PHILADELPHIA — The City of Brotherly Love witnessed two rallies Sept. 5 that highlighted the challenges workers face when trying to organize in today’s apparently complex, but in fact brutally simple, anti-union environment.

The security guards at Temple University held a march and rally on the campus that which drew over 100 supporters from Jobs with Justice, student groups, clergy members and local unions. The guards’ demand was simple: they want five paid sick days a year.

The guards face many challenges: they face special legal obstacles to organizing and, while they do have an organizing committee, they don’t have bargaining rights. They don’t even work for Temple. Their employer, Allied Barton Security, employs some 16,000 guards in Philadelphia and has a contract with Temple where about 250 of the guards work.

The security guards at Temple are predominantly African American.

After a spirited rally at the bell tower in the center of campus, the guards and their supporters marched the short distance to the university president’s office, where a support committee of clergy members and Jobs with Justice leaders attempted to enter the building with a petition and a letter urging the administration to talk to the guards’ representatives and agree to the demand for sick days.

Though unsuccessful on this day, the crowd, the leaders and the guards vowed to continue the fight for fair treatment.

Among the speakers at the Temple rally was Ron Blount, president of the Taxi Workers Alliance. He said he could not stay long because he had another rally to attend.

Later that day, across town in West Philadelphia, the Taxi Workers Alliance, in the midst of a 24-hour strike in coordination with New York City cab drivers, also held a rally. The issues here were the demands and onerous conditions being imposed on the drivers by the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA).

The PPA regulates, but does not own, taxicabs. The drivers say the PPA treats them like employees when it comes to establishing conditions, regulations and imposing fines. On the other hand, when it comes to footing the bill for meeting the PPA conditions, the authority then says that the drivers are independent contractors.

Some of the 1,600 drivers own their own cabs; others work for an owner of a fleet of perhaps 100 cabs. The drivers say that either way, they bear the cost of installing and maintaining expensive GPS technology, which does not always work and sometimes causes them to lose work time.

The drivers also pay the price of having to accept credit card payments, which means waiting for payment or in some cases not receiving payment at all. As driver Steve Chernenka told the rally, “If they [the PPA] want to make the business decisions, they should treat us like employees and guarantee our pay and benefits, which they don’t.”

The taxi drivers include many immigrants, many of whom have resided for years in the U.S. and are now citizens. At the rally, this reporter spoke to drivers from Ghana, Eritrea, Bangladesh and Poland, all of whom passionately described their grievances.

The drivers heard words of encouragement and solidarity from security guard activist Thomas Robinson, who had just come from the Temple rally and who told the drivers, “Solidarity does not rest. We will continue this fight until we get justice and fair treatment.”

Coming, as they did, two days after the huge Labor Day parade packed Delaware Avenue along the city’s waterfront — a parade showing labor’s numbers and potential power — these two actions provided a stark reminder of the organizing challenges many workers face here and elsewhere.

bikerbenn @aol.com

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