Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
A Daily Gazette article entitled “Third Party Security Guards on Swarthmore Campus?” was published on Tuesday. This article gave a brief account of the decision to employ AlliedBarton guards to supplement Public Safety patrols. It presented next to nothing in the way of analysis and, in a final move, linked to AlliedBarton’s website as an adequate source of information about that corporation. This report struck us as rather strange, and we’re hoping it affected you in the same way. The College’s decision to contract security officers’ services from AlliedBarton in order to replace positions previously held by College employees raises so many red flags that there’s barely any room left on top of Parrish for Old Glory.
We have here a living wage issue as well as an ethical purchasing issue: by contracting out labor, the College is able to get around the commitments it has made to paying all of its employees a wage that allows them to comfortably support themselves and their families. Secondly, the College, in contracting with AlliedBarton, has chosen to do business with a corporation that has, in the Philadelphia area, been at the center of many bitter labor disputes. The major centers of these disputes have been Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. AlliedBarton, which has its headquarters in King of Prussia, employs, according to an article published in Philadelphia CityPaper on August 28, 2007, 85 percent of Philadelphia-area security guards, and essentially sets the industry standard for how officers are compensated in the Philadelphia area. Why, we must ask, would Swarthmore choose to put itself in league with a corporation whose recent local history has been defined by their opposition to compensating their workers fairly and giving security officers the respect they deserve?
For the purpose of this article, let’s begin our look at the history of AlliedBarton’s Philadelphia-area labor relations in 2006. In that year, the SEIU (Service Employees International Union), which had been leading organizing drives with Security Officers at Temple and UPenn, struck a deal with AlliedBarton, agreeing to abandon Philadelphia-area organizing in exchange for access to AlliedBarton employees in other markets:
Back in 2005, SEIU International was organizing security officers at Penn and Temple as part of a nationwide campaign to unionize Allied. Philly was actually an early focal point of the effort. When five security guards who delivered a pro-union petition to the office of Penn President Amy Gutmann were suspended and transferred off campus by Allied, SEIU dubbed the group the “Philly Five,” and built a media blitz around them, taking them on a tour of universities around the country. But then SEIU and Allied went into negotiations. Several sources tell CityPaper that Allied was dead set against surrendering its most dominant market, and agreed to reduce its opposition to SEIU’s efforts in other locations if SEIU backed off in Philly. (CityPaper, “Allied Affront,” August 28, 2007)
In the wake of this major setback, security officers at Temple and the University of Pennsylvania continued to fight for increased wages and benefits and better working conditions, but their efforts had been dealt a major blow: without the support of a national union, these officers and their student-activist allies could bring only so much pressure to bear upon AlliedBarton. Officers won some concessions from Allied, for example, officers at UPenn won three sick days a year, but no major progress has been made in unionizing these workforces since 2006, and Security Officers at UPenn and Temple remain without a union to this day.
The major reason Security Officers have encountered so much difficulty in unionizing has to do with the policies of the National Labor Relations Boards, which will not recognize any union for Security Officers that also represents non-security officer employees. Can you think of a national union dedicated exclusively to representing security officers? We can’t either. Without recourse to an NLRB decision that would force AlliedBarton to recognize a union, organizers were forced to ask AlliedBarton to recognize a union voluntarily. That didn’t go well.
Recently, a bright spot has emerged in the fight against AlliedBarton. The Philadelphia Security Officers Union, which organized in 2008 and 2009 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and has recently won its NLRB election (though the union’s collective-bargaining rights remain uncertain, since AlliedBarton has characteristically appealed the results of the election). In their struggle to unionize, security officers at the Museum—who make only $10.03 an hour and must opt-in to a healthcare program that costs them $37.00 a week (that is, you know, if they want healthcare)—have endured employer intimidation and vicious union-busting tactics, on top of the disrespect and discrimination they encounter daily at their place of work. Our familiarity with this union, we should acknowledge, is not incidental: in December, Dennis wrote a final paper for Professor Marge Murphy’s course “The Making of the American Working Class” based on a long interview with three officers of the PSOU. We don’t have space to reprint the stories they told about the daily abuses they face as AlliedBarton employees, but trust us, they’re shocking (email Dennis if you’d like to find out more).
