by Alex Garland
In 2020, the phrase “essential worker” has become synonymous with healthcare, grocery store workers, and first responders. However, local security officers say they often feel overlooked, despite their daily interactions with the public.
Last Friday, many of them came together in a march and rally in Westlake Park to demand a stronger union contract that addresses training needs, personnel issues, in addition to sexual harassment, racism and unsafe conditions encountered in the workplace. There are about 4,000 security guards represented by the Martin Luther King, Jr County Labor Council, according to Executive Secretary Treasurer Katie Garrow.
“You don’t demand more from your employers than you’re already willing to give every day at work,” Garrow said. “It’s protection, it’s safety, it’s safety. These are basic rights that every worker on this MLK County Labor Board deserves.”
A number of unionized security guards were on hand to share their experiences while being watched by security guards from Iron and Oak Security. Iron and Oak Security employees were tasked with “close protection” for sanitation workers and downtown ambassadors, as well as providing security services at Westlake Park where the rally was being held.
As supportive trade unionists filled the chairs and repeated chants, security personnel explained why they needed union support at the bargaining table. While many of the problems faced by security guards were safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kayla Haughey’s experience required her to take an Uber once or twice a day when public transportation closed. .
“When I asked for a code to help cut costs, I was told it was for employees only and as a contract security guard I was not eligible. put me on the front line time and again and was told how important I was, even though I never felt it.
Kevin Bolton Jr., a security guard with two years of experience, said he takes additional risks to do his job beyond those associated with normal security work.
“We were the ones who had to interact with the public, with the risk of bringing COVID back to our families,” Bolton Jr said.
With all the extra responsibilities added to a normal workload, Bolton Jr. believes the companies he provides security for can afford to pay higher wages.
Jasmine Bell, who works as a security guard at Starbucks Roastery on Capitol Hill, says she has to patrol inside and out and that’s all changed in the past two years.
“Every day you have to worry about homelessness, the police, COVID,” Bell said.
Despite the difficulty she has in communicating with the public while wearing a mask, Bell knows that she is ultimately responsible for her own safety while performing her job.
“I love my job, but you have to consider yourself,” she said.
It’s not just the pandemic that has security guards worried about their safety. Security guard Demetris Dugar – who is black – worried about his own safety during the uprisings surrounding the police killing of George Floyd.
“A lot of us were on the side of the protesters, but when we were walking around, all they saw was a badge,” Dugar said. “Some of that anger went a bit towards us. It was a scary two weeks as a security guard and the first time I took off my uniform before walking the two blocks to my car.
Veterans of the security profession were on hand to share their stories and explain the changes that have come with working during the pandemic. Dugar has spent 16 years in the industry and is on its third negotiating team for a fair security contract.
“The union brothers and sisters felt overworked and disrespected. We were considered essential, but we weren’t treated that way. We had to work [on] day one of the pandemic, because our sites are not protecting themselves,” Dugar said.
Dugar found that over the past two years, he and his colleagues have been “left out of hazard pay considerations, we’ve been left off the list of vaccines for people who want them, and we’ve had to fight for to obtain [personal protective equipment]… Fortunately, our union fought for everyone who wanted the vaccine.
Cameron Lecksiwilai felt that security training and staffing were both insufficient.
“We need hands-on training from our supervisors, not staring at a screen or a book,” Lecksiwilai said. Rita Patterson added that gender and race played a role in her feeling of disrespect.
“We need a fair chance at career advancement opportunities, regardless of gender or race,” Patterson said.
City Council member Tammy Morales said her support for those fighting for a stronger contract.
“Security officers took to the streets to see firsthand the challenges facing the city. I think it’s time you were treated with the respect you deserve with this job. This contract can help bring about the changes you need to see, and agents are speaking out because the changes we seek are about economic justice,” Morales said. “Nobody should be working 40 hours a week and struggling to put food on the table.”
Following Morales, King County Councilman Dave Upthegrove told the crowd that he and others in “positions of power have your back, so negotiate with confidence because you deserve it.”
Before the rally headed to a non-union workplace, Westlake Center, across the street, SEIU 6 union president Zenia Javalera told the crowd, “Let them demand an end racism in the workplace and an end to sexual harassment, or an end to verbal abuse from supervisors, more than 87% of agents call for respect. The pandemic and all of its challenges have only underscored that every ounce of respect these agents demand is deserved. They have earned it through their professionalism and commitment to maintaining peace at a time of high volatility, growing inequality and civil unrest.
“For the growing ranks of black and brown officers, it’s about racial justice. We are here to demand a good contract, and we won’t stop until we get one,” Javalera said.
Alex Garland is a photojournalist and reporter. Follow him on Twitter.
Featured Image: Local security guards march near Westlake Center on March 22, 2022 to demand a new union contract. (Photo: Alex Garlande)
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