Armored vehicle operators form union, demand respect

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BROADVIEW, Ill. - "We're tired of being crapped on for years," said a worker at the Garda World Security Company branch here last week. He and his coworkers voted for a new union, the Chicago-based United Armored Transporters of America Oct. 12th with 65 percent of the vote.

The union is the largest organization in the world representing workers at armored vehicle companies.

"I need my job and we depend on the minimal benefits, but I'm not going to crawl around on my belly," said an 11-year veteran worker who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The union's slogan is "United we bargain, divided we beg."

UATA's 300 members, including crew leaders and drivers entrusted with millions of dollars, operate two-ton armored vehicles between locations throughout the Midwest. They operate along an average of 150 routes a day.

The Broadview branch is the largest in the country.

"There are trucks that should not be on the streets," said the worker. "Some are leaking fluids and have bad breaks." He said at one point he was making up to $70,000 and now he's only making $38,000. "We understand the economy is tight right now, but our families depend on the income," he said.

The Montreal-based company is ranked among the top security operations internationally and is respected as the leader in armored-vehicle services throughout the Chicago-land area.

Workers say the company and its supervisors have taken aggressive steps to thwart their efforts with union busting tactics including the recent firing of two leaders of the organizing drive.

They say they want to be respected on the job and that they need better job security and protections. Better working conditions, safer equipment and trucks, realistic route standards, more training, higher wages and better benefits are some of their demands.

Drivers are expected to operate heavy, tank-like vehicles through rough areas, maintain and carry deadly weapons and remain sequestered in their vehicles for extended periods. Workers say the vehicles and garages are under-maintained.

The trucks are large metal boxes with no open windows or ventilation. Cab temperatures reach 115 degrees in the summer, and can fall below zero during the winter, due to broken heating and cooling systems. The Garda garage suffers from inadequate ventilation from the outside and blue plumes of diesel-truck exhaust can be seen wafting from the doorways.

Another problem is how the company uses a computer timing system and cameras to continually compress the allotted time to complete daily routes. Taking less time causes a shorter schedule to set the system as the standard. Taking longer than that estimated standard time gives supervisors reason to question the workers and write them up.

Some workers are punished for speaking up and are deliberately placed on "standby" for up to three weeks. Others are made to do in-house jobs while on standby like cleaning the walls or taking out the trash, which the workers say are duties not in their job description and just punishment.

Arthur Mangialardi, the new union's interim president said he worked at the Broadview plant for three and a half years before being fired due to his organizing efforts.

"Our prospects are great moving forward with the union's resounding victory," he said. "We have to really do our homework and the hard part starts now going into negotiations but we're building a team and consulting with our lawyer and allies."

He added, "Our biggest and first concern is improving the working conditions."

A team is putting together several potential dates on which it hopes the company will come to the table and talk.

"We fully expect they will try and use delay tactics," he said, adding the company has seven days from the union election to try and overturn the vote. "There may be a dirty trick or two left in the bag that they're going to try and pull," said Mangialardi.

"We are prepared to file a charge with the NLRB right away," said Mangialardi.

Filing of a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board is the recourse workers have, under U.S. labor law, when there is a refusal by a unionized company to bargain in good faith.

The workers note unarmed mall security guards in Chicago enjoy starting salaries at $15.50 per hour, yet Garda employees start at $12.85 and work under conditions that organizers say are far below industry standards.

The armored vehicle operators make stops to banks, ATM's, retail and commercial outlets, federal and county buildings, schools and hospitals, delivering sums of cash and valuables.

In 2011, Garda enjoyed second-quarter growth of 9.9 percent, with increased revenues to $296 million from the previous year, though net profits have been slipping in recent years. Stephan Cretier, Garda's founder and president, earned $849,231 in salary and benefits in 2010.

In a statement Garda said the company "has an excellent record of labor relations with its unions and is happy to sit down and negotiate with the union in compliance with the National Labor Relations Act. We believe the allegations cited are without merit and will not lend credence to them with public discussion. It is important to note that a significant number of our employees did not side with the union at our Broadview location. Garda is always prepared to listen and discuss the concerns of our employees."

Photo: Workers with the newly formed Chicago-based United Armored Transporters of America union hold signs in front of the Garda World Security Company, where they work, in Broadview, Illinois Oct. 13. Pepe Lozano/PW