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Friday, May 22, 2015, 11:31 am

Chicago Armored Truck Employees Say They Were Fired for Participating in Fight for 15 Strike

BY Arielle Zionts

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Background: Brink's workers on strike on April 15. Foreground: Darletta Scruggs and her son. (Arielle Zionts, 15Now)  

Former Brink’s route coordinator Darletta Scruggs says she always tried to keep her activism separate from her work. But when she learned about the working conditions of the armored truck drivers and messengers she scheduled, she felt she couldn’t stand idly by.

Among the workers’ other grievances, many say they are paid under $15 an hour, rely on poorly maintained trucks and only receive five hours of overtime even though many workers work 60 to 80-hour weeks—all for a job that requires them to risk their lives every day shuttling money and other valuables in their armored trucks. Scruggs said when workers aren’t happy, or their trucks are breaking down, it makes her coordinating job more difficult.

Scruggs says she encouraged the workers to form a union and walk of the job on April 15 to join the worldwide Fight for 15 protests but did not walk off the job herself. A week later, Scruggs tried swiping her ID card into work—only to find that she was denied entry. Last week, messenger John Downes was also fired. He participated in the walkout and personally delivered the message notifying managers that the workers were attempting to form a union.

In addition to their workplace activism, Scruggs and Downes cite “blatant” intimidation tactics that lead them to believe they were fired in retaliation for organizing. They say workers are facing threats of pay cuts or termination, and management has brought in executives from Brink’s Richmond, Virginia, headquarters who arrived at their West Chicago base site—one driving a Maserati—to observe and question workers. Brink’s has not responded to several requests for comment for this story.

The day before she was fired, Scruggs says she was sent out to work on a truck, even though she was not hired nor trained to be a delivery person. Because delivering is not her job, she was never assigned to a specific gun, which all drivers and messengers carry, and sometimes had to use a gun she was not certified to use (though she did have certification to use another gun). At the destination, Scruggs says she and her driver were unable to open the back of the truck; the locks appeared to be smoking.

When Scruggs returned to the base, she told her manager that poor truck maintenance regularly leads to malfunctions that cause trucks to break down or stop, putting workers at risk of a robbery or death, as in the recent case of a Houston Brink’s guard who was killed during a robbery. Scruggs said the managers’ response to news of the guard’s death was “very robotic,” emphasizing that “we just need to service the customers. … It shows that the lives of the workers are not the priority. It’s just the profits.”

When the manager asked Scruggs to work past her normal hours and go back out on the route, Darletta said she was not able to stay late. When asked if she was “refusing to work,” the single mother said she needed to pick up her three-year-old from preschool. The next morning, she was denied entry to work.

Usually, as in Downes’s case, workers are given several days notice before they are fired. Downes was told he was fired for accidently leaving money in a van—something he says other workers have done before without being fired. Neither Downes nor Scruggs had received any prior disciplinary actions before being fired.

The 15 Now movement has started a campaign to raise awareness and money for Scruggs, and both workers have both filed wrongful termination suits with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Scruggs will also argue against her classification as “management,” as employees working under this classification don’t have the same protections as workers. Brink’s classified Scruggs as management because she receives a salary, but she argues this label is misleading since she doesn’t have any disciplinary