by Ralph Bridge

I’ve been in Housekeeping at UPMC Mercy for 5 years, working for the largest hospital system in the area. I’ve learned one thing if nothing else: all they care about is money.

Working housekeeping at Mercy is stressful, very stressful. I work from 1 PM to 9:30 PM, and in that shift I do the job of three people. I clean and pick up garbage in the whole hospital. The Operating Rooms, ICU, Trauma, everything. I have worked every single day for eight months straight — seven days a week. I’m trying to save money, and I was a building contractor before, so I can handle it. I used to work 365 days a year.

In NYC, I was a contractor working for myself. I did work in all five boroughs, and all kinds of jobs, interior, exterior, I could do it all. I lived there for 22 years, in Brooklyn — Bed-Stuy do or die! — then I met a woman, and she brought me to Pittsburgh, and we got married. We’ve gone our separate ways now, but she worked at UPMC, and she got me the job here. I tried working in contracting in Pittsburgh, but it’s different from New York. In Pittsburgh, they want to pay you terrible. They want class work but they don’t want to pay class money. And the kind of things they do in construction here they’d go to jail in New York.

I never worked for anybody else, I had my own business. This is the first job I’ve been working for someone. It’s very stressful because you’ve got so many bosses at the hospital all saying different things. This one says this, that one says the other. One boss says: “do this.” And the other says: “no, leave this, do that!” If I do what one says, I’m not doing what the next one says. So I learned to listen to the manager, not to the supervisor, because the manager is in charge. But it’s still very stressful, because you always have to be choosing who you listen to, and they all have power over you.

At work, they’re up your butt 24/7. They want a room done in fifteen minutes when a room is supposed to take three quarters of an hour. Mercy has one of the highest bed tracking. They send you to a room and then before you even get there they’re up on the floor looking for you.

I don’t know if they get a kick back when rooms turn over quickly or what, but from the way they’re treating us, it looks to me like they get a kick back or something from the company. I can’t prove it, but I don’t know what else it would be.

It is very, very stressful. That’s why when I met a union organizer in the hospital I was very interested. There was someone doing a survey in here, and talk spread around that there was a guy in here looking for people to join the union.

I know that we need a union because, number one, I like better wages and opportunities. But also because we need a voice. We have no voices here without the union. We don’t have rights. It’s all about making money for them, they don’t care about the ones who work here. That’s why we need the union.

I put up union flyers whenever I can, but when you come back the next day they’re gone, so they take them down right away. But we keep putting them up.

Right now I have a medical bill for them for three or four years. They keep writing me letters about it, non-stop. They don’t care. I think they send me a letter every other day. We technically get health insurance, but certain things they don’t cover at all. Important things. I’m diabetic, and my medication costs a lot of money. You got to pay out of pocket for that. So I work for UPMC, and at the same time I owe UPMC $3,000 to $4,000. It’s all about the money.

And then they’re building the giant eye center in Oakland, right in front of our faces. And you’re crying you don’t have any money? Please.

I’m barely making $15 an hour. For this job, in this city, at least $22 would be fair. Because remember with this pandemic, we’re frontline workers and we’ve gotten nothing. It was hectic this past year. They gave us one regular mask and you had to re-use it — the regular masks too, nothing special. We had some co-workers who got sick. Sometimes they put you in the ER, the ICU, around all the COVID and you’re taking out the garbage. So we’re very exposed. And no hazard pay. Hazard pay is a dream for us. We got nothing.

I live on the North Side and I take the bus to work. Money for the bus pass comes out of your pocket too, every month you have to pay $100. They used to give you a bus pass and take it out of your pay, but they don’t even do that anymore — now you have to get it downtown.

I’ve been working with the union for about four years. Some people agree with it, some disagree. Some people are just afraid to lose their job. If they think about the job more than anything else, okay. But you know, I’ve seen this place over time, and UPMC always has different protocols but nothing changes. Same shit different bologna. They make new rules, but nothing changes.

We need some people with voices to say something. And we need a voice of our own. We need people to stand up for us and we need to stand up for ourselves. We need a voice to let people know what’s going on here and change it. They’re making all the money and they don’t want to pay us. They’re a big corporation, they control everything, so we need a lot of people to stand up to that. That’s what I’m doing.

We are UPMC hospital workers — these are our stories from the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.