Over the past year or so, relations between a private security contractor and its workers have deteriorated as security guards have attempted to organize a union that the company refuses to recognize.
The company, New Jersey-based SOS Security, is required by its contract with the state to maintain “tranquil labor relationship.”
With both the company and the union, SEIU 32BJ, digging in their heels, it is unclear what role the Department of Administrative Services will play to ensure both sides play nice.
The contract also requires that labor disputes be quickly resolved, but this dispute only seems to be escalating.
This week, SOS Security was ordered by DAS to give employees back pay stretching back a year and a half.
And earlier this month, employees staged a one-day strike to protest what they say are low wages and an unfair pension contribution plan.
Employees say they have been intimidated and spied upon, while the company said in a memo to workers that they have no plans to sit down to negotiate, “strike or not.”
Hardly labor “tranquility.”
Pension contributions, which were cancelled by SOS in 2008, are still a sticking point, even though DAS said the company didn’t violate the contract by cancelling them.
The department, which administers and monitors private contracts with the state, conducted an audit at the request of 32BJ and found that the company was underpaying workers by 25 cents an hour.
While the company has said it will comply with the state’s request for back pay, it is holding firm on its line that it will not sit down at the negotiating table.
The company has said in memos to employees that because 32BJ represents service workers other than security guards, SOS cannot be compelled to negotiate with 32BJ.
Now DAS finds itself in an “atypical situation,” according to spokesperson Jeffrey Beckham, as wages with private contractors usually are determined by a state statute regarding prevailing wages. Instead, wages for the SOS security guards are determined by the contract, necessitating the involvement of DAS in a dispute over wages.
In an email obtained by CTNewsJunkie, DAS Commissioner Donald DeFronzo wrote to SOS executives offering to mediate a meeting between the company and employees just before the one-day strike action.
In response, a lawyer for the company wrote to DeFronzo that the company had “questions regarding the logistics and agenda of any such meeting,” reiterating the company’s opposition to negotiating with the union.
The meeting never happened, according to Beckham, but DAS will continue to “work with the vendor” over the issue of contract compliance.
Beckham said that the state can terminate contracts with vendors for just about any reason it wants, but has no plans to do so at this point.
He added that the department has had some contact from the company since the initial auditors report on May 14, and will be releasing a communication next week.
The company’s response to the DAS demands are due May 31.
Asked whether DAS would get involved to preserve labor peace pro- or reactively, Beckham simply said that the department would continue to monitor the situation.
A message left for SOS lawyer Michael Devlin on Friday was not returned.
The union, for its part, has not announced any new plans or job actions, but says that there are a number of issues still on the table, among them pension contributions, worker intimidation, and faulty equipment.
“We have every confidence that DAS will hold SOS Security accountable to the terms of their contract with the State, as they clearly articulated in their audit. And that means all the terms, including that they maintain labor tranquility — or face the consequences,” said the union’s Political Director Matt O’Connor.