Security workers rally for better pay, treatment

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Contract security workers for buildings across the city’s downtown rallied Wednesday for better treatment, training and wages.

The officers gathered outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center alongside members of Service Employees International Union Local 1 for a news conference announcing plans to organize to seek improved standards from the contractors who employ them.

The rally was part of SEIU’s nationwide campaign to join with security workers in the fight for better working conditions. SEIU has already organized groups in Columbus, Chicago and Indianapolis and is working to do so in Milwaukee, said Kathleen Policy, a union representative.

For Detroit, about 300 to 400 security workers contracted by various firms for several buildings downtown, including DTE Energy and the Detroit Medical Center, are signing up to organize with the SEIU local, said the union’s Detroit coordinator, Vas Jacobs.

“They are the first responders and they need better working conditions. We’re trying to get better standards for them. They need better pay, better training and a voice on the job,” he said. “We want to see these changes for these workers. As Detroit is coming back and turning that corner, we need to make sure these neighborhood jobs, like security, also get enhanced and get better working conditions for those workers.”

Workers taking part Wednesday are employed by various contractors, including Advanced Security/USSA, which the SEIU contends has been an “irresponsible” contractor that they have been trying to work with. A representative for Georgia-headquartered U.S. Security Associates could not be immediately reached Wednesday, nor could an official with the Southfield-based Advanced Security offices.

Close to 100 union members, security staff and several Detroit City Council members gathered for the brief rally in front of the Spirit of Detroit statue on Woodward Avenue. The group played music and blew whistles, while some chanted “if we don’t get it, shut it down” and “no justice, no peace.” Others carried signs that read, “Good Jobs Safe Detroit.”

Pamela Burris, who has worked for 18 years as a security officer at the DMC, was among those to speak at the rally. Burris said she and colleagues deserve more compensation, better benefits and additional training.

“If you work for a living, you should be able to make a living. I am joining my fellow security officers because I want to be able to live comfortably. I want to be able to pay my bills. I want to be able to take sick leave if I need it. I want to be able to take a vacation. These are things I cannot do,” Burris told the crowd. “It is time that security officers receive the pay and respect that they deserve. As our city’s first responders, it is time we join together for a better life.”

Added Bobby Patterson, another DMC security worker: “We know that security officers are our city’s first responders and work tirelessly and at risk to themselves to keep buildings safe and secure, often for low wages. This is absolutely unacceptable.”

Councilwoman Mary Sheffield joined the rally along with council members Janee Ayers and Andre Spivey. Sheffield noted that the security workers often do their jobs without the same training and protections sworn police officers have.

“Without union protection, often times security officers are not required and may not have some of the same tools and training for you all to do your job efficiently and effectively. Sometimes you are undervalued and you’re underserved,” Sheffield said. “All of this weakens our local economy and it threatens our public safety.”