Tuesday, August 18, 2009


When the security officers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art rallied against a recent roll back of their $.25 per hour raise, they could have never guessed that there modest cause could become an example of a nation-wide debate over the Employee Free Choice Act.

That is just what happened after an article by Sarah Jaffe appeared this week on the web-site of The Nation Magazine.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a recognizable icon even to those who have never set foot in the city. Immortalized in the movie Rocky, when a sweatsuit-clad Sylvester Stallone bounded up the stairs while training for his big fight, the museum became a symbol of the working-class tenacity that Philadelphians are known for.

On September 6, those steps will host a different kind of blue-collar battle: the museum security guards will be holding a rally in support of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and their right to form a union.

The security guards began organizing in 2007 in hopes of joining a labor union with the help of local workers' rights group, Jobs with Justice. After they began their organizing drive the activists were soon surprised to find out that they had few options in the union world.

“Guards have special circumstances under the law. There are almost no unions that can organize security officers because of Section 9B3 of the National Labor Relation Act,” says Fabricio Rodriguez of Jobs with Justice.

As the article points out, this section of the National Labor Relations Act, the national law which governs how unions are formed, prevents security guards from join unions that have any other type of workers besides security guards through a Labor Board supervised election.

After meeting with many different unions, the security officers found no groups that could take them and no security guard-only unions who were willing to help. Last year, they decided to try their hand at forming their own union. A group of security officers from the museum began signing up their co-workers on Philadelphia Security Officers Union sign-up cards. They have signed up a majority of the employees that work for the main security firm on the property, AlliedBarton. The workers now want majority sign-up union recognition. This is one provision that labor unions want included in the hotly debated Employee Free Choice Act that is expected to come up for a vote in Congress later this year.

“We knew that this would not be enough, especially if the company began using illegal tactics again,” says Thomas Robinson a long time activist and AllieBarton security guard.

Thomas and four of his colleagues were illegally suspended in 2006 for organizing at the University of Pennsylvania. Three of the five workers were returned to their posts at the university after students protested their suspensions.

“It is hard enough if you have an established labor union supporting you. We simply want to exercise our rights, but we know that without labor lawyers to make sure that our rights aren’t violated, it will be very hard,” says Jennifer Collazo, a security guard who is one of the organizers at the museum.

The union says that they will continue to try to improve benefits and wages, which only go as high as $18,000 for the average guard, even if winning a union against a big corporation seems out of reach. They hope that the arrival of the new director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Timothy Rub, will prompt work place improvements.

“This is why we need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. Labor law reform isn’t about protecting so-called “special interests,” it’s about protecting you and your neighbors, normal working folks,” says Juanita Love, a security officer for another security company at the museum.

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