PORTLAND, Ore. - Four enormous national and global security companies have agreed to recognize the Service Employees International Union -- and begin negotiating a union contract -- for about 500 Portland-area security guards.
Securitas, ABM, G4S (Wackenhut), and AlliedBarton will begin bargaining jointly with SEIU Local 49 in late August, though it's not yet known whether that will result in individual contracts or an area master agreement.
The Portland agreement is the second breakthrough in a month for SEIU's Stand for Security drive to organize security guards nationwide. The other, covering 2,500 security guards, was in Philadelphia. Bargaining has opened there, too.
The recognition and bargaining could prove a triumph for security guards, if the result is sizable wage and benefit increases. The median wage is $11 an hour for Portland-area security guards, says Local 49 property services organizing director Will Layng, and benefits are minimal: An annual one-week bonus, but no paid sick days, no paid vacation, and inadequate or unaffordable health insurance.
Michael Zak, 50, said he can't afford health insurance on the $10 an hour he earns after three years at ABM. A 17-year Oregon Army National Guard veteran, he has access to the Veterans Administration hospital, but his wife does not. "Health insurance for me and my wife would be $460," Zak said. "I have to make a decision: Do I pay medical or rent?"
"There are huge global corporations in this field, and they compete with each other to drive down wages and benefits," Layng said. But an agreement with SEIU could take wages out of competition and allow the companies to compete on service and other considerations.
Stand for Security is modeled on the union's Justice for Janitors campaign. In the Portland area, Local 49 has been working to organize security guards for about two years, with moral support from several religious leaders and Oregon Representative Jeff Barker (D), former president of the Portland Police Association.
Thus, the union was ready to go once the companies agreed to "card check," in which they recognize the union once a neutral party verifies that a majority of workers have signed authorization cards. The card checks took place in July for all four companies. ABM, with 107 Portland-area employees, was the last of the four companies to do so, with a card check that took place July 31.
Don McIntosh is the associate editor of the Northwest Labor Press.