PITTSBURGH - Hundreds of protesters organized by the Service Employees International Union have left the area outside the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's offices downtown, after Mayor Bill Peduto issued a statement asking them to "disband" and "return home."
Peduto's statement indicated he's cutting short a Washington, D.C. trip to return to Pittsburgh Tuesday and hopes to "resolve these conflicts."
“I am asking everyone -- UPMC, workers and the union, healthcare subscribers and community leaders -- to collaborate to resolve these conflicts and heal the divisions within our community,” he said in a statement read by Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin. “Our entire city has heard your concerns, and I believe it is time to disband this assembly and return home to your families.”
A group of 300 protesters grew to more than 1,000 on Monday, blocking traffic on Grant Street at various times. The protesters returned Tuesday morning, but police were hoping to avoid the traffic jams the protest caused Monday.
“UPMC, you are not a charity. You’re greedy,” one protestor yelled.
The union, SEIU HealthCare Pennsylvania, has been trying to organize blue-collar UPMC workers, and wants hourly wages increased to at least $15. That's more than the $11 UPMC pays entry-level cooks, custodians and other staff -- not counting health, vacation and other benefits.
“I think it’s wrong that UPMC isn’t paying workers. Some are on welfare, and it’s not fair. Everyone has to pay taxes and they don’t,” protestor Kimberly Chapman said.
Union spokeswomen haven't immediately commented on claims that many protesters have been bused in.
Paul Wood, UPMC spokesperson, released the following statement Tuesday:
“We appreciate Mayor Peduto's comments and recognition of UPMC as the world-class healthcare provider in this region, a major component of the economic engine of our city and a bedrock of our city's future. UPMC, likewise, has a stake in and is committed to the success of both the city and the region. We have an ongoing relationship with Mayor Peduto and are looking forward to discussions on a multitude of issues.
“We take very seriously our role as a leading employer and are proud of the compensation that we offer. We pay our service workers in Pittsburgh at higher wages than the local market average, with our average service worker earning $12.81 per hour or $26,644 annually. In addition to wages, our service workers are offered superior health benefits for themselves and their family members, retirement benefits, paid time off from work and tuition benefits for employees, spouses, partners and dependent children.”
Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE and The Associated Press contributed to this report.