Organizing Campaign Kicks Off in Jersey
May 14, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
Across the river in Jersey City on Wednesday, May 9, New Jersey security officers kicked off a major campaign to join SEIU 32BJ, which represents about 500 security officers in the state. But the majority of the 5,000 officers in the state are non-union, many of them earning just above the minimum wage while receiving no pay increases. With the kickoff campaign, the union hopes to organize and raise their standards.
In New York City, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, SEIU 32BJ changed lives and transformed whole communities with its security organizing initiatives. The union made history when it helped professionalize the jobs of thousands of security officers and, with union contracts, won better training, wages and benefits, including employer-paid sick days and vacations. The organizing effort added dignity and professionalism to long disrespected jobs.
SEIU 32BJ believes better training and better compensation, including better benefits, lead to more stable workforces. The union is working with security officers, property owners’ security firms, and the public to raise standards for training, wages and benefits across the private security industry in multiple states on the East Coast.
SEIU 32BJ, with 15,000 current members who are private security officers, is still organizing and expecting to grow to 20,000 before the year is out. As part of this organizing initiative, SEIU 32BJ recently won recognition to bring 3,000 private security officers in Philadelphia into the union.
As one of the largest union organizing campaigns in the African-American community since the Pullman Porters in the 1920s, SEIU 32BJ’s security campaign has the potential to lift tens of thousands of African-Americans, and others from communities of color, out of poverty.
In an interview with LaborPress, Kevin Brown, Area Director for 32BJ in New Jersey, said that security officers are having a difficult time. “They’re earning only $8 or $9 an hour without health care or retiree benefits, no paid sick days and only one week’s worth of vacation time.”
Because the pay is very low, there’s a high turnover rate in the industry, as expected. Brown said that the campaign is also about making sure the “industry is an industry where our folks can keep their jobs.”
He added, “We have a saying in our union—Good Jobs, Strong Communities. A $10 an hour job with no benefits is not a good job.”
The event was held at the Grace Van Vorst Church on Erie Street where many of the 1,350 Jersey City security officers the union is trying to organize attend services.
The importance of holding the event at the church, Brown noted, is “this is as much an effort for the community to win good jobs, as it is for the union. The community needs these security officers to be making more money so that they can spend it in their communities to strengthen them.”
Mark Reeves, a security officer for 10 years, says he likes working as a security officer but would like it even better if he could earn more money. His economic dilemma is not uncommon among many other security officers.
He’s been working for a private security company in Jersey City for two years, earning $9.50 an hour but hasn’t seen a wage increase since he started.
“I don’t earn enough to afford a car. For the past year, I’ve been living in a boarding house in Bayonne and I have to get my food at soup kitchens,” said Reeves.
If he and his fellow security officers win 32BJ recognition and subsequent wage increases, Reeves said the first thing he’ll do is rent an apartment in Jersey City.
“I work with five other guys at my site and two of them are living with their parents because they don’t make enough, while another friend has to work two jobs five, sometimes six, days a week to make ends meet.”
Also at the event were two organizers who completed an organizing brigade training back in March. Brandon Glover, who works a security officer in the City and has been a 32BJ member for one year, said he wasn’t sure what to expect after the training, but after he went into the field to organize he realized quickly that non-union security officers need better wages and retiree and health benefits.
Angel Ortiz, a 19-year 32BJ veteran, said he was struck by the fear of the non-union security officers, who don’t like working under their existing conditions but are very afraid of losing their jobs.
“I met one worker during the organizing drive who’s been working two jobs for seven years. I hope she makes it tonight. But she and so many others we met are really scared. But we told them if you make it here tonight, you’ll see that 32BJ has your back.”
Ortiz also noted that it’s heartbreaking to see how scared they are because “a lot of these workers are working just to get by.”
Glover said he met a worker who used to have a good-paying job as a corrections officer, but was laid off when the facility closed.
“He’s working now as a security officer making about half of what he used to make as a corrections officer. He had to move to the second floor of his own house in order to rent the larger-size first floor to help him pay off his mortgage,” said Glover.
Both Ortiz and Glover said they were hoping many of the non-union workers they met during the organizing drive would show up at the event. They even offered to drive them to the church.
“We understand their fear, but we’ve told them that if they get involved in the campaign, they stand the chance to make enough money working one job rather than two,” said Ortiz. firstname.lastname@example.org