Thursday, October 29, 2009

Local Clergy, Encourage Guards To "Not Grow Weary Of Doing Good," By Voting To Form Union

A few days before the election, three dedicated clergy supporters of our campaign wrote (with the help of Emily Randle) an excellent Op-ed to security guards and to Philadelphians. The letter aimed to encourage guards to vote in favor of their own liberation and also to prompt Philadelphians to support them.

The Op-ed did not get picked up by either of the two daily papers and since the election was held on a Friday and a Saturday, there was no other outlets that made sense.

We did print it and circulate it among guards on site, but most of the public has never seen it. I post it below as an excellent example of how people of faith can support worker struggles...

The Philadelphia Museum of Art sits proudly atop its hill and watches over our city. To the people of Philadelphia and to people around the world, our museum evokes images of beauty, sophistication, community, and history. It is our hope, as clergy members and faith leaders, that in a few days this masterpiece of architecture will take on another symbolic attribute: justice.

On October 9 and 10, the security guards at the Museum will finally have the choice to vote to join the Philadelphia Security Officers Union. In 1992, these once unionized security jobs were privatized and turned into low-waged jobs. The guards have been organizing to form their own, independent, labor union for two and a half years, ever since they held a prayer vigil at Arch Street Methodist Church on April 4, 2007.

From that day on, they have been fighting tirelessly for their rights as workers. They are so close to being able to realize that dream, but they need our encouragement and support. Galatians declares: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

We must remind the guards, that the “proper time” is swiftly approaching, and we are here beside them. May they have faith in their cause, as we have faith in them. Above all, may they find the strength keep moving forward.

It is unsettling that the people who protect our city’s most valuable treasures earn less than poverty-level wages with minimal benefits. Until Labor Day of last year, these guards had no paid sick leave at all. Jobs with Justice stepped in and won them up to three paid days of sick leave.

Even still, to this day more than 60% of the 130 guards are considered ineligible to take advantage of this benefit. In other words, about 70-80 men and women are not allowed to take even one day of sick leave. The lack of paid sick leave is hardest on women, as they tend to be primary care givers. If they miss work, they might loose their job. Needless to say, they are often forced to make an unfair choice between two necessities.

This election is a chance for the guards to take the historic step of forming their own independent, worker-led, labor union. By voting for the union, these guards, our brothers and sisters and neighbors and friends, will be exercising the rights guaranteed to them by the National Labor Relations Act. And when they win, they will have a voice on the job and the opportunity to negotiate workplace improvements with their employer, AlliedBarton, for the first time in nearly two decades.

As Philadelphians, we should all expect workers to be treated well at our Museum. After all, according to their 2006 financial statements, we gave the Museum $5.9 million in taxes. Furthermore, every year the City of Philadelphia waves $171 million in rent, leases, and utilities.

The Gospel of Luke says, “to whom much is given, much shall be expected.” The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the face of our city. May it represent dignity, respect, and justice to all those within and without its walls.

To show the guards that you are beside them, attend our Vote “Yes” Prayer Vigil, Wednesday, October 7, at 5:15 pm on the west entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art or visit their web-site at

Speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

Bishop Dwayne Royster, Living Water United Church of Christ

Reverend Schaunel Steinnagel, Philadelphia Presbytery Hunger Action Enabler

Pastor Jay Broadnax, Mt. Pisgah AME

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Labor Notes: Philadelphia Museum Guards Finally Win Their Own Union

by Warren Davis
October 27, 2009

Seventeen years after security guards at Philadelphia’s Museum of Art lost their union in a Democratic mayor’s privatization spree, they beat long odds in early October and voted in an independent union.

The victory came after a committee of guards organized for years before seeking legal recognition for their union. The success of this unusual “non-majority” union was aided by a tireless Jobs with Justice chapter and the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) at Temple University.

The 68 to 53 win followed weeks of non-stop activity: a spirited rally on the museum steps, a prayer vigil, and pickets by volunteers, who also infiltrated museum events to call attention to the drive.

Museum management claimed to be neutral but allowed the guards’ employer, AlliedBarton, to use textbook union-busting tactics.

Supervisors held mandatory meetings insisting the company’s contract would be cancelled if the union won and that any gains would be wiped out by union dues, and implying that supporters risked firing. The guards turned the meetings into grievance sessions, shouting down the supervisors.

In the final days, JwJ and SLAP activists blitzed workers leaving their shifts, the media responded with favorable accounts of the campaign, and supervisors were hounded out of their own mandatory meetings. On both election days volunteers waited outside every door of the museum to gauge how guards would vote, while others gave workers rides from all over the city to vote.

