State and local officials and labor leaders appeared before a full house at City Council today to support a resolution introduced by Councilman Jim Kenney authorizing hearings looking into the right of Philadelphia private security officers to join labor unions.
"We have a problem in Philadelphia," said Centre Square security guard Verell Rhyne. "Private security officers provide the essential services of keeping the city's people and properties
safe, yet most of us work for low pay and receive few, if any benefits."
He spoke of his own struggles working in the industry. "I work a full time job, yet I'm living on the brink of poverty," he said. "It's embarrassing to live paycheck to paycheck. ... Every day I come to work, have a nice uniform and stand in a beautiful building, but when I get off work on way home, the bus is so packed i have to stand – my paycheck is so low I can't afford a vehicle."
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"When i was growing up, you could graduate and get a good job in manufacturing," recounted Congressman Bob Brady, who appeared in support of what he called the "first step in rebuilding Philadelphia's middle class."
"Today, those jobs have all but disappeared," he said, noting the skyrocketing service sector has more than doubled in the past four years and is expected to continue to grow by over 12 percent in the next four years. He said that of the approximately 3,000 private security officers in Philadelphia, 79 percent are African American, a demographic that is disproportionately affected by poverty and unemployment.
"Our goal is twofold: one is to organize an industry that has had
rampant abuse, as far as we're concerned, with the workers, but also to
improve communities they bring home money to," said 32BJ Mid-Atlantic Director Wayne MacManiman.
He said that the city
would benefit from increased spending in neighborhoods, as well as from an influx in wage taxes. Brady put that figure at $20 million in increased economic activity in Philadelphia over the next decade.
"The world has changed in the last 11 years since the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and the need for highly qualified security officers is permanent," City Controller Alan Butkovitz said.
He pointed to a survey that found the 2011 median hourly rate for private security officers was $10 an hour, or a little over $20,000 per year – far below the average wages paid to hairdressers, customer service representatives and maintenance workers. The poverty rate for a family of four is $23,050 per year.
"It's time for us to recognize a private security officer is more than a job, it's a trained profession," he said, adding that improvements to wages and benefits would reduce worker turnover and ensure adequate staffing levels, rigorous training and proper equipment.
"Some of the locations that these security officers secure, we talk about
the commercial office district, it's some of the most expensive real estate in Philadelphia," MacManiman said. He and others said that, in contrast, security officers often live in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods.
"Half of the victory has already been won: We got contract workers to recognize us. The tough part is to negotiate a contract," he said. "We're dealing with some of the richest companies, not just in this country, but in the world."