11 September 2007 by Andrew Thompson
Student and labor activists descended upon Sullivan Hall last Wednesday, picket signs and petitions in hand. They were there as advocates for employees of AlliedBarton, demanding that the security contractor grant them five paid sick days a year.
The event marked a departure from the groups’ former aim to fully unionize the security guards. Instead, organizers have shifted their tactics to gaining concessions bit by bit after the Service Employees International Union pulled its representatives off Temple’s campus last year.
“We’re hoping to win small victories to show the guards at Temple campus that they don’t necessarily need a union to win certain things,” said John Prisk, a junior construction engineering major and a member of Temple’s Student Labor Action Project, which is the student affiliate of the grassroots group, Jobs with Justice, the organizer of the rally.
The demonstration, which began at the Bell Tower, culminated outside a locked Sullivan Hall where a 400-signature petition was handed to Director of Communications Ray Betzner, who promised to deliver it to President Hart.
In an e-mailed statement, Betzner asserted that the university is as neutral on the issue today as when it arose three years ago during former President David Adamany’s tenure.
“It is our policy not to intervene into the employer-employee relationship at companies that do business on our campus,” the statement said.
“This university likes to pride itself as an asset to the community,” said Eduardo Soriano, a field organizer for Jobs with Justice. “We never hear them talking about the guards who live right here in the neighborhoods.”
Ultimately, Jobs with Justice hopes to form a “non-majority union” - a group of independently organized employees that doesn’t require approval from the National Labor Relations Board. The collective wouldn’t hold bargaining power as groups like the SEIU, but it would still maintain some ability to negotiate and strike.
But amid the shouts and speeches last week, one group was noticeably absent: the guards themselves.
AlliedBarton employees at Temple declined to be interviewed or confirm whether or not they are given any sick days. One employee said she was “not supposed to talk about that.” AlliedBarton spokesman Larry Rubin also refused to confirm whether or not Temple employees are given any sick days, saying only in an e-mailed statement that their “wages and benefits are among the best in the security industry.”The company quietly admonishes its employees that “it’s not smart” to get involved in the campaign, said Thomas Robinson, an AlliedBarton employee of four years at the University of Pennsylvania and the only guard to appear at the rally.
“A lot of the guards say, ‘I support it, but I’m not willing to put my name out there so they can point the finger at me,’” he said.
The recent departure of SEIU representatives from Temple and Penn campuses, combined with years of fruitless efforts to organize and improve wages and benefits, has created a feeling of disillusionment among the guards and helps explain their absence, Soriano said.
While student outcry has prompted the Penn administration to become involved, Temple students’ letter campaigns
and rallies have been repeatedly met with statements of neutrality.
In April, AlliedBarton gave its Penn workers one sick day per year of employment after the company discussed the issue with the university.
“We’ve learned that if you really have students participate and vocalize, the Penn administration will listen,” said Paul Pennington, acting-president of Penn’s chapter of SLAP.Attempts to fully unionize the guards, such as happened in the past, have been abandoned since the SEIU aborted its efforts to organize AlliedBarton employees in Philadelphia last year. Jobs with Justice claims a deal was made that would allow the SEIU increased ability to organize the King of Prussia, Pa.-based AlliedBarton in other parts of the country if it stopped organizing in Philadelphia.
Jeff Hornstein, organizing coordinator for the SEIU affiliate that formerly dealt with Philadelphia AlliedBarton
workers, would not detail what transpired with Allied, but acknowledged that “International [SEIU] has an agreement with Allied.” AlliedBarton spokesman Rubin said he had no comment on the deal.AlliedBarton is the largest American-owned company offering security services in the U.S. with more than 50,000 employees and 100 offices, according to its Web site.
Andrew Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.