Given all this, you might ask why the College would choose to do business with AlliedBarton. It’s a good question, since, after all, we’re supposed to give a damn about ethical purchasing now. It’s hard not to believe that the College has chosen to establish a contract with AlliedBarton in order to save money. Now, we’re all for saving money, but not when it comes at the expense of people who work at the College, and especially not when those savings seem to fly in the face of the living-wage policy adopted by the College in 2004.
That policy came at the end of a struggle, led by both students and staff, to re-make the way the College values its low-to-mid pay-grade employees. After a long and sustained effort by these activists, the College formed the Ad Hoc Committee on the Living Wage in 2003. The charge of the committee, as quoted in the Committee’s report, read as follows:
A multi-constituent committee is charged with exploring approaches to building further on the progress made in increasing the minimum level of staff compensation at the College. The Committee will report to President Bloom and to the community during the next academic year on its view of what is best for the institution…It is prudent and right to aim at a higher minimum compensation. This new committee will work to suggest ways this could best be packaged and try to identify consequences of a new system.
The report went on to outline two different approaches to re-tooling Swarthmore’s policy on staff compensation, one supported by “a substantial minority of the committee”, the other supported by a majority. Both approaches stipulated that “Swarthmore should modify its current health insurance benefits such that the lowest-paid employees receive full HMO coverage for their families at no cost to them” (page 6). The majority of the committee recommended increasing Swarthmore’s minimum wage to $10.72 an hour, while the minority recommended a minimum wage of $13.89 an hour (page 1). The report addressed various other aspects of staff compensation as well. In 2004, the College adopted many of the Committee’s suggestions and implemented a new pay scale.
According the College’s current pay grade chart, Public Safety Officers and Patrol Officers are classified as pay grade 5, which has a market target minimum hourly wage of $17.67 and max of $19.53. Corporals and Sergeants are classified as pay grade 6, which has a minimum of $20.85 and maxes out at $23.04. These wages are offered in addition to the various benefits for which individual officers are eligible.
This compensation package provides a stark contrast with the conditions endured by AlliedBarton Security Officers at other Philadelphia-area institutions, including institutions of higher education. We’re proud that Swarthmore has taken steps to ensure that it compensates its staff adequately: by doing so, the College demonstrates that it doesn’t merely talk the talk in valuing its staff. Under College policies, all staff employed by Swarthmore College receive wages and benefits that reflect the real cost of living in Delaware County. The officers working on the Garnet patrol, however, are not College employees: they work for AlliedBarton, and so they are not eligible for such a compensation package. We’re sure the College’s contract with AlliedBarton costs significantly less than the cost of hiring new Security Officers and compensating them in a manner consistent with the College’s living wage-policies. To save money, the College has chosen to attempt to get around the commitments it has made. Shame, shame, shame.
The worst part about the whole sorry business is that the Living Wage committee saw this coming. On page 15 of their report, in a section entitled “Challenges of Unintended Negative Consequences”, they included this prophetic paragraph:
D. Contracting out for services
We want to ensure that contracting jobs out to private vendors is not a means for the College to get around the enhanced-low wage compensation policy in order to save money. The Committee’s view is that it would be unacceptable to turn to outside contractors in response to implementation of the kind of compensation policy we are recommending.
One last thought: the Living Wage committee’s final recommendation was the creation of “a multiconstituency Employment Practices Advisory Committee […] to detect and correct potential unintended negative consequences of the changes in the College’s compensation policy […]. The Committee’s primary concern would be to ensure that the College’s employment principles—as articulated in this report and elsewhere—remain central to its practice” (page 2). No such committee was ever created. We wonder if we would be writing this article if it had been.