Ramona Waddington has worked for AlliedBarton Security for a little over six years. When she started at the company, she made $7.25 an hour. Now she makes $9.15, which is more than a dollar below the average wage of $10.61 for security officers nationwide.
For her, the only way to get higher wages and better benefits is by joining a union – a move she said her employer has discouraged.
“Basically, we’re just trying to get better pay, better benefits … better wages,” Waddington said of she and other employees.
Waddington said she believed that her employer has the resources to pay more, but chooses not to.
“I believe they have more to pay us, but they just don’t want to give us more,” she said.
On Temple’s Main Campus, Waddington serves at Rock Hall, where she works overtime on a nine-hour shift from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Friday. She says she is forced to work overtime to make ends meet.
For example, Waddington said she needs glasses, but with the health benefits the company provides, she said she can’t afford them.
“The benefits come out of our salary and a lot of us don’t make that much to pay for them. A lot of us can’t afford to pay those benefits,” she said.
Waddington is one of the few AlliedBarton officers willing to discuss the officers’ efforts at unionization. Several other officers declined comment for fear of being penalized by the company for speaking out.
AlliedBarton security officers on Main Campus started looking to unionize last year with the help of the Service Employees International Union and the Student Labor Action Project.
Since then, the officers have presented a petition to the office of President David Adamany. On Friday, Sept. 30, with the help of the SLAP, another petition was presented with more than 250 student signatures, seeking the university’s support in the officers’ cause to receive better wages, benefits and training.
Frank Thornton, a SEIU representative who helped get student signatures for the petition, said a union would allow employees a “collective voice.”
Thornton said AlliedBarton does not want its employees to form a union because it does not want to pay them the money they deserve.
With a union, Thornton said, “You would have standards and the company can’t change regulations arbitrarily or at random like they do now.”
“We’re advocating that they do the right thing,” Thornton said.
Larry Rubin, AlliedBarton’s spokesperson, however, said the company has no problems with their employees joining a union.
“AB fully supports an employee’s right for representation by a union and to petition the National Labor Relations Board for a union election that is certified and supervised by the National Labor Laws,” he said.
“If they want a union, they must go through the proper channels.”
Ray Betzner, director of communications discussed Temple’s stance on the issue in an e-mailed statement.
“We cannot comment on an issue between AlliedBarton Security and its employees. It is worth noting, however, that there are 10 different unions at Temple that represent about 4,700 of our employees. … Temple contracts with many outside vendors, and we do not mandate that those independent contractors have unionized workforces,” Betzner said.
Temple’s position on the unionization efforts of security officers on its campus is not unique.
In August, AlliedBarton officers at the University of Pennsylvania presented a petition – which included signatures from officers at Temple and the Community College of Philadelphia – to the office of UPenn’s President, Amy Gutmann.
Five officers who were at the forefront of unionization efforts were transferred from the university in late August. According to Rubin, “The employees [at UPenn] were removed from their post pending an inquiry into the appropriateness of their behavior.”
Rubin said the inquiry sought to find out whether the employees were following company procedures and whether it was appropriate of them to go to the office of the university’s president.
When asked about those claims, Rubin said, “AlliedBarton did not interfere with their rights in any way.”
Like Temple, UPenn also subcontracts its security services from AlliedBarton – the nation’s largest American-owned and King of Prussia-based security firm with 38,000 employees nationwide. Therefore, the university is not the officers’ employers.
“These folks are not Penn employees; they do not work for the University of Pennsylvania,” UPenn’s Director of Media Relations Ron Ozio, said.
“We certainly want employees everywhere to be satisfied, [but] it’s not up to Penn,” he said. “They need to deal with their employer.”
Kathy Cohen, a junior psychology major, is a member of SLAP. She spent that Friday gathering student signatures that accompanied the petition that was presented later that day to the office of President Adamany.
Cohen said it’s hard to garner student support and acknowledged that most students are unaware of the officers’ plight though many signed the petition.
She said that if students came together and decided to support the unionization efforts of the officers, then it [unionization] would happen because students are the university’s customers.
“If students say they want officers unionized then it will happen,” because “If Allied loses Temple, they’re in big trouble,” Cohen said.
Thornton said that the university’s support for the officers is key.
“You are a party to the injustice if you allow it to happen on your campus,” Thornton said. “The university can no longer keep its head in the ground. When you have knowledge, you have a responsibility to do something.”
As for Waddington, she will continue working for AlliedBarton, but if a union is not formed, she said she would be looking for a transfer through the company.
“Hopefully with the union, we reach our goal,” she said.
Charmie R. Snetter can be reached at email@example.com.