LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – The nation’s largest security officers’ union recently ratified a landmark $50 million deal that will increase salary and benefits for thousands of security officers. Seventy percent of the officers are Black, and they provide protection for 80 percent of L.A. County’s multi-million dollar commercial real estate.
The five-year contract is a first for the Security Officers United in Los Angeles Local 2006 (SOULA), brokered with building owners and their contractors. The contract was dubbed the best option because of its level of increases in salary and benefits to its 4,000 members, SOULA said. The local is part of the Service Employees International Union, which boasts 200,000 security officers nationwide. The contract was ratified on Jan. 26.
SOULA became recognized in May 2007 after its “Stand for Security” campaign to unionize. After that, security officers spent about eight more months bargaining. Their agreement includes a $1 million job training and placement fund to be instituted over the next two years, according to officials.
“I did this for the next man coming in and if he can maintain as long as I have, then he’ll have something to look forward to. But the entire package is not really going to benefit me as an individual because I already make $11 an hour and the health insurance for my wife and children don’t kick in until the beginning of the fifth year,” said Michael Johnson, who has worked as a security officer for more than 16 years.
Faith Culbreath, SOULA president, told The Final Call the deal was also historic because the struggle forged an alliance of union organizers, community leaders and Black politicians, including spiritual leaders from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Nation of Islam and Pentecostal Church.
“The fact that we were able to utilize the community and political relationships and clergy in a way that the union hasn’t done since 40 years ago, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, played a major part in our success,” stated Ms. Culbreath, who started working for the union eight years ago.
“It’s so important that we do things differently because our communities are suffering. If we take these security officers and increase their lives, their pay and benefits, then they can enrich others. Their children can go to college. This strengthens a brother, a neighbor. It’s an ongoing process, but we are incredibly happy about what we’ve accomplished as security partners,” Ms. Culbreath said.
Before the contract, according to SEIU, most of the security officers earned $8.50 with no healthcare or other benefits, and although employed, many qualified for food stamps and welfare.
Tony Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam, who participated in the early part of negotiations, commended the union’s efforts. He also said local must be vigilant against any attempts to undermine or displace its predominantly Black members.
“Job well done on a battle won, but the war is still raging,” Mr. Muhammad said. “But this is not the tell all and it’s not full proof, because historically, Black organizations, clergy and political leaders have held the forefront in fighting for justice for the oppressed. But if the union cannot ensure that the Black man and woman keep their employment and majority status, then we will have been bamboozled,” he said.
A union member, who requested anonymity, expressed comments that mirrored Mr. Muhammad’s, especially regarding job stability. “This has happened in other fields and this is a big concern of ours, being replaced with other people. The brothers who have fought to build unions in the past have most of the times succumbed to head games and pressure by union officials, left their jobs and had to take on other ones that were not unionized just to barely survive,” he said.
According to the security officer, union members must be an officer for three years in order to qualify for family health benefits the fifth year. The industry often experiences a high turnover rate due to low wages. But the salary increase, which amounts to 50 cents a year for most officers and which will put their wages between $10 and $10.50, will make it more attractive.