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.
At the beginning of this semester, two new security guards began patrolling campus during the 9:00pm to 3:30am shift. These guards are employed by AlliedBarton, a security firm that was contracted by the college to provide additional nighttime security; however, their presence has also led students to examine AlliedBarton’s disputed labor policies.
According to Owen Redgrave, Director of Public Safety, the night patrol is one of the “cornerstones” of security on the campus because it deals with human safety. Because of this, he said, the security officers must be extremely reliable. “Nobody’s been able to come up with anything that suits the bill as well as a contract company,” Redgrave said.
In the nineties, Public Safety began hiring students to do foot patrols at night of certain campus areas, which was known as the Garnet Patrol. Because of reliability issues, however, the College later switched to hiring part-time auxiliary officers to do the same job.
These employees have historically been difficult to find because of the limited hours and the fact that these positions are seasonal, providing employment for only 30 weeks of the year. According to Redgrave, positions were often vacant, and it would take at least two months to hire a new auxiliary officer.
At the end of the fall 2009 semester, before the College’s contract with AlliedBarton began, there were no auxiliary officers on the payroll.
The pay for these auxiliary officers was pay scale 2 (minimum $11.82, maximum $20.80), as compared with Public Safety officers who generally earn at pay scale 5 (minimum $14.88, maximum $25.29) or 6 (minimum $17.56, maximum $29.85), and because they were part-time, they were ineligible for benefits from the college. According to Redgrave, during negotiations between the College and AlliedBarton, the hourly wage of the subcontracted employees was set to an amount that fell within the pay scale 2 range; however, the exact hourly wage of these employees is not available to the public.
Melanie Young, Vice President for Human Resources, agreed that there was little change in pay between auxiliary officers hired by Swarthmore and those contracted with AlliedBarton, saying that the positions provided by AlliedBarton are “pretty much on par [with the auxiliary officer positions] from a pay perspective.”
The Benefits Department at AlliedBarton was not available for comment on the benefits received by AlliedBarton employees at Swarthmore.
In terms of cost, the difference between what Swat is paying for its contract with AlliedBarton and the cost of Public Safety hiring auxiliary officers is about equal. “We are not saving money—if we are it’s literally pennies,” Redgrave said.
Before contracting with AlliedBarton, Redgrave spoke with Nathaniel Erskine ’10, former Vice President of Student Council, about the decision to hire subcontractors. Erskine brought the idea to Student Council. “The concensus on Student Council was that this was generally a good thing,” Erskine said.
However, Erskine said that very little time was devoted to talking about this issue, and that he was not consulted when AlliedBarton was chosen as the contractor. The Student Council meeting minutes for September 13, 2009, the day the subcontracting was discussed, read only, “Public Safety is hiring a patrol officer to cover areas not easily accessible by car.”
Now, many students have showed an interest in learning more about the labor practices of AlliedBarton. On Wednesday, a group of students met to discuss the contract with AlliedBarton. “I am interested in working with other students to gather more information about Swarthmore’s contract to see if it’s consistent with college’s commitment to economic justice,” said Zein Nakhoda ’12, who helped to facilitate the meeting.
Fabricio Rodriguez, Lead Coordinator of the Philadelphia Security Officers Union (PSOU), a group that acts as an independent union for security workers in the greater Philadelphia region, cited AlliedBarton’s “low training standards” and “low pay and benefits” as points of concern.
Acocrding to Rodriguez, “You can’t be that serious about worker retention when you don’t even provide paid sick leave for your employees.”
“It should be noted that the clients of AlliedBarton, such as Swarthmore, share an equal responsibility in this situation,” Rodriguez said. “The client can stipulate anything in their agreement with AlliedBarton.”
PSOU, which grew out of the the Univeristy of Pennsylvania and Temple University’s Student Labor Action Project, has seen victories with their campaigns in the past, securing living wage for over 100 AlliedBarton security guards at the University of Pennsylvania and winning paid sick leave for the guards at Temple University.
“Swarthmore can request higher training levels, annual refresher trainings, living wages, decent health care, yearly raises and paid sick leave,” Rodriguez said. “Naturally, Swarthmore will have to pay for each upgrade.”
However, the reliability of AlliedBarton employees has been exemplary. Three AlliedBarton officers are trained to work at the College; two officers work regularly and one is trained as a backup. Still, the backup officer has not been needed since the contract began in January.
The idea of reliability was echoed by Maureen Rush, Vice President for Public Safety at the University of Pennsylvania, who said that since the University contracted with AlliedBarton, Public Safety has “enjoyed a long partnership with AlliedBarton.” According to Rush, through contracting with AlliedBarton, the University has “reduced crime, enhanced the quality of life, [and] created employment opportunities for West Philadelphia residents, many of which work for AlliedBarton.”
According to Rodriguez, it is difficult to find a security firm in the Philadelphia area with different labor practices. “It is a very exploitative and unregulated sector of the economy in our region,” Rodriguez said.
Redgrave said that he has welcomed suggestions from the college community on how to fill this patrol position and is still happy to receive input; however, in terms of security on campus, Redgrave said, “I am not willing to lower the bar.”