Just over five weeks ago, security guards at state office complexes announced they were ready to strike, alleging they had been harassed and intimidated by their employer, SOS Security.
Thursday they did, but only for the day. The workers say SOS Security has not been making its required pension contributions under its contract with the state. Currently, the company offers a 401k, but it does not match an employee’s contribution and charges a $19 maintenance fee.
So starting at 6 a.m. Thursday, the guards took their grievances to the street. Starting at the state office complex at 25 Sigourney St., and later in the day at 450 Capitol Ave., workers picketed and chanted in a sea of the trademark Service Employees International Union purple T-shirts.
By 11:30 a.m., SOS stood for something new: “same ol’ shit.”
The sound of chants, drums, and megaphone speeches pulled coffee drinkers out of La Paloma Sabanera, and the freshly groomed out of the barber shop down the block, many of whom clapped along with the workers.
Outgoing House Speaker Chris Donovan was on hand to lend his support.
“We depend on you for security so that must mean that we have to take care of you. We have to give you security as well, that’s why you need to have a pension,” Donovan told the security guards.
After addressing the crowd, Donovan said that SOS Security is required under the state’s standard wage law to provide employees with pension contributions, not just a 401k option.
According to Kurt Westby, a district supervisor for the union, SOS does offer a health care plan, but premiums cost $14,000 a year. No workers have taken the plan, he said.
The Department of Administrative Services, at the request of the union, is conducting an audit of the company’s compliance with state law.
A man who picked up the phone at the company’s headquarters in New Jersey declined to comment.
The guards have been trying for months to join SEIU Local 32BJ, a union that represents commercial cleaners and food service workers. They say that since signing union cards almost a year ago, they have been threatened with termination and have been spied upon by the company.
Juan Hernandez, a Hartford-area leader of 32BJ, said “it’s a shame they’re using tax dollars.”
Alexis Lozano, who has been a guard with SOS for eight years, said he earns about $12 an hour and has no health benefits or pension.
According to memos obtained by CTNewsJunkie, SOS has been telling its employees that 32BJ doesn’t have the right to organize them because it’s not strictly a “guard” union.
“Unlike the case with an actual union guard, Local 32BJ can only be your bargaining representative if SOS agrees to it. And that’s not going to happen — strike or not,” says a memo from George Goodwin, SOS’s director of Human Resources.
That’s the reason why there hasn’t been contract negotiations yet, Goodwin wrote.
According to Matt O’Connor, political director for 32BJ, “that’s a non-argument. It’s their attempt to keep the guards from being members of a strong union.”
He pointed out that the union has successfully represented thousands of guards in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
A second memo, also signed by Goodwin, states that while workers are free to go on strike, they can be replaced “temporarily or permanently.” The memo says that SOS has “good contracts with real union guards.”
“I can assure you that the state buildings are going to remain guarded and secure whether there is a strike of one day or one month,” wrote Goodwin.
The second memo also reminds workers that the state already is auditing SOS’s compliance with the state contract, and that a strike action will not “settle a legal issue between business partners.”