Security officers strike for a living wage — and respect


Twin Cities security officers called a one-day strike for Monday, February 25, against the three largest security contractors in the area — Securitas, American, and ABM. According to officials of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the strike was called after these companies and others walked out of negotiations last Saturday night without addressing affordable health insurance for security officers and their families.

Multiple rallies of hundreds of striking workers and community allies were also held Monday in order to highlight the need for affordable health care for all Minnesotans and the lack of action by security contractors on this key issue, according to the union.

“No one ever wants to have to go on strike, but we have been given no other choice,” said Donna Alexander, a security officer for Securitas in Minneapolis and a member of the union bargaining committee, in an SEIU press release. “We have to stand up now for what’s right for us and right for our community — affordable health care for our families and for all Minnesotans.”

Javier Morillo-Alicea, president of SEIU Local 26, and several dozen security officers gathered at the Minneapolis City Hall rotunda last week with this central message to security contractors: “Let’s get the job done, or we will strike.” That “job” is a new contract that should include livable wages, affordable health care, and respect.

On February 9, members of SEIU Local 26 voted to authorize the bargaining committee to call a strike at any time due to unfair labor practices. SEIU has maintained that they’ve been willing and ready to negotiate since December 1, 2007, but the contractors have been “dragging their feet” and have even cancelled one bargaining date.

Up until now, the SEIU security officers’ bargaining committee has come to the negotiating table seven times. On February 23 they returned to the table and again failed to reach an agreement.

With political allies such as Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Congressman Keith Ellison, Rep. Willie Dominguez, Rep. Joe Mullery, and even Frannie Franken, wife of U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken, security officers have been rallying support and haven’t stopped yet. Minneapolis and St. Paul council members gathered together in the Minneapolis City Hall rotunda on February 21 to support the workers’ efforts. Council Member Lee Helgen announced that St. Paul passed a resolution entitled “Support for Twin Cities Security Officers.”

Twin-Cities security officers have been working without a contract since January 1, 2008. After the union administered a survey to identify priorities for the next contract, they discovered that only a small percentage of its security officers were able to afford health care.

Security officers are not only fighting to protect people every day on the job; they are also fighting for their livelihoods. At an average hourly wage of $11.76, 10 percent have filed for bankruptcy, and only two percent have family healthcare coverage. Seventy percent of security officers have no health insurance coverage or medical assistance for the families from any source.

Henry Loewe, a security officer for 20 years, works for ABM Security in Minneapolis’ parking ramps. Loewe explained that he is part of the two percent of security officers who pay for the provided health plan — the coverage is too expensive for most officers to afford. Loewe said he does so only because he has no choice: His wife, whose story he freely shared, has a breathing disorder that has kept her in and out of hospitals and nursing homes over the past year.

Renita Whicker, who also works for ABM security in LaSalle Plaza, says she’s been in security since 9/11. “I started out in airport private security because I felt as a citizen I should do what I could to help with public safety,” she said. Whicker, who sits on the bargaining committee, talked about the extent of their request and its importance.

Besides affordable health care, security officers are asking for better training, living wages, a three-to-five-year contract, an annual pay increase to keep up with inflation, and night differential pay for second- and third-shift workers who, in many cases, are exposed to more dangerous situations.

Another request workers have is for dignity and respect. Many workers like Loewe feel that by virtue of waiting nearly two months for a new contract, they are not valued and even become “insurance buffers” for large companies.

“They knew since October to have the paperwork [ready] for a new proposal. We’re not being taken seriously and respected at all,” said Whicker. Other officers have expressed feelings of being intentionally silenced from speaking about public safety issues on the job.

According to SEIU, the turnover rate of private security officers in the Twin Cities is over 100 percent. The reason is partially due to low wages and benefits for a job with fairly high risks.

Twin-Cities security officers have been bargaining with security contractors ABM, Securitas, Allied-Barton, American, Viking and Whelan for months. If unfair labor practices continue, the workers are prepared and authorized to strike, continuing their unified protest: “Stand for…security.”

Lauretta Dawolo Towns is the news director at KFAI-Fresh Air, Inc. She welcomes reader responses to