Philadelphia, PA –– A City Council hearing today highlighted how a massive union organizing campaign for private security officers will transform one of the city’s largest and growing service industries. Among the speakers at the hearing were Congressman Bob Brady (D-PA), State Representative Kenyatta Johnson, Widener University Professor Stu Eimer, security officers, and Dwayne Roster, Executive Director, P.O.W.E.R. (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild).
“Improving pay for thousands of security officers is critical to preparing officers to better handle emergencies and support their communities,” said State Representative Johnson. “Companies that have the capacity to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into Philadelphia’s economy must use this opportunity to create more family-sustaining jobs and help get our city back on track.”
The Council hearing comes in the wake of 3,000 private security officers in the city moving to improve their wages and benefits by joining 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union. The current median hourly wage for the officers – who protect commercial office buildings, hospitals, government offices and universities – is just $10, with some reporting earning as little as $8 an hour. Few have benefits that include quality health care or paid sick or vacation days. Many have to rely on government assistance for health care or other essential needs.
“Paying livable wages and benefits is not just a matter of fairness and a responsible business practice, but it saves taxpayers millions of dollars with a rare opportunity to boost our economy,” said Mark Price, PhD, Labor Economist, Keystone Research Center.
The unionization of the 3,000 security officers amounts to the largest private-sector organizing win in Philadelphia in two decades. The victory is particularly significant considering the growth in this industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that from 2008 to 2018, the overall number of jobs in private security will grow by 10 percent, outpacing the average growth for all other occupations. Already in Philadelphia, private security firms are among the largest service industry employers. But median wages in the security industry lag behind those of other industries, including maintenance workers, cleaners and drivers.
A new report, Securing Our Future: Security Officers Standing Up for Good Jobs and a Better Philadelphia, found that increasing pay to help the average security officer with two children would mean their families would no longer qualify for food stamps. This would generate $140 million for Philadelphia’s security officers and their families over the next decade; potentially generating upwards of $231 million dollars in economic activity for Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, according to a multiplier used by the University of Pennsylvania to determine economic activity.
The 32BJ SEIU report, based on extensive worker surveys and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau, also shows that adequate pay keeps more experienced security officers on the job and better enables officers to respond to – and help prevent – emergency situations. The paper illustrates how a decent level of compensation translates into reduced turnover and improved training.