing everything possible to hold our wages down at a poverty level, a level that should get me and my co-workers into the free or reduced health care program instead of the UPMC insurance with its monthly costs, high annual deductible and co-pays that nickle and dime us workers to the food pantries!
UPMC cares about its public image. They hire PR firms to manage this image making machine, but one must ask, where is the free clinic, where the working poor can get medical care before conditions reach the point that the understaffed emergency rooms offer treatment of last resort? UPMC only spends 1.7% of its patient revenue on charity care. That’s not enough.
And the Pittsburgh Promise charity that UPMC likes to hold in front of our noses like a juicy carrot, is held up by the stick of matching funds that must be raised before UPMC graces us with their largess. A not for profit institution that makes us earn their charity should perhaps do more to earn their catchphrase, UPMC Cares.
And finally, UPMC cares that it’s workers not unite and elect to form a union. The whole “UPMC Cares” website and campaign is the work of a union busting organization to which UPMC paid large amounts of their not for profit excess revenues, to avoid doing the very thing that would show UPMC cares - paying their workers a living wage and providing them with affordable health care.
Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to speak.