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Peduto responds to union criticism over $400M UPMC Mercy expansion

August 6, 2018 GMT

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on Wednesday said opponents of UPMC’s plans for an expansion of its Mercy Hospital jeopardized continued operations of the hospital and city plans for redevelopment of surrounding neighborhoods.

Several groups, including Pittsburgh United and the SEIU Healthcare union, attempted to pressure city council during a prolonged meeting Tuesday to oppose a new vision and rehabilitation hospital at the Mercy complex in Uptown.

Council approved the expansion of Mercy’s institutional master plan despite threats to vote members out of office and catcalls from the audience.

“In holding a hospital hostage that is going to cure the blind -- it will allow the blind to see -- and then on top of that putting the existence of Mercy Hospital in jeopardy ... and then to attack the council members and my office is not a way to get something done,” Peduto said. “Unfortunately, SEIU Healthcare has burned that bridge to the ground between themselves and UPMC. No matter what council would have put in that agreement, UPMC was never going to consider even a discussion with them.”

Speakers accused Peduto and Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle of negotiating a secret community benefits agreement with UPMC without community involvement and caving to UPMC’s threats to close the hospital. Peduto said Mercy, which provides charity health care and loses money, could close without the expansion.

SEIU Healthcare President Matt Yarnell issued a statement that said Pittsburgh workers and residents should have a say in what happens to their health care, jobs and neighborhoods.

“Still, the plan approved yesterday leaves patients locked out of the facilities they subsidize,” he said. “And it leaves workers without a path out of poverty and exposed to UPMC’s union-busting. And it leaves Pittsburgh without a plan for tackling the displacement of low income residents. Pittsburghers are united around achieving these goals, and our union of caregivers plans to stand with them.”

Pittsburgh United could not be reached. UPMC has declined to comment on the criticism.

“UPMC has long been engaged in respectful and open conversations with the mayor, City Council and others to accomplish our shared goals of further developing our vibrant regional economy serving the needs of our residents,” spokesman Paul Wood said.

Peduto said the union’s tactics also endangered UPMC’s commitment to be the “largest or one of the largest” contributors to his OnePGH plan that seeks $1.6 billion from city corporations and nonprofits to help pay for such priorities as universal preschool, affordable housing and lead-free water pipes.

“As we put together a fund that will be able to assist in affordable housing, education, being able to work to eradicate hunger and homelessness and create job training opportunities for all Pittsburghers, this action by SEIU Healthcare put that in jeopardy as well,” Peduto said.

The Allegheny County Labor Council, a consortium of more than 350 unions in Allegheny and Fayette counties, supports the project. SEIU Healthcare is a member of the council. The council supports SEIU’s attempts to unionize and gain better wages for UPMC workers, Labor Council President Darrin Kelly said.

“We’ve never opposed this project,” Kelly said.

Jeanne McNutt, executive director of Uptown Partners, said the hospital would anchor a community master plan designed to bring new development and jobs to impoverished Uptown.

“All in the community can benefit from this development,” she said.