As Congressman Keith Ellison and faith and community leaders listened, Hannon Security Services workers described an atmosphere of racial discrimination and mistreatment by the local security firm.
The occasion was a forum Saturday sponsored by the Workers Interfaith Network, a local organization of faith and labor leaders. Participants also discussed the need to raise wages and benefits and improve working conditions for Twin Cities security officers.
Hannon employee Alvin Bouye, who is African-American, said he has trained numerous white workers, who then received higher pay and better job opportunities than he has.
“I only ask to be treated fairly,” he said. “It is wrong for Hannon to do this.”
“Although I’m a white dude, I could truly see they discriminate on the basis of color,” said Hannon employee Gerry Messler. “I could see it with my own eyes.”
Because he has tried to stand up for his fellow workers and help organize a union, Messler was fired by Hannon, he said.
In October, Service Employees International Union Local 26 filed charges with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of five security officers, alleging white applicants were offered better-paid, more senior positions within the company despite lacking the experience or training of their African-American and immigrant counterparts
The panel members listening to the workers’ testimony condemned Hannon’s behavior.
Ellison urged working people to resist being divided and to stand together. “Racial justice, gender justice, sexual identity justice – we got to make it all our business,” he said. “We gotta stick together . . . on the basis of brotherhood, sisterhood, love, solidarity and connection.”
After learning of the EEOC charges alleging racial discrimination, Grace-Trinity Community Church in Minneapolis terminated its contract with Hannon.
“We cannot contract with a security firm that does not itself secure basic human rights for workers,” said the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Scott Stapleton.
The Twin Cities faith community has been leading efforts to employ socially-responsible security firms since learning Hannon’s hiring and employment practices may be racially- and nationality-motivated. In a letter read at the forum, the Rev. Peg Chamberlain, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches, announced the MCC’s decision to “initiate a review of our contracting relationship.”
In addition to Ellison, the panel included the Rev. John Estrem, CEO of Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis; Fowzia Abdullahi, organizer for the Somali Action Alliance; and the Rev. Bruce Arnevik of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
In addition to describing the problems at Hannon, workers and panelists also discussed the low wages and benefits for security officers in general. Javier Morillo, president of Service Employees International Union Local 26, said the average security officer earns only $22,000 a year, despite performing work that has becoming increasingly important since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
This coming week, the union begins contract talks with several majority security companies in the Twin Cities, Morillo said. Key issues include raising wages and attaining affordable health care, he said.
“Hannon is the only major contractor in the Twin Cities that has not made the commitment to enter into this dialogue,” he said.