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Effort to Unionize Guards Gets Lift

August 20, 2003|Nancy Cleeland | Times Staff Writer

A yearlong effort to unionize Los Angeles security guards got a boost Tuesday from a coalition of African American community leaders, including City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and the Rev. Norman Johnson, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of L.A.

Noting that about 80% of the estimated 40,000 private security guards in the county are Latino or African American, coalition members cast the union drive by the Service Employees International Union, Local 1877, as a matter of civil rights as well as safety.

"There is a great need for good jobs in our community," Johnson said at a downtown news conference. "We have been patient. Today, we are patient no longer."

The campaign initially is focused on guards in downtown Los Angeles and Century City. Eventually, the union hopes to win a contract representing guards throughout the region, as is the case in San Francisco, Chicago and New York.

Union supporters directed their criticism at building owners and the trade group that represents them, the Building Owners and Managers Assn. of Greater Los Angeles.

Barbara Harris, the association's executive director, noted that most landlords contract for security with outside firms.

"There has been no suggestion that either the building owners or BOMA will be involved in this situation. Of course, that could change tomorrow," she said.

Representatives of three large security companies did not return calls seeking comment late Tuesday.

Similar arguments over responsibility stymied efforts by the SEIU to organize janitors in Los Angeles. Eventually, the union won a countywide contract that raised wages and granted family health insurance to janitors.

According to the SEIU, starting wages for security guards in Los Angeles are less than $8 an hour with no benefits -- less than what many janitors make. Turnover is high, and many guards receive only one hour of training.

"All they amount to really is window dressing," said Mike Garcia, president of Local 1877.

Three years ago, Garcia's local raised similar concerns when it tried to organize airport security screeners. The warnings took on new meaning after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The union said it had collected pledge cards from 80% of the estimated 1,500 guards in downtown Los Angeles and Century City. Rather than file for a lengthy and possibly acrimonious federal election, the SEIU is asking contractors and building owners to recognize the union based on the cards.

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