Dem presidential hopeful Harris urges union for Detroit security officers

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Marty Woods, a SEIU Local 1 janitor, escorts Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris to the SEIU Local 1 rally in Hart Plaza Wednesday.

Detroit — Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris stood Wednesday with Bedrock security officers in Hart Plaza demanding union rights in a "city that was built by workers."

The non-union officers are contracted through SecurAmerica and work to protect downtown Detroit’s Bedrock properties including One Campus Martius, One Woodward and First National.

Harris, a U.S. senator from California, headlined an event organized by the Service Employees International Union along Unite Here that brought local janitors, casino worker and other elected officials under the arch sculpture, the Michigan Labor Legacy Landmark. They called for a security officer's union and affordable health care.

"Let us allow these workers to unionize, let them collectively bargain," Harris said. "... I stand in solidarity with those representing the voice of working people of America and America must stand with you."

The issue is basic, she said. 

"It is unions that brought us to the eight-hour workday. Organized labor brought the five-day workweek. It is organized labor that gives all of us sick leave and vacation time..." Harris said at the event that followed a presidential candidates forum at the NAACP convention.

"Workers should never be made to fight for their case alone against such powerful interest. They should be able to organize and stand together collectively as a collective talking about their shared experience and their need to work in a safe work space."

Group members marched to the First National building and delivered a petition calling for better work practices. Workers chanted "SecurAmerica you can't hide, we see your greedy side," and held signs reading, "Support officers who protect you" in a fight, they're calling One Detroit. 

SecurAmerica officials say SEIU has been attempting to unionize SecurAmerica's workforce over the past year, but federal labor law bars the SEIU from having a National Labor Relations Board union election to represent security guards.

"SecurAmerica is proud to have recently provided all downtown Detroit employees with a base pay of $15 per hour, which will ensure we can continue to retain and attract a talented workforce while rewarding our security professionals for the tremendous contributions they make to keep downtown Detroit residents and visitors safe," said Ron Hall, SecurAmerica's vice president of human relations.

"The vast majority of our security officers in downtown Detroit enjoy the direct relationship they have with our management and they have no interest in being represented by any third party," Hall said in a statement.

Harris said it is a common right for working benefits to include meaningful health care, security uniforms that are affordable and a living wage. 

"These are folks who go to work every day doing a service for the rest of us," she said. "Let us recognize... the service that they are providing is a valuable service and they have a right to go to work every day knowing that they will be in a safe working environment, that they have the benefits, that they can meaningfully take care of their family and that the dignity of work is honored by their employer."

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris speaks at a SEIU Local 1 rally in Hart Plaza in Detroit Wednesday.

Harris did not comment if she agreed with Democratic U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit that minimum wage should be $20 an hour, not $15. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, while the Michigan floor wage is $9.45.

The group called out big businesses like Bedrock, which is part of Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert's family of companies. It said the wealth needs to be shared throughout Detroit’s neighborhoods they feel have been left behind during downtown’s resurgence.

Marty Woods, a lifelong Detroiter and security officer for the past five years, led the crowd saying they are just fighting for a better future. 

"Security officers secure billion-dollar buildings with no protection," he said. "We need companies like Bedrock to be a role model for other big businesses."

Workers are now paid $15 an hour, but some still argue the company needs to bargain for employee benefits with a union.

Delores McDaniel, who has been a Bedrock security officer for two years, said she was surprised to learn that the workers aren't represented by a union. 

"We're constantly cursed out in dangerous situations and you wake up every day never knowing what you're going to get while you're protecting these buildings," said McDaniel, 41.

Detroit City Council member Janeé Ayers and Wayne County Commissioner Alisha Bell stood beside the workers saying city workers will be supported.

"We fought and we got to $15, but we haven't gotten to the union," Ayers said. "It's important because at any time that employer can take that $15 back and when they do that... it means we go back to mediocrity. It means we go back to not having a rising tie for everybody. It means that they see human beings in Detroit as dispensable and we are not.