Wednesday, August 6, 2008

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Workers echoing the call

By The Rev. Alan Joplin

Forty years ago today, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead in Memphis, where he was fighting alongside trash collectors who were trying to improve their working conditions, wages and benefits through unionization. All of the trash collectors were black.

Today, similar struggles continue.

It is sad to see a new group of black workers who must fight against the odds to win their rights and a voice on the job.

In Philadelphia in 2008, AlliedBarton, a contract security personnel company and among the largest employers of African American workers in Philadelphia, uses economic tactics to disenfranchise its workers.

Private security has been a booming industry since the attacks of 9/11. Thousands of workers in Philadelphia are private security guards; 97 percent of them are black. AlliedBarton, which has a virtual monopoly in Philadelphia security, is making money while paying an average of $9.80 - not a livable wage.

The Philadelphia Officers and Workers Rising (POWR), a project of the national campaign for workers’ rights called Jobs with Justice, seeks to win for the guards in Philadelphia an equitable, livable wage and representation by the Philadelphia Security Officers Union.

POWR’s demand is that AlliedBarton voluntarily recognize the union. It is asking the Art Museum, the Kimmel Center and Temple University - all big clients of AlliedBarton - to demand that recognition.

POWR has successfully brought together workers, people of faith and college students and has already won paid sick leave for some security guards and a wage increase for others at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University. These benefits will equal more than $2 million in wages that will flow right back to the city through commerce and taxes.

POWR’s call to action on behalf of the security guards is "It Is More Than Just a Dream," referencing King.

In 1968, King and the trash collectors marched through the streets of Memphis to garner support for their cause. On Sunday, local clergy, security guards and activists will march to make their voices heard, echoing King:

"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar . . . . It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

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