Nervous supporters and off-duty guards waited by the main worker entrance for the final tally, knowing it would be close.

When the count came down, champagne corks and text messages flew, as victorious guards climbed the museum’s steps, famous from the “Rocky” film, to celebrate.


Organizing among the 130 or so guards started about a decade before the vote. The Service Employees (SEIU) had initiated a campaign to unionize security guards nationwide.

The National Labor Relations Board will certify a union for security guards only if no other types of workers belong to the union, even in other workplaces or other states. But SEIU was hoping to pressure employers into voluntary recognition. The largest security firm, AlliedBarton, was controlled by Philadelphia billionaire Ron Perelman, a huge benefactor of the museum and the University of Pennsylvania.

In a surprise move in September 2006, SEIU agreed not to organize the estimated 10,000 AlliedBarton guards in Philadelphia, in exchange for access to guards elsewhere.

Despite SEIU’s pull-out, AlliedBarton guards at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and the museum continued to organize, creating a non-majority union called Philadelphia Security Officers Union.

PSOU members agitated with fellow members despite their lack of legal recognition, going up against a behemoth employer. “They are battling with a Goliath of the security industry,” said Bishop Dwayne Royster, a longtime supporter.

A joint campaign with Philly JwJ called Philadelphia Officers and Workers Rising (POWR) culminated in 2008, winning one day’s sick leave per year of service, up to three.

Museum guards, however, still weathered daily abuse from supervisors while making $19,000 a year before taxes—without paid leave or affordable health care.

Cecilia Lynch, a guard with AlliedBarton for 10 years, began to ask why they shouldn’t demand more, and why they shouldn’t form their own union.

JwJ organizer Eduardo Soriano-Castillo began to help the guards self-organize on Labor Day 2008. A committee formed and began signing up supporters on union cards, with difficulty.

“When workers are this poor and distressed, basic things like phone numbers and addresses can change anytime,” he said. “And with workers repeatedly moved to different sites, our job is even harder.”


Part of the strategy was to fight for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow the PSOU to be instantly certified when a majority of guards signed up. By this Labor Day it was evident that a legislative solution would not arrive quickly enough.

The committee voted unanimously to file with the NLRB for recognition despite the odds. Members updated cards and reassessed their strength, devising literature to inoculate guards against union-bashing and recruiting help from a law firm, along with dozens of community supporters from labor, faith, and student groups.

The Museum of Art relies on tourist traffic, patrons, and city cash, buildings, and land. Philadelphia JwJ director Fabricio Rodriguez thought pressure from museum members and press coverage could ensure the museum’s neutrality and in turn marginalize AlliedBarton.

Critically, local organizers Daniel Duffy and Dorian Lam signed up. Both unpaid volunteers, Duffy had just left Change to Win, while Lam joined from SEIU1199 Healthcare Pennsylvania. The United Electrical Workers donated the services of organizer Omar El-Malah to manage the final push.

House visits and on-the-job chats helped convince the guards they could win. Community support intensified, politicians announced their backing, and guards could see public attention was focused on them.

Now, after the victory, activist guards like POWR chair Thomas Robinson are thinking the strategy might work elsewhere. “I won’t be satisfied until the entire security industry is unionized,” he said.

After catching a collective breath, museum officer Jennifer Collazo says the core committee knows it will be a challenge to negotiate a contract and structure its leadership without big union support.

“JwJ has been crucial to this victory and will be indispensable going forward,” she said. “We know that with their help we can make our own independent union inclusive and democratic.”

Warren Davis is solidarity co-chair for Philadelphia JwJ.

Labor Education and Research Project © 2005-2009.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Museum Guards Get Their Union

From the Philadelphia Weekly web-site

In a secret ballot election over the weekend, security guards at the Philadelphia Museum of Art voted 68-53 to join the Philadelphia Security Officers Union (PSOU), capping a two-year unionization fight.

Art museum guards approve unionization

From the Inquirer web site...

AlliedBarton security officers who work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art voted in favor of a union, 68 to 55, in an election held Friday and Saturday at the museum, organizers reported this morning.


Workers Regain Collective Bargaining Rights After 17 Years

The two year effort to form an independent labor union for the AlliedBarton security guards at the world famous Philadelphia Museum of Art finally resulted in a victory for the union this weekend. The formerly unionized guards lost their union in 1992 when the jobs were privatized by then Mayor Ed Rendell.

“It is hard for any group of workers to join a union,” says Cecelia Lynch, museum guard and union activist.

“But we knew that it was the only hope that we had to fix the problems that we faced on the job.” Further states Lynch.

It is rare and difficult for a group of workers to form their own union.

