By Alejandro Lazo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 14, 2008
Four private security contractors have reached an agreement with a union to raise wages and provide benefits to about 1,500 security guards working in the District's office buildings.
The agreement, signed last week by the Service Employees International Union and Admiral Security, AlliedBarton, Guardsmark and Securitas, is the first union contract for private security guards working in commercial buildings in the District.
The agreement is part of a national campaign by the SEIU to organize security guards. The deal covers about three-quarters of the District's office building security guard workforce, the union said.
The security guards will earn at least $12.40 per hour or receive a raise of at least 50 cents per hour, whichever is more. The final contracts went into effect Wednesday.
"It means they are starting to respect the security guards," said Raquel Mack, 21, of Northeast Washington, who began working for AlliedBarton two years ago while attending the University of the District of Columbia. "We are the first line of defense if anything happens downtown. We have to protect most of the people and their property."
The companies agreed to pay for health insurance for all full-time workers. Part-time officers will not get health insurance, but they and their families will receive employer-paid benefits such as prescription drugs, dental care, vision care and life insurance.
"We are very excited," said Valarie Long, vice president of SEIU Local 32BJ. "There are about 1,500 workers whose lives are going to improve, at least economically."
The agreement caps a four-year organizing effort by Local 32BJ, which represents more than 100,000 workers in six states.
The SEIU has about 10,000 workers in the Washington area.
The union worked with the D.C. Council last year to pass the Enhanced Professional Security Amendment Act, which sets the minimum wage for security workers at $11.51 per hour and benefits at $3.16 per hour. The law went into effect Wednesday, the same day as the contract, and gave the union extra leverage in its negotiations.
"By requiring fair wages, we are taking an important step to address our City's staggering poverty rate," council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), the lead sponsor of the act, said in a statement.
AlliedBarton said in a statement that it was "pleased" to have reached the agreement.
Todd Carroll, a senior vice president with Admiral Security Services, said, "I think it is good for the industry. There are a lot of companies that don't give the wages and benefits they should to their officers."
The commercial office buildings where the security officers work include Gallery Place, the Watergate offices, the National Press Building, the National Geographic building and National Public Radio headquarters.