Talks continue after first-ever security workers strike

SAN FRANCISCO — Talks for a new contract continued this week after workers who provide security in prime downtown office buildings returned to their jobs Sept. 27 following a first-ever three-day strike.

Workers, members of SEIU Local 24/7, and their supporters held a spirited late afternoon rally on Market Street Sept. 27 before marching past many of the buildings they protect.

The workers were joined by area elected officials and members of many other unions.

State Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) told the security officers, “You deserve the respect and compensation commensurate with your job.

“Every labor movement started by taking to the streets in well-focused, determined actions,” she added. “You are showing the city and the world that your time has come, and we stand by you.”

Tim Paulson, head of the San Francisco Labor Council, which backed the strike, said the workers are fighting “a pioneering battle not only here but across the country.” He pledged the council’s continuing full support.

“We didn’t think we’d win Justice for Janitors, but we did,” said state Controller John Chiang. “Someday in the near future we will celebrate your victory, too!”

The union said strikers at over 20 office buildings decided to return to work as a gesture of good faith in view of progress being made in the talks.

As some 4,000 Bay Area building security workers in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties approach their 100th day of working without a contract, wages and health care top their list of demands. Though the properties they protect include buildings owned by real estate giants like Morgan Stanley and Shorenstein, the security officers typically are paid less than $24,000 a year, $5 an hour less than janitors working in the same buildings. They also lack affordable health care.

A key issue in the three-day strike and in the ongoing talks is ending this double standard, Gina Bowers, communications director for the union, said in a telephone interview.

Bowers said the workers, over half of whom are African American, have received strong support from the Black community.

Last week, the Stand for Security coalition of clergy, community and elected leaders (including the entire California Legislative Black Caucus), the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the NAACP and others called on the city’s real estate leaders to make security work a good job on which to raise a family, with access to affordable health care.

San Francisco security officers face a special problem, Bowers said, because soaring housing costs are forcing many to move out of the city where they were born and raised.

Though at present the contract talks are between the union and security firms such as ABM, Universal Protection Services and Securitas, Mayor Gavin Newsom has called on building owners to take a “greater role in fostering a quick resolution … that reflects the need for economic vibrancy and public safety in the Financial District.” The Board of Supervisors last week unanimously passed a second resolution calling on contractors and owners to “stop the double standards that are keeping security officers in poverty.”

Nationwide, SEIU represents over 55,000 security officers, including more than 10,000 in California.

mbechtel @pww.org