UPMC and the Upsides to Class War

City Council on Wednesday held a special meeting to reeducate and review its major frictions with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, including labor, taxation and market competition issues.

Nine or ten clergy were cited on Thursday, down at the other end of Grant Street, for charges incurred in impressing such pleadings upon UPMC.

On Monday, hundreds will gather at the old US Steel Building, now the UPMC tower, despite the weather. UPMC warns of traffic disruption.

All of this has happened before, and will have to happen again.

Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle at Thursday’s meeting broad-brushed some past conversations with UPMC officials, in which they contended this is all driven by jealousy and a resentment of successful people.

That would be a grave misread.

One might overly interpret stray moans and snarls of hardship or spite, but the diverse Council’s  hours-long meeting was drilled down…

  1. Labor practices: Staff wage scales low enough to depress regional markets and drain public resources, as well as aggressive resistance to Constitutional rights to freely associate and organize.
  2. Reckless competition: Cancer patients not insured mid-treatment under their doctors due to indignance over provider competition from Highmark, ever-growing resources spent on issue advertisements, litigation and lobbying.
  3. Nonprofit status tax compliance: If Pittsburgh’s dominant industry eludes taxation without fealty to what is meant by having a charitable mission, then cities, towns and schools will be starved of basic resources, and charity cheapened.

The heart of Pittsburgh, and the heart of all its officials, is in favor of UPMC expanding the job market, achieving renown, handsomely compensating those chiefly responsible, growing and thriving. It is simply impassioned that UPMC should address those narrowly delineated items — especially considering the degree to which tax money financed the growth of Pitt, UPMC and its many facilities from Western Psych to the new Childrens.

It is only at the instance of UPMC’s steadfast, blanket disinclination to indulge any of the concerns that this becomes a class conflict.

Many within UPMC and some without sympathize with its feeling singled out, under appreciated or assailed by partial ignorance. They may fall back on comforting ideologies built upon their perspectives and marked by rigid prescription, rather than by reflecting and problem-solving. For a time after a Supreme Court ruling impacting nonprofit law, it was voguish to speculate that a “dance” would play itself out among the different interests represented by each grievance bearer, competing for concessions in a “Grand Bargain”. However, for reasons including UPMC’s apparent disinterest in being moved off its lonely mountain, this parlor chatter is falling out of favor. The moment has passed where these are held as diffuse public interests. This too succumbs to patterns of class struggle.

The most effective argument the Comet has ever seen in defense of UPMC’s aforementioned practices, is that only this demanding sort of approach will empower it to harvest the best medical and research talent from around the world. This star magnetism is said to be what drives innovation and next-level growth. Yet others argue that growth is only one among several positive indicators of health and is not in itself dispositive of illness or disfunction.

For behold, UPMC:

Impressive in just how well UPMC understands the importance of place, community and history. Stirring in explaining Pittsburgh’s drive to create, overcome and succeed. Mildly amusing in how UPMC seems to bask in reflected credit for the Fort Pitt Tunnel effect, for Pittsburgh’s environmental comeback, for our many bridges and for our “great schools”.

The Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program buoyed by UPMC is not unsatisfactory for any lack of charity, but for lack of math. The amount of resource trauma inflicted by the general tax, competition and labor concerns is exponentially more rampant than that $10 million per year.

The soul of UPMC’s mission seems to be the advancement of the biosciences, which it says will constitute not only the greatest industries of the future but encompass the most sought-after discoveries of humankind.

Pittsburgh ought to support UPMC in that, but for it to succeed it must be a sustainable project — not to mention a well-infomred one. Next generation strategy necessitates infusing one’s own ecosystems and roots with all the good will and support that reason and justice can afford, and which UPMC seems to acknowledge as crucially irreplaceable. That will begin with property taxes as appropriate or PILOTs commensurate, a respect for employee rights and responsibilities, and moving on from failed or outrageous market-capture stratagems with charitable dignity. Otherwise the soil hardens, vines wither.

Not all of this will be accomplished early this week. Our web of conviction still needs affixing and tensing. Pittsburgh must build the standing to address this, however, if its classes and other constituent parties are to collaborate efficiently.

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