Recovery for Whom? Unionized Security Guards Prepare for Strike

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After four hours of negotiations, some 2,000 officers represented by Service Employees International Union Local 26 (SEIU) say negotiations broke down with firms that provide security services for about half of the banks, retailers and office buildings in the Twin Cities, leaving them little choice but to walk off the job.

The strike threat comes after 4,000 union janitors also represented by SEIU reached a tentative contract agreement Friday following 31 hours of negotiations. Both union segments were asking for cost-of-living wage increases, better health care benefits and restoration of cuts in work hours. Janitors will now avoid a strike but are expected to honor union picket lines if security guards strike. Maria Jimenez, a janitor at the IDS building in downtown Minneapolis who attended Sunday’s rally at South High School, said she was happy to have gotten what she feels were better wages and benefits but believes security officers should get the same deal .

“We are saying, the janitors are saying to (the) security officers, we stand with you until we all win,’ ” shouted Javier Morillo, President of SEIU Local 26.

Sunday’s union rally, organized by SEIU and Centro de Trabajadores en Lucha Unidos (CTUL), brought about 300 people together to organize union actions that will take place all week long in the Twin Cities. Five years ago, security officers walked off the job during a one-day strike. Organizers say a similar move likely will be part of the union’s direct actions this week.

The union’s security officers and janitors represent a diverse group of Minnesota workers, including many Somali and Latino immigrants.

Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, an alliance of labor, faith and community organizations, has launched a campaign called “Unlock Our Future” to support the security guards and to address the racial and economic justice issues it says are highlighted by the contract impasse. The alliance said Sunday it will “join with others working to create an economy that works for all to plan for a week of direct action, including marches, rallies, strikes, picketing and press availabilities.”

“The majority of folks doing these jobs are adults that are working sometimes two or three jobs just to be able to support their families because the wages are so low and continue to go down,” said Veronica Mendez of Centro de Trabajadores. “We’re talking about families that are supporting their families here but also people that are sending money back to Mexico to support their parents to be able to support children that they may have there.”

Employers have proposed a new contract for security officers that includes cuts to wages, health benefits and hours. Some employers who have offered benefits for employees working 32 hours a week now want to offer benefits only to employees working 40 hours a week. For security officer Fred Anthony II, that means less family time. He works at Ecolab in downtown St. Paul. He and his wife both work to make ends meet, and he says the union’s demands are simple:

“A good contract that would give us raises every year. One that would cover the cost of living increases. Health care that would cover my family, that we can actually afford. People shouldn’t have to decide (if) they’re going to fill their refrigerators with food, or their tanks with gas.”

Video above: Union leaders talk about the strike
Video below: Union janitor Maria Jimenez celebrates winning a union contract.

Allison Herrera

Allison Herrera, originally from San Luis Obispo, Calif.,  studied media and Spanish at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., where she earned her bachelor s. Since moving to the Twin Cities, she has been a news producer for KFAI Fresh Air Community Radio, communications coordinator for Twin Cities Public Television's arts series MN Original, and producer for the Association of Minnesota Public and Educational Radios Stations for the series MN90: Minnesota History in 90 Seconds.

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