Security officers engage in historic act of civil disobedience


In what is believed to be the first act of civil disobedience in U.S. history by private security officers, nine Twin Cities security officers were arrested Thursday in a nonviolent protest at the IDS Center in downtown Minneapolis.

The nine were among about two dozen people who taped themselves together around the kiosk in the center of the IDS Crystal Court, while supporters chanted and hung banners from several balconies in the huge atrium of the retail-office complex.

The decision to break the law was not taken lightly, security officer John Graham said, but “it feels good because we’re doing the right thing.”

Wiping away a tear, he added, “We’re doing what the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., would want us to do.”

Those arrested also included several ministers and other leaders of the faith community. The action was part of a campaign to win affordable health care coverage for 800 security officers represented by Service Employees International Union Local 26 who protect people and buildings in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Contract talks have bogged down over the health care issue, with the union holding a one-day strike in February and its members rejecting a final offer they said would cost the average officer more than half of monthly pay for family coverage.

Before the protest, Local 26 members and religious leaders held a forum at a nearby church to talk about the difficulties facing workers without health care. They invited the CEOs of Minneapolis-based US Bancorp and Ameriprise, but they did not attend.

“The long-standing values here in Minnesota were if you worked hard and played by the rules, you could get by,” said Donna Alexander, a security officer at Ameriprise. “That’s not happening.”

U.S. Bancorp security officer Tommy Covington described trying to raise a family without health insurance and seeing a co-worker struggle to afford treatment for his chronically ill wife.

“I look at him every night and he’s just wearing down, because he can’t afford the bills,” Covington said.

On March 20, 17 faith and community leaders were arrested in an act of non-violent civil disobedience at the US Bancorp building. One day earlier, Congressman Keith Ellison, several members of the Minneapolis City Council and other elected officials urged the building owners and security contractors to provide affordable health care.

“This is about protecting working families and protecting people who live, work, and play in our city’s downtown,” said Harrison Bullard, a security officer at the Hennepin County Government Center. “People who come downtown want strong, healthy, and well-trained security officers to provide protection for them.”

Security officers and their supporters will continue to keep the heat on building owners, Local 26 President Javier Morillo said. “The reality is they hire these (security) companies and this whole issue can be resolved in one instance with them picking up the phone . . .”