Keystone State News Connection

April 2, 2015Available files: mp3 wav jpg

PGH Security Guards to Get First Union Contracts

Dan Heyman

HARRISBURG, Pa. - About a thousand Pittsburgh security guards expect to have their first union contracts sometime this month. That after a successful nine-month organizing drive by the Service Employees International Union.

Sam Williamson, the western Pennsylvania-area leader with SEIU 32 BJ, says they've been organizing at the ten or so companies that provide security for most of the major downtown buildings.

He says over time they hope to move the guards from an average of about $9 an hour closer to $15. Which Williamson says could be a step towards easing the poverty that law wages have caused to be present in many parts of town.

"The enormous effects in neighborhoods all across Pittsburgh," says Williamson. "These are 1,000 workers who, we now have an opportunity, over time, to move them from poverty wages to middle-class wages, and build up our city."

Williamson says a big portion of Pittsburgh jobs actually don't pay enough to live on. He says as a result a third of city residents live in poverty.

Some companies have criticized the union for trying to come between them and their employees. One firm, Black Knight Security, has fought the organizing campaign in the press and by telling employees they don't need a union contract. Williamson says that's pretty ironic.

"When the workers look at their paychecks and see the $9-an-hour wages that they're being told they should be so happy for, so lucky to receive, they know they can't pay their bills," he says. "You should not have to live in poverty in order to work for Black Knight."

Williamson says organizing the security guards will help create a more stable, professional workforce. He says it will mean better training and benefits - a real improvement for them and for the public, over the way the employees are currently devalued.

"We've got huge corporations employing people for poverty wages, and expecting them to do incredibly important work to keep those buildings safe and secure, protect the people in them," says Williamson.