Why would AlliedBarton Security Services, the Conshohocken-based security guard company, give the names, addresses and phone numbers of its Philadelphia employees to the Service Employees International Union, SEIU Local 32BJ?
That's a question that the Philadelphia Securities Officers Union posed to David Chapla, director of labor relations. The PSOU represents AlliedBarton guards who work at Philadelphia Art Museum. On April 11, about 110 University of Pennsylvania security officers, including the yellow-vested bicycle patrol, will be voting on whether to accept the PSOU as their union. If the union wins the election, the PSOU will represent 250 security guards.
"Our lawyer asked if we could have a similar courtesy," said Fabricio Rodriguez, who serves as the union's administrator. So far, he said, the company has declined to reply.
"The SEIU has asked the company to provide them with a list of names, addresses and phone numbers of employees in the Philadelphia area," says the March 17 letter from Allied Barton general manager Jim Gorman. "If you do not wish to be contacted at home by an SEIU representative, please phone the Union ... during regular business hours."
Rodriguez finds it odd. Usually, he said, companies "resist every step of the way," when it comes to union organizing drives. That's what they did with his union's push to organize guards at the art museum, he said. "Companies don't like unions," Rodriguez points out in what has to be an understatement.
So what's the story? There's been some bad blood between the two groups. You can click here to read more.
When unions go through the normal election process, the company is required to give names and contact information 15 days before the election. But that's not enough time to solidify support, said Rodriguez. If the union hasn't made significant inroads by then, it's not likely it will win an election. When PSOU has tried to organize AlliedBarton guards, AlliedBarton provides the names, but not a day before it has to by law.
But the SEIU doesn't go through the normal election process. Like many unions, the SEIU believes that the National Labor Relations Board process is flawed and simply opens the door to worker intimidation. But when it comes to representing security officers, the SEIU can't go through the process. By law, unions that represent security officers can not represent other workers unless the employer has agreed.
In many cities, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Chicago among them, the companies have agreed to remain neutral as the SEIU organizes security guards. The companies promise to recognize the union if a majority of guards sign cards.
Rodriguez said SEIU organizers visisted the homes of Penn security guards that PSOU is organizing. Rodriguez stops just short of calling it poaching, but he said that guards feel like SEIU is trying to gobble them up.
On the other hand, both Rodriguez and Gabe Morgan, Pennsylvania director of SEIU Local 32BJ, agree that union representation helps the guards. "It's completely up to workers to decide what union they want to be in," Morgan said. "We don't have any issue with the PSOU."
Morgan estimates that there are 3,000 security guards working at the city's major institutions, including most of Center City's office buildings, the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University. He said that about 70 percent of them have already signed cards asking SEIU to represent them. When the majority of workers in the same field in the same city are in the same union, he said, it gives them more clout at the bargaining table.
"It's awesome that those guys will get a chance to be in a union," Rodriguez said.
Meanwhile, if it's a nice day on Thursday, you can check out not one, but two, security guard rallies.
SEIU's purple-shirted masses will no doubt turn out in droves at Love Park at noon -- the SEIU is really good at rallies. The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, which is finishing up its three-day convention on Thursday, plans to send its leadership over to participate. Whether they'll show up at a smaller PSOU rally, set for 2 p.m. on Penn's campus at 34th and Walnut Sts. remains to be seen.
I put in a call to Bill Whitmore, president of AlliedBarton, to get his take handing out his employees' phone numbers. So far, no response. When I get one, I'll update.