All workers expected to return to new UPMC Presbyterian construction site by end of week

By Hallie Lauer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nearly all of the workers forced off the job after the city halted construction at a UPMC hospital in Oakland have returned to the project.

The city of Pittsburgh halted work on UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Oakland on June 20, saying that some aspects of the construction had begun without the required permits. That forced about 150 workers off the job.

According to the city’s AgencyCounter website, which tracks city permits, the stoppage was ordered after contractors started fire suppression system, mechanical, electrical and fire alarm work without permits.

As of Wednesday morning, the electrical and mechanical permits were in place, according to UPMC spokesman Paul Wood.

“Of the 150 trade union workers sent home, about 50 still haven’t returned to the site as the ramp-up process continues,” he said in an emailed statement. “They should all be back on site by the end of the week.”

UPMC is still in the approval process for the fire alarm and fire suppression permits, but they are not required for construction to continue at this time, Mr. Wood said.

The city issued the electrical permit June 26, though it was unclear whether electrical workers were allowed to return to the jobsite.

The mayor’s office declined to comment.

At the time of the stoppage last month, Greg Bernarding, the executive business manager for the Pittsburgh Regional Building and Construction Trades Council, said he had never seen the city take such unilateral action in his 35 years as a labor leader and iron worker.

In the days after the stoppage, Allegheny County Councilman Sam DeMarco claimed it was a directive of the Service Employees International Union, which wants to represent UPMC health care workers.

The SEIU has for years attempted to organize hourly workers at UPMC Presbyterian, and the union heavily backed Mayor Ed Gainey’s election campaign.

“This was no sudden discovery that permits were lacking,” Mr. DeMarco said at the time. “It was a calculated move to shut down a job creator.”

Mr. Gainey’s communications director Maria Montano – a former SEIU employee – pushed back against that claim in a post on X in which she said Mr. DeMarco’s characterization of the work stoppage was “categorically untrue.”

“This is a limited stop work order after it was discovered during a routine inspection that work was being done without the permit to do so,” her post said.

The $1.5 billion project will connect the current hospital on Fifth Avenue with a new 880,000-square-foot building that will be 17 stories high and have about 640 beds.

UPMC broke ground on the hospital two years ago, and it is scheduled to open in 2026. It was unclear whether the stoppage delayed the estimated opening date or how much money it cost the health care giant.

Hallie Lauer: [email protected]