The newly formed Philadelphia Security Officers Union (PSOU) was created by guards from around the city and by the community organization Jobs with Justice over a two year period.

“We hope that AlliedBarton will now work with us to agree on a fair contract in a reasonable amount of time.” Says Fabricio Rodriguez, Executive Director of Jobs with Justice.

The union provides some hope to a growing segment of Philadelphia’s workforce, private security guards, which currently lack union representation and have few opportunities to join a union. There are an estimated 10,000 private security guard in the Philadelphia region.

Security guards are prevented from joining most labor unions due to the Section 9 (B) 3 of the National Labor Relations Act.

This clause of the National Labor Relations Act states that security guards must join “security guard only unions,” of which there are few.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Museum Guards Get Support For Organizing

From today's Inquirer by Stephen Salisbury

Security guards seeking to form a union at the Philadelphia Museum of Art have received some outside support from area political figures just days before a vote on the union is scheduled.

The 130 guards are employees of AlliedBarton, a Conshohocken security firm. In addition to providing about 80 percent of the museum's guards, AlliedBarton supplies many large local institutions with much of their manned security.

The Art Museum guards are scheduled to vote tomorrow and Saturday on whether to recognize the Philadelphia Security Officers Union, an independent group, as their collective bargaining unit.

In letters delivered this week, Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Brady wrote each guard to "express my support as a fellow Philadelphian [and] as a lifelong union member."

Brady reminded workers that they have a right to form a union under the National Labor Relations Act.

"Hundreds of Philadelphians have been writing letters and making phone calls to the museum asking them to hear you," Brady continued. "I know that the museum has forwarded all these letters to AlliedBarton. So, your neighbors' voices are being heard."

...More here:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Prayer Vigil For Guards Today at 5

Ministers from three local congregations will gather with security guards and activists at 5:15 pm, Wednesday, October 7, at the West Entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, at the foot of the world famous statue by Jacob Epstein called “Social Consciousness.”

The gathering will be a short prayer vigil to help motivate guards to vote to form their own Philadelphia Security Officers Union at an election to be held in the museum on Friday and Saturday.

The prayer vigil will feature a brief speech by Patrick Eiding, the President of the AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, and prayer offerings by Bishop Dwayne Royster of Living Water United Church of Christ in North Philadelphia and Reverend Jay Broadnax of Mt Pisgah AME in West Philadelphia.

According to Juanita Love, a security officer, “It is scary for guards to walk into that voting booth with your employer sitting there. There have been many threats against voting for the union. We think that the support of our churches will go a long way to giving us the strength and courage that we will need to vote 'yes' for the union and to solve our issues.”

The guards decided to form their own union after they could not find any established unions to help them, and after appeals for wage and benefit improvements failed to prompt their employer, AlliedBarton, or the host client, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to make changes.

Bishop Dwayne Royster has observed: “Galatians tells us: 'Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.'

"We must remind the guards," he continued, "that the 'proper time' is this upcoming Friday and Saturday. They should not be afraid to vote for their union.”

Fabricio Rodriguez, executive director of Jobs with Justice, a community group that is involved in the union effort, has said: “We know that an overwhelming number of the guards want to be a part of this union. Seventy per cent of the officers have told us they support it. Still, many people might be too afraid to vote.”

Friday, October 2, 2009

Historic PSOU election one week away!

"AlliedBarton is telling guards that they aren't against unions in general. They have contracts with unions like SEIU. They say that they are just against the PSOU. Sorry, AlliedBarton. You don't get to pick our union. We do. We are the PSOU!" Donald Lindsay, museum guard

Next week the security guards at the Philadelphia Museum of Art will have the historic chance to form their own, independent, labor union. We are in the final stretch and we can win, but we need to give our volunteer organizers every chance to talk with security guards that have not made up their minds. Help us organize! It is more important now than ever before!

Donate now to get our organizers into the museum and in the community to win the October 9th, 10th election and a good contract. Click here to donate:

The Philadelphia Security Officers Union(PSOU) is dedicated to correcting the injustice that has prevailed at the museum since the security guard jobs were privatized by the city government in 1992.

The PSOU is fighting for family-sustaining wages, affordable quality health care, paid sick leave that doesn't unfairly discriminate against women, better training, fair career opportunities for all guards and not just the favorites of the bosses and respect on the job. The changes that they are fighting for will not cost the museum any money. That's right, the guards will negotiate these improvements from AlliedBarton's $2 million profit!

Thier employer, AlliedBarton is doing every thing in their power to prevent the workers from finally having a voice.

We need your help now to make sure that we can get 100 PSOU and Jobs with Justice security guards into the museum to help organize security guards. You can help by donating the ticket price of museum admission to a JwJ organizer now! Click here: