“It was pretty exciting,” said Portia Walker, a security officer assigned to the Huntington Center Downtown. “Our jobs are important. I think it’s very important that they pay correctly, too.”
The security officers — about 300 are included in the three-year agreement — joined Service Employees International Union Local 1 in 2015. Their years-long effort to organize and to land the contract that was ratified Saturday finally is putting them on a path toward living wages and better benefits, said Kathleen Policy, a spokeswoman for SEIU Local 1.
“Unions are under attack nationwide. In this political climate, this is a big win,” Policy said. “These officers were making just above minimum wage or thereabouts, and now they are part of an organization that will allow them to have a voice on the job and give them a path to a better job.”
According to SEIU, the security workers covered in the new agreement work for companies such as Securitas, G4S, Allied Universal, Ohio Support Services and St. Moritz Security Services. They provide security for offices of both private and public employers, including American Electric Power, Motorists Mutual Insurance, the state of Ohio and Franklin County.
Efforts to obtain comment from the security contractors were not successful.
Security workers are often employed by a security company rather than the business or government agency where they’re based. Security and janitorial-services are among industries that increasingly have shifted from in-house employees to contractors in recent decades, with wages sometimes stagnating or declining in the process.
In its Dividing Lines series on income inequality, The Dispatch profiled a janitor who, after nine years on the job, still earned less than $11 an hour. Researchers say low wages trap many workers in the nearly-poor category: about 1 in 3 Franklin County residents lives in a household with an income at 200 percent or less of the federal poverty line.
Walker, 54, works two jobs because her security position pays less than $12 an hour. She’s been in the contract-security field for four years.
“You’re here and there; now and then, you change buildings,” Walker said. “I had one position that I kept for about two years. But then they lost the contract, and no one told me. I showed up for work.”
The new labor agreement, details of which were not released, significantly reduces Walker’s cost for health insurance and grants her paid vacation for the first time, she said.
“You’d just get $200 once a year, but no days off,” said Walker, who lives in the southeastern part of the city. “I’m not a person who takes days off, but anything could happen.”