Wednesday, August 6, 2008

DAILY PENNSYLVANIAN: Gabriel Oppenheim | You've got mail - and you just lost healthcare

AlliedBarton's full-time and part-time work policies scam guards out o their benefits

By Gabriel Oppenheim, 2/20/08

It's Valentine's season. If you're lucky, you've received a letter from a lover, finding out someone cares.

If you're an AlliedBarton guard, you might have received a letter saying no one cares. And that you no longer have health insurance.

Here's a beautiful message one guard (who requested anonymity because Allied forbids media contact) received in early February: "Our records indicate that you have not consistently maintained full-time status; as a result, you have lost eligibility for Health and Welfare Benefits through AlliedBarton. Please be advised that your health benefits will end as of February 29, 2008."

Awww, how sweet. And unexpected. But why, you might ask, did Allied feel the need to write this employee and express its emotion?

Well, the company has a sneaky rule regarding "full-time status" that appears on page 26 of its Security Officer Handbook. "You will be classified as full-time," it says, "if you work at least an average of 35 hours a week as measured over a three-month period. Otherwise, you will be classified as 'part-time.'"

This rule makes sense on the surface, but it obscures Allied's quintessential employee catch-22: The guards do not determine how many hours they work. That is to say, Allied hires guards for full-time duty and then assigns them to specific locations for specific periods.

If the company assigns 35 hours in the week, that's how many the guard will work.

But if it suddenly assigns less than that, the guard will have no choice but to work fewer hours than needed for benefits - even though he was hired to be full-time in the first place.

And lest you think Allied can't simply cut benefits, the handbook says "The Company reserves the right to change, modify or eliminate compensation and benefit programs without notice." Thus, a guard with more than a decade of work (as the subject of our story has) can open the mail today and find he can no longer afford his medications.

Of course, Allied has a stated procedure for guards to procure more hours, as its breakup letter states: "Talk to your Account Manager about your schedule." And spokesman Alan Stein told me in an e-mail that Allied does "not engage in efforts to compel officers to lose their benefits once they are enrolled. We have sufficient work available for employees looking for additional hours, and our managers make every effort to schedule employees accordingly."

But this jilted guard had already spoken to the manager and didn't receive any help. Not that the guard expected any.

Allied has shown time and again that it cares less for its employees than it does for its reputation. And Penn hasn't helped. When Allied suspended and transferred five guards leading the unionization effort two years ago, Penn didn't call for their return until the press got involved. When Allied conducted roll call in a garbage dump, Penn didn't call for a new location until the DP did.

And when Allied refused to pay sick leave for its guards last year, Penn didn't pick up the slack until students protested.

Not that Penn should shoulder another corporation's workers, especially in this age of costly benefits. But if the University would just stand up for guards' rights - instead of being downright indifferent to their working conditions and unionization efforts - it wouldn't have to carry Allied's load.

Penn Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli undertook a comprehensive study of guard treatment two years ago and found the company's behavior perfectly acceptable. I'd suggest he revisit the issue now and look at how Allied goes about assigning hours. Who gets what and why? Do managers show preference to certain guards?

Penn simply forwarded my questions to Allied, when its answers could have saved the medical care of a bulwark against crime - and made Valentine's Day just a little bit sweeter.

As for the subject of our story, the guard could work 24 hours a day and it wouldn't change a thing. According to company policy, the guard's benefits can't be restored until July 1, at the earliest.

Gabriel Oppenheim is a College junior from Scarsdale, N.Y. and a former columnist for The Daily Pennsylvanian.

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