On the heels of recent reports indicating more than 1 million Minnesotans are living without adequate insurance, a new study finds that private security officers in the Twin Cities are almost universally without affordable, employer-sponsored family health care.
Despite record sales and investments for the area’s multi-billion dollar real estate industry, the overwhelming majority of security officers who protect the majority of commercial office space in Minneapolis and St. Paul are living without health insurance and nearly 10 percent have filed for bankruptcy.
“Not being able to afford health care has put me in a bad situation,” Billie Edmonds, a security officer for Securitas, said in a conference call with reporters. A single mother, she said she simply cannot afford the $550 monthly premium for health insurance offered by the company.
Alvin Bouye, an officer at the non-union firm, Hannon Security, said he, too, struggles to get health coverage while he deals with diabetes.
“Both Billie and Alvin’s stories are examples of the crisis of a falling middle class,” said Javier Morillo, president of Service Employees International Union Local 26. “Ninety-eight percent of security officers report they cannot afford their employer-provided health plan.”
Bargaining for health care
Health care is a key issue in contract talks currently underway between Local 26 and contractors employing nearly one thousand security officers and window cleaners who work in Twin Cities office buildings. Their contract expired Dec. 31.
“It’s not a good sign that we’ve been working without a contract this long,” Morillo said. “We’re back at the table, but it’s too soon to say how it’s going to go.”
The SEIU study found that security firms employing the majority of Twin Cities security officers pay well below the average employer contribution to health care coverage premiums, providing only 43 percent of premiums for single coverage and a stark 18 percent of premiums for family coverage.
In contrast, other area employers contribute on average 83 percent of premiums for single coverage and 67 percent of premiums for family coverage. As a result, a security officer making $1,800 a month would have to pay more than half of her take-home income to insure her family, the study found.
“The refusal of security contractors to provide health care for all of their employees has a devastating effect on Minnesota’s working families and our communities,” said the Rev. Nancy Anderson of the Workers Interfaith Network, an organization of religious and labor leaders that has been actively supporting the security officers.
“We firmly believe it is the responsibility of these building owners to hold their contractors accountable and demand that security officers are fairly compensated for their work.”
Officers left out of real estate boom
While the real estate industry saw record profits from building sales over the last three years, the men and women guarding those multi-million dollar properties have fared less well. A high percentage of private security officers report having filed for bankruptcy and some security officers have faced evictions and home foreclosures, the report found.
A number of other findings indicate area families are being left behind despite an economic boom for Twin Cities real estate corporations:
• Commercial building owners have seen their taxes decrease dramatically since 2001, while Minnesota’s working families have seen their incomes decrease. Taxes on downtown office properties were lowered as much as $4,500, despite increased occupancy and profitability, since 2001. In that same time, the median family income in Minnesota has fallen by $3,000.
• Commercial building owners are paying less in taxes — even as taxes rise for homeowners. Since 1997, the percent of the Minneapolis property tax burden that commercial/industrial properties pay dropped from 56 percent to 34 percent, while residential homeowners’ share jumped from 32 percent to 57 percent. A similar shift has occurred in St. Paul, the report found.
• Twenty-three percent of private security officers report working multiple jobs to make ends meet.
“So long as business leaders in the Twin Cities remain on the sidelines and permit — even encourage — the rising tide of dead-end, low-wage jobs without affordable health insurance in our community, it is impossible to imagine a better future for working people in the area.,” said Morillo.
“There must be a path to professionalize the work of security officers and transform Twin Cities security jobs into good jobs with health care and a future, for the good of all working Minnesotans.”
For more information
The full report, “Securing Minnesota’s Future: Our Falling Middle Class and How We Can Restore It,” is posted on the SEIU Local 26 website, www.seiu26.org