According to KDKA-TV, it is no secret that SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to get Ed Gainey elected as mayor of Pittsburgh.
Now, it appears that the health care workers union is flexing its muscle against UPMC by utilizing its pull with Gainey and a number of top former union officials that now hold top positions in his administration.
KDKA-TV is reporting that Silas Russell, the executive vice president and political director of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, was intimately involved in preparing Gainey for a meeting last year with UPMC. SEIU has wanted to represent UPMC’s health care workers for some time and the mayor has stated that challenging UPMC’s nonprofit tax-exempt status is a key priority in his administration.
Citing emails obtained through a Right to Know Request, KDKA-TV reported that Russell and administration officials traded messages strategizing ahead of that meeting, including explicit demands to unionize UPMC’s health care workers.
Gainey had originally said after taking office that he would negotiate payments in lieu of taxes with UPMC and other local nonprofit giants. KDKA-TV, citing unnamed sources, reported that those negotiations fell apart not because of money, but because the mayor demanded that SEIU Healthcare be allowed to represent UPMC workers. That closed the door on a $40 million offer from UPMC, the largest non-government employer in Pennsylvania, to the city.
UPMC is the largest non-government employer in Pennsylvania.
When questioned if the city demanded that SEIU Healthcare represent UPMC workers, Pittsburgh’s chief operating officer, Lisa Frank, told KDKA-TV: “The mayor, I think you know, has always been on the side of workers.”
Gainey spokesperson Maria Montaño, also a former SEIU official, said “the mayor has long been a supporter of the right of working people to come together for a union and a voice a work. He has not made any demands.”
But emails between Russell and administration officials helping to preparing Gainey’s talking points tell a different story.
Russell dictated some of those points, writing “You want to have a partnership with UPMC, to collaborate with them on major development and social service initiatives in the community, and to join with them publicly and in the media to discuss your administration’s positive working relationship with them.
“Before that above is possible however we need them to commit to: A fair election agreement with SEIU to bring to an end the long and contentious dispute between UPMC and its frontline workers.”
He also wrote that “You also believe the workforce crisis in healthcare is so pressing that we cannot afford to see continued conflict and disruption.”
UPMC rejected the demands, telling the mayor they are willing to consider payments in lieu of taxes but not their internal labor relations.
The union is also backing state Rep. Sara Innamorato (D-Allegheny) in the May 16 Democratic primary for Allegheny County executive — raising the prospect that it could soon hold significant power in both city and county government.
A larger SEIU umbrella group contributed $15,000 to Innamorato’s campaign in December, according to financial filings. Financial filings next month will give a fuller picture of the union’s support for her campaign.