Security officers stand up for a union

OAKLAND, Calif. — They’re the only workers inside Kaiser health care facilities, whether employed directly or contracted, who are denied the right to form a union. And as hundreds of them demonstrated with a three-day unfair labor practices strike against employer Inter-Con Security at 15 northern California Kaiser facilities May 6-8, security officers are “fed up, won’t take it no more!” Southern California officers joined in a one day action May 8.

Since November 2005, the 1,500 Inter-Con security officers in California have sought to form a union with SEIU. Inter-Con has responded with a barrage of intimidation; as a result the workers have filed many complaints with the National Labor Relations Board over Inter-Con’s spying, threats and retaliation.

Hundreds of security officers rallied in Oakland’s Mosswood Park May 8 before marching around the medical center’s facilities.

As the rally was about to begin, workers from Kaiser’s medical center in Modesto gathered round to tell their stories. “We need unions because there is too much harassment,” said Julia Benavente. “They want us to come to work early without being paid. They make us pay for our uniforms. Our supervisors limit our break time but they take whatever they want. And they don’t let us talk about the union at our work site.”

Sarabjit Kaur told how she had been forbidden to cover her head with a scarf as required by her religion. While she was pregnant with her now 18 month old son, she said, supervisors made her stand for long periods out in the hot summer sun. After transferring to another facility, she is now allowed to cover her head “as a special case.”

Said Petronilo Asiatico, “We want to be professionals. But when I was hired as a new security officer, there was no real training. And when we need advice to handle a special situation, our managers won’t answer our questions.”

Others said they had been forced to work during paid “vacation” time, and highlighted the need for a grievance procedure.

The security officers have strong solidarity from SEIU and other unions. “We have to tell Kaiser that we demand Inter-Con recognize the union. This is about economic justice, this is about raising people out of poverty!” SEIU Local 1021 President Damita Davis-Howard told the rally.

“We support you every step of the way, Alameda Labor Council spokesperson T.C. Wilson told the workers. “You see that the Teamsters, the Operating Engineers haven’t crossed your picket lines. When you mess with one of us, you take us all on.”

SEIU points out that Kaiser security officers organized with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union are paid between $15 and $18 per hour with free family health care and other benefits, while Kaiser’s non-union Inter-Con officers earn as little as $10.40 per hour, have a long wait to get health coverage, and have no other benefits.

The union says thousands of organized security workers in California have won first contracts raising wages and health care benefits by nearly 40 percent.