Security Guards Rally for Unionization at Love Park
When Verell Rhyne’s wife suggest the couple move from Memphis, Tenn., to her native Philadelphia, he agreed. Rhyne, a security guard, figured that in a pro-labor city such as Philly, he’d get a good union job.
“I knew security guards made more here,” he says. “That was my rational thinking. But … when I got here, I was making less money than I did back home. That was quite a disappointment.”
Rhyne, who works in Center City, was at Love Park today for a union rally. The gathering was held to show solidarity for a number of security guards at institutions and universities, such as Penn, organizing with SEIU 32BJ for better wages and benefits. Those security guards were backed by a number of speakers, including AFL-CIO Pennsylvania President Richard Bloomingdale, Wayne MacManiman of SEIU 32BJ and others. They were joined by the Communication Workers of America, Bricklayers, Occupy Philly (some of whom wore Guy Fawkes masks), Fight for Philly, Action United and other union and community organizing groups supporting the effort to unionize security workers.
Rhyne, who spoke to the large crowd of around 200, says he had almost decided to go back to Memphis to ask for his old job back. “It’s like, grown men, $10 an hour?” he says rhetorically after stepping off stage. “I’m a supervisor, I make $13, but still, that’s not anything to write home about.”
He says he feels confident about Philadelphia security officers unionizing because of the massive support he saw today in Center City. There is likely a long road ahead, though, because security workers—including those at Penn—have attempted to unionize before, with varying results.
“I love what I do because we have the opportunity to touch young lives when they come to us for advice,” said Kevin Upshaw, a security guard at UPenn who spoke to the crowd. “Now, the great thing about this meeting today is that I see what happens when we all work together.”
He said the attempt to organize would not be easy, and that the roughly 3,000 security workers in the city attempting to join the local SEIU chapter would have to stay on message, “say and think things the same, be on one accord, and continue,” he said.
Brianna, a student at Temple and member of Occupy Temple, spoke to make student support known for unionization.
“Coming from Occupy Temple, it is truly empowering to see change like this come from the community and for the community,” she said. “You don’t need to be an activist, a radical or involved in any left organization to know that [the wages, benefits and equipment afforded to security guards] is a disgrace.” She called the fact that you can walk into any building on campus and see a security officer a “tribute to the integral nature of their very jobs.”
State Rep. Cherelle Parker of Philadelphia spoke for just three minutes but really got the crowd going. She began leading a series of chants, asking, “Are you all fired up?” and noted the Philadelphia delegation in the state House stands with the security officers.
“We respect you and we respect what you do for a living,” she said. “We lean on you to protect the men and women who protect and keep our city going.”
Other elected officials on stage included Council members Bill Green, Jannie Blackwell, Kenyatta Johnson, Mark Squilla, Bobby Henon, Wilson Goode Jr. and Bill Greenlee. Blackwell was the only Councilmember to speak.
Upshaw, once offstage, told PW that security guards at Penn are “basically an unarmed entity” and need better arrangements, but added the West Philadelphia school is “a good place to work.”