Security officers organizing in Oakland, Berkeley

OAKLAND, Calif. — As part of a nationwide campaign by the Service Employees union to organize security guards, workers at ABC Security Services are in the midst of a drive to win justice on the job and recognition for their union, SEIU Local 24/7.

While ABC workers, largely African American and recent immigrants, prepared for candlelight vigils before May 16 City Council meetings in Oakland and Berkeley, Local 24/7 lead organizer Emily Heath said the union will urge the council to put its security contract — presently with ABC — out to bid. ABC provides services to the Oakland city government and the Port of Oakland, as well as to private firms.

Heath said the vigil is part of an educational effort to make sure the public and the city councils know about the problems at the security firm. The union says last year ABC was found to be out of compliance with Oakland’s living wage ordinance. Heath said the union and a number of the workers have filed charges with the federal and state governments, and the National Labor Relations Board, over a range of violations.

A resolution of support for the workers’ organizing effort is before the Berkeley City Council, Heath added.

Supporting the workers is the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE) and its Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, which point out that the workers who protect some of the most important government offices and largest corporations are paid poverty wages, cannot afford health care, receive inadequate training and have few opportunities for job advancement.

“These are folks who provide security for us on a daily basis, and yet they themselves and their families lack security — job security, economic and health security,” said EBASE organizer Brooke Anderson. “As a faith community, we felt it was important to take a stand with these workers.”

Local 24/7 already has about 5,000 members working for 10 private security firms in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. “Among national companies with prestigious accounts, ABC Security is a holdout — that’s why they are specially important to us,” said Heath.

Nationwide, SEIU is working to organize some 200,000 private security officers in what it calls “the largest organizing effort of a predominantly African American workforce in history.” Other cities include Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, Seattle and Minneapolis-St. Paul.