UPMC Avoids Responsibility for Workers

UPMCThe non-medical staff at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) are not making enough money to get by. Like workers at Walmart and elsewhere, they have to depend upon welfare programs and private charities like food banks. As a result, they are trying to unionize under the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). And the UPMC has heard their cries!

The UPMC has started its own food bank.

That’s right. Why pay employees a living wage when you can instead just make charity more convenient? And the great thing is that they don’t even have to pay for it. Thus far, all they’ve done is send out fliers to employees asking them to donate to the food bank.

One employee pointed out that in addition to missing the point of their complaints, the local food bank isn’t even helpful. “It’s going to be more demeaning and embarrassing for me because now I have to go and pick up food at a food bank where I work in front of my friends and co-workers. I make it a point to go to food pantries where nobody knows who I am.”

This is a critical point that I don’t think the rich understand: we who are poor have just as much dignity as anyone else. It isn’t easy to be poor in this society that measures worth by bank account balance. But it is even worse when our poverty is made public display of. And it is worst of all when those better off than we are use their acts of charity to feel even more superior.

Of course, in this case, we have something totally different: a company that is trying to avoid its responsibilities to its employees with a gimmick that skirts the issues—hopefully, with someone else’s money.

H/T @JoyfulA

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “UPMC Avoids Responsibility for Workers

  1. I always try to remind anti-union people I know that the decline of union power in this country directly coincided with the decline of the middle class, over the past 3 decades.
    And in other nations where the middle class is alive and well (places like Sweden and Germany), unions are alive and well.
    I’ve been reading a lot lately about how Europe is supposedly going through a terrible economic crisis. But after a recent trip I made to northern Europe, I realized that Europe is actually way more prosperous than the U.S. is these days. In addition, in Europe (even in places like Greece), I didn’t see any of the horrible, bottom-of-the-barrel poverty that is increasingly widespread in the U.S.

  2. I first became aware of others’ dignity and humiliation when I was delivering Thanksgiving food baskets for a high school service group. "Please, give this food to someone who really needs it," they would say. "I must have confused the directions. I’m too embarrassed to go back to school. Can you give it to someone who needs it more? Or else, just put it in your refrigerator?" I said. From what I saw, I was certain the family needed the extra, but I was feeling like Lady Bountiful and hating it.

  3. @Marc McDonald – Absolutely. I don’t understand why it is, but pretty much the only people I talk to who are pro-union are people in unions. Those not in unions tend to take out all their work related frustrations on unions rather than their employers.

    As for Europe, I think the issue is the strong social safety net. And yet, people are very angry about the lack of jobs. So much for Paul Ryan’s safety hammock.

  4. @JoyfulA – I understand. That was one good thing the Republicans did: writing part of welfare into the tax code. It has less stigma (not that they did it for that reason). Of course, they’ve ruined it by blasting the poor for not paying income tax and even getting money.

    I like that you found a way to allow the food to be accepted. (I don’t know how successful it was, of course.) My experience working with local groups is that it is mostly fairly poor people doing the work. So the empathy is stronger. It is probably easier for the rich.

  5. @Marc McDonald — Which part of Northern Europe did you visit? I know Denmark a little, not the rest of the continent. Denmark has strong unions, but the standard bullshit hating-on-foreigners and oft-repeated media stories of outrageous welfare cheats which the upwardly mobile love to hear and are/were used to fish-gut protection for wage laborers here. It all seems creepily familiar.

    @JoyfulA — I remember my mom, when I was growing up in the white-trash projects, hating to get food stamps or baskets of consumables from church. The idea is that assistance should be demeaning, so that people don’t become dependent on it. That makes some sense in the abstract, but in reality it’s counter-productive. People who need assistance to live become so ashamed that they disparage their own worth, and are less likely to apply for jobs they COULD do but feel they’re unworthy to apply for. My mom was lucky; the first job she ever applied for after 20 years of housewife-ery was a business run by a fellow divorced housewife, who gave my mom a chance. Which saved all of us kids (four of us.) Making unemployment and food benefits less demeaning works great in the countries that do it (as Marc M. points out above), but we have a history of belittling the poor that goes back a long way. It’s ingrained.

    @FrankM — I don’t see it as the rich not understanding that poor people have dignity. I think they know that poor people have independent wills. They just don’t acknowledge that poor people deserve any kind of self-respect. They see themselves, I believe, as the final gatekeepers of civilization; without them, there would be no art, no literature, no witty cocktail soirees. And that might constitute an argument for massive disparity if the art, literature, cocktail soirees (and chosen restaurants!) preferred by the rich had any permanent and preservable worth. They tend not to; this stuff is, by-and-large, utter shit.

    One added observation: Barb Ehrenrich and others have mentioned how Wal-Marts get their employees on public assistance as a means of not paying them adequate living wages. It’s awful to see a government Pennsylvania institution doing the same. What’s rarely mentioned, however, is the reliance of low-wage employees on public transit; something the wealthy and the corporations find a complete waste of money. Not Cool.

  6. @JMF – I think the rich see themselves as morally superior. In America, we muddy the waters with our own mythology. But go back to Shakespeare. Every poor character who is good turns out to be of noble breading–a long lost son, whatever. This is the bedrock thinking of the rich. It isn’t that they are lucky or even smart. They are better. Note: contrary to popular opinion, the rich are far more religious than the poor. I think that is telling when the primary religions talk about rewarding the righteous.

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