Companies agree to first union deal for Pittsburgh security guards
October 7, 2015 2:09 PM
Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto talks about the deal between most of the city's security contractors and the 32BJ of Service Employees International Union, during a press conference in the City-County Building.
Calling for a fair contract, members of the SEIU marched in August from Schenley Plaza through part of the University of Pittsburgh campus.
Maria Centeno, a security officer for Allied Barton Security Services, listens to co-worker David Cornish, right, after Mr. Cornish spoke at a news conference announcing the contract agreement Wednesday at the City-County Building.
By Daniel Moore / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Capping what supporters have called the biggest labor organizing victory in Pittsburgh in a decade, a group of security companies have agreed to the first-ever contract covering hundreds of security guards who patrol dozens of large commercial buildings in the city.
The deal, which went into effect Oct. 1 after six months of negotiations and a yearlong organizing effort, boosts hourly wages for employees by $1.95 to $11.75 over the course of the three-year contract. Workers will receive free individual health coverage beginning next year and receive new training from a partnership with the city, according to the final agreement.
At Wednesday’s announcement, Mayor Bill Peduto welcomed a group of guards and officials from the Service Employees International Union into his office to praise the deal.
“What makes this different is that, for the first time, we’re able to see where the wealth of a changing economy is able to help all people,” Mr. Peduto said. “We are literally rebuilding the middle class.”
The local chapter of the property services labor union, known as 32BJ SEIU, began organizing security guards last fall by the hundreds. The guards are employed by nine security companies that contract with owners of local buildings — among them PNC Plaza, PPG Place, U.S. Steel Tower and Oxford Centre — to provide security services.
The contract is a major victory for the SEIU, which in the early 2000s successfully organized building janitors working in the suburbs around Pittsburgh who were employed by a group of cleaning companies. Downtown cleaners have been unionized since the early 20th century.
The union used a similar model to begin organizing security guards last year, bargaining for a single agreement that represents workers for multiple employers. The guards, who previously earned around $8 or $9 an hour, demanded higher, “family-sustaining” pay and benefits.
Workers also pushed for better training. Most guards receive basic training in skills such as CPR and use of a heart defibrillator, several guards said in recent interviews. But because they are often the first responders to dangerous situations, they said, they would welcome training on skills such as how to handle emergencies of all sorts. The security guards do not carry weapons.
The contract comes on the heels of an ordinance passed in May by the Pittsburgh City Council that created new training standards for security guards, janitors and maintenance workers in large buildings. Known as the Safe and Secure Building Act, the law requires workers in certain buildings — mostly those larger than 100,000 square feet — to pass a training class certified by the city fire bureau.
The security guards’ agreement guarantees that workers will begin receiving that training, said Sam Williamson, Western Pennsylvania area director for 32BJ SEIU.
That would be the case in the face of a lawsuit, filed in August by the Building Owners and Managers Association of Pittsburgh, which is challenging a municipality’s authority to impose such requirements on private businesses.
“We’re expecting the city will move forward with enforcement of the law even while they’re in court defending it,” Mr. Williamson said.
Noticeably absent from the new contract was U.S. Security Associates, a security provider primarily to the University of Pittsburgh that began negotiations but has not signed on to the final deal, union officials said.
The company, based near Atlanta, has been the subject of recent worker rallies on campus, most recently on Sept. 25 calling on the school to drop the contractor if it does not agree to the contract. The union is continuing talks with the company, which has about 250 employees in Pittsburgh, Mr. Williamson said.
“To date, they have not been willing to agree to the same terms and conditions as the other nine contractors,” Mr. Williamson said. “We would expect that the fight will escalate if we don’t reach an agreement in the near future.”
Calls to the company were not returned Wednesday. A spokesman at the University of Pittsburgh declined to comment on issues related to the contract.
The SEIU portrayed the security guard contract as critical in the broader fight to raise the minimum wage and bring service sector employees into better-paying jobs, particularly as the commercial real estate market booms and building vacancy rates hit their lowest levels in years.
Separately, the 32BJ SEIU last month began negotiations with major building owners in the Pittsburgh area for a new contract for building janitors, whose contract expires Oct. 31.
At the news conference Wednesday, the Rev. Rodney Lyde of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Action Network said the deal “signals the fruit of good faith.”
“This should go down in the annals of history. This is something we should note in records. This should be something we tell our children and grandchildren,” Rev. Lyde said. “It sets a standard for all of the industries in this city … Businesses can make profits and take care of the men and women that keep their businesses going.”
Daniel Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2743 or on Twitter @PGdanielmoore.
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