We’re Supposed to Be Able to Take Care Of Our Families With These Jobs

by Arlynna Evans

Arlynna Evans, UPMC Mercy

I work at UPMC Mercy, I’m in housekeeping. I’ve been there since 2013, and before that I was at Presby, Montefiore, and Western Psych in food service. My mom, my sister, and my best friend all work at UPMC, and my dad used to work at UPMC as well.

I work nights, so I usually come in, get my cleaning cart together, and then I detail half of the OR by myself, and my coworker does the other half. They used to have four people to that work, and now they’re down to two. We both split the OR evenly, so I have 8-9 rooms to detail every single night. We work night shifts and get to rooms ready overnight — you know, make sure the blood is off the walls and the beds, and things like that so the OR can start in the morning. And of course if cases come in during the night, like if someone gets shot or stabbed at night, or like the other day someone tripped and ruptured a spleen, people come in and use those rooms. So if we’ve already cleaned it, we would have to go back through and clean it again. And we clean break rooms, locker rooms, as well. So we have to do a little bit of everything. And they think it can be done by two people every night. And on night shift, we’re constantly told we don’t do enough.

A lot of the time they don’t give us the proper tools for the job. Like recently they asked us to mop ceilings with an actual mop. I told them absolutely not, because it will splash on us. They said, “you have goggles.” Yeah, but I still don’t want that splashing all over my head. Besides, I’m 5'2" and I can’t even reach the ceiling with a mop. I’m not throwing out my back so I can go deeper into debt to UPMC for my medical bills, just because they don’t want to give me the proper tool for the job.

The job is always hard, but it’s not always the worst. We learn how to make it work with the tools and the time we have, but it takes a lot out of you. Like sometimes we do certain things on Sundays to prepare for the week. And if it can’t physically be done in time, sometimes we have to do things like spot rooms, which makes me feel like they aren’t as clean as they could be, so that’s not great.

I used to work in a restaurant, and my boss wasn’t exactly the nicest, so this seemed like a better opportunity. I figured I might as well work somewhere where I get healthcare — or so I thought. Even though we technically receive healthcare, we still have to pay a lot. I’m still in debt to UPMC, and so is my mom. They take extra money straight out of my check for it. I was in a car accident a few years ago, and I still owe money from the care. And I was cared for at a UPMC hospital.

It’s been especially confusing during COVID. They don’t tell you things. Luckily people in the OR like us, so they try to take care of us. But if they aren’t there, we could walk into a COVID room and not know it. Once we cleaned a COVID room and we didn’t find out until 14 days later.

We should have gotten hazard pay this past year. They said they spent it on our PPE. I’m pretty sure UPMC had what they had already, and second, we didn’t even end up getting proper PPE. And we aren’t allowed to wear our own. And UPMC acts like they couldn’t afford to pay us hazard pay for this work. They’re literally building a brand new eye center right in front of our eyes telling us they can’t afford to pay us. Our boss makes sure they spend under budget so he can get his bonus, but we don’t see any of that.

If it’s not one thing it’s another. We’ve got even more anger towards UPMC than ever.

But honestly, it was the way UPMC treated me after I lost my twins. I ended up at Magee, and my doctor told me I should take a few weeks off, because I wasn’t emotionally or physically able to work. I brought the note and all the paperwork, but after one week, my checks said “zero.” I ended up having to use PTO for medical leave because I lost my twins. UPMC and I went back and forth, phone-tag after phone-tag, and eventually I just had to come back to work after my PTO was out. It was supposed to be medical leave the whole time. If I wasn’t emotionally or physically able to work, it’s not like I’m able to fight with my boss for my time off or for my PTO back either. They threw me through a hell of a ringer. It was almost more difficult to deal with UPMC than it was to lose my twins. And I’m still going through that. The experience traumatized me.

My first three years, I never called off once. Even with my first baby. I scheduled everything so I didn’t have to call off work. I went when I was sick, I went when my kid was sick, I made sure I made it to work. After three years I realized it wasn’t worth it, it didn’t get me anywhere anyway, so I started calling off.

I started getting involved with organizing when I was in Montefiore. A few of the dietary people got me talking, and I was like, yeah, it’s really not fair that I’m getting $9 or whatever it was at that time. My dad didn’t deserve what happened to him when they fired him, my mom doesn’t deserve to make what she does after all this time.

I got a seven-cent increase last year and that brought me to $15 after eight years. Now they move everyone new up to $15 without changing anything for those who have worked to get there anyway, so it really feels like we aren’t cared about. My mom is only a couple bucks ahead of me, and she’s been at UPMC for almost 30 years.

We need $18-$20 at the lowest. I don’t know anyone in housekeeping who sees $18 an hour. No one. Our one coworker just died, he worked there for 30-something years and he made around $16 an hour. It’s just unfair the things they do to the people who show up every day and work for them, and we only get paid enough to barely make it.

But it has also made me a lot more serious about organizing. I would like to see UPMC do better in general. Pay your people right! We’re supposed to be able to take care of ourselves and our families with these jobs.

They won’t even open the cafeteria for us. At other hospitals, they keep the cafeteria open until 2 AM for the staff; ours closes at 10 PM. UPMC is just an inconsiderate company in general. They’re getting our taxes to take care of people, and they just use it to profit off us.

We pay for it, and then we pay for it again. And then we work for them, and we pay for it again. Peduto and them, they didn’t stand up for us. They said it, but no one actually did it. The system is just wrong all around. We need people who will fight for us and we need to fight for ourselves.

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