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Security guards demand raises, better conditions

City Council passes resolution in support of push for new contract

Anna Lamb
Security guards demand raises, better conditions
At-large City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune marches with SEIU 32BJ activists seeking raises for security guards. PHOTO: ANNA LAMB

Nearly two dozen people gathered outside the high-rise at One International Place last Wednesday afternoon to rally on behalf of security officers demanding better wages and better benefits in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rally, which followed the passage of a resolution in support of security workers filed by Boston City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune and City Council President Ed Flynn during the July 13 council meeting, featured testimony by several security officers, led by 32BJ SEIU Vice President Roxana Rivera.

“Security officers worked 24/7 throughout the pandemic. They were essential workers protecting all these buildings,” Rivera said. “They had to worry about getting enough PPE, they had to worry about their own health, and they had to worry about their loved ones when they went back home.”

Ryan Akerley, a security officer at the Plymouth Rock building for the past 19 years and a longtime union steward, shared his personal experience risking bringing COVID home to elderly parents throughout the pandemic.

“Every day I went to work and risked bringing home COVID. I went to work through that fear, just like so many of our members. Every one of our members has a story like mine,” Akerley said.

Now, Rivera and Akerley say, it’s time for workers to get rewarded for their contributions. With the union contract expiring at the end of the month, they hope this can be their chance.

“Now we’re looking towards the future, towards a recovery. These workers need to have a recovery too,” Rivera said.

According to 32BJ leadership, there are currently, 2,700 security officers employed by various contractors that are a part of the group bargaining ahead of their contract expiration on July 31. Membership comes from many of Boston’s major employers, including biotech companies like Pfizer and institutions of higher learning including Northeastern University and Emerson College.

As part of their contract demands, security officers are asking for wage increases, affordable health care for themselves and their families, retirement benefits and more opportunities for growth.

The resolution passed unanimously by City Council less than an hour ahead of the rally states that the city whole-heartedly supports the union workers’ contract demands, and it urges contracting companies to come to the bargaining table.

Rivera, in a brief conversation with the Banner, said that having the council’s support is an important signal to business owners looking to profit in the Bay State capital.

“This is huge, because the building owners and institutions here want to stay. To know the workers have, as an organization, the support of the city council — that sends a message,” she said.

Several councilors spoke during the council meeting, including many of the councilors of color, who highlighted that a large number of security officers working throughout Boston’s downtown businesses are Black and brown.

Louijeune, in presenting her resolution to her colleagues, said, “Security officers are essential workers, and the majority of them are people of color and immigrants who call Boston home.”

Speaking to the demonstrators in the financial district immediately following the meeting, she said, “We’re talking about our Black and Latinx communities, we’re talking about our Haitian communities. Folks who need these jobs and living wages so that they can provide for their kids.”

Among the others that spoke in support of the resolution were Councilors Brian Worrell, Gigi Coletta, Julia Mejia, Tania Fernandes Anderson and Kendra Lara, who shared her own story of being a former security officer.

“When I was a security officer, it was my third job,” she said. “I would work retail in the morning, and then at 1 p.m. I started my job as a street worker, and I would finish at 10 or 11 p.m. I would leave work and be a security officer overnight, because that is what it would take to be able for a single person to afford my apartment where I live alone and to pay all of my bills.”

The security guard contract is among several expiring this year. Just two weeks ago, 32BJ came together to celebrate the success of airline workers at Boston’s Massport in winning their first wage hikes in years after a successful rallying campaign that saw support from the city council. According to Rivera, more fights are in the pipeline, with the next being the janitors’ union contract coming up for negotiation next year.

“Workers are willing to do more — they are more attuned to the working conditions. They’re not as much like ‘Everything’s OK,’” Rivera said. “They are demanding more, so we are fighting more.”

COVID 19, employment contracts, Security guards