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Twin Cities security officers reach tentative agreement; union claims win

  • Article by: Justin Miller and Mike Hughlett
  • Star Tribune
  • March 1, 2013 - 7:57 PM

After a one-day strike Wednesday and weeks of stalemated contract negotiations, the union representing 2,000 Twin Cities security guards said Friday that it had reached a tentative contract agreement.

A ratification vote will take place Saturday, which, if affirmed, will signal the end to contract disputes that affected unionized security guards and janitors since their agreements expired at the end of 2012. Service Employees International Union Local 26 said it came to the agreement late Thursday with six security contractors that employ guards in office buildings throughout the metro area. The deal came after the union said it would conduct a one-day strike, which it did on Wednesday.

“We called a one-day strike and in less than 12 hours they were back at the table,” said SEIU Local 26 President Javier Morillo. “None of the bad stuff got in, and we move on for security officers.”

Before the strike, Local 26 had reached an agreement Tuesday with American Security, which primarily covers buildings in St. Paul. According to the union, the agreement reached late Thursday covers G4S, AllliedBarton, Securitas, Viking Security, ABM Security and Whelan.

During negotiations, the spokesmen for the security contractors declined to comment for the group. In a brief statement, G4S said it was able to confirm the tentative agreement with local union representatives for those both downtown and the suburbs. No other security contractors could be reached for comment.

Fred Anthony II, a security officer at Ecolab headquarters in St. Paul, said the guards got what they wanted. “We got a good contract in place that’s going to do a lot for people and those with families can take a little better care with benefits and everything,”

The deal also protects hundreds of full-time security guard jobs from being reclassified to part-time, and includes gains in health care coverage, according to the union. The health care is “most certainly more affordable, especially for families with children,” and is “a definite step forward,” Morillo said.

Local 26 said the new contract is the first to cover 1,000 suburban security officers who unionized just over a year ago. “Downtown officers collectively agreed we could make some concessions to ensure the suburban contract could be as good as it can off the bat,” Anthony, the security guard, said.

“We all do the same job for the same companies; we should all be taken care of the same way,” Anthony said.

The tentative three-year contract calls for a 10 percent wage increase on average. Downtown officers will see incremental raises of 50 cents the first year and 35 cents in the last two years, according to Morillo. Suburban officers will see four raises of 30 cents throughout the contract. Security guards on average currently make $12.30 an hour, according to the union.

The union sees it as a crucial win for their members and sets the groundwork for the future. As opposed to the recent disputes that have put organized labor on the defensive, Morillo said SEIU’s campaign was a main contributor to what they say was a successful end result.

John Budd, an industrial relations expert at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, said the deal is a win for both sides. “If you look at the orchestra workers which have been locked out since fall and the American Crystal Sugar Co. workers who have been locked out for over a year, the janitors and security officers were able to win gains whereas these other sets of workers have been locked out [because they tried] to prevent significant cuts.

“At the same time, we should see it as a victory for the contractors and the major employers. Nobody likes a strike,” said Budd.

The recent strike of nonunion retail janitors, which Morillo said are affiliated with SEIU’s sister organization, is a further indication of a backlash from low-wage workers demanding better compensation and is an area SEIU hopes to expand in the future.

“If you work in the Target headquarters, you’re a union janitor making over $12 an hour. If you work inside a Target store, you’re making $8 an hour,” Morillo said. “We need retail janitors to move ahead with us.”

With the service sector, including retail, making up a growing portion of the economy, it is important for unions to make gains within this sector, Budd said. That’s something he thinks SEIU has done.

Budd believes the SEIU negotiations raised key questions. “Now we have those nonunion janitors who are looking for improved conditions and improved wages,” he said. “Are the protests without being unionized enough to get improvements or is the next step to unionize and negotiate a contract?”

Justin Miller is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune. Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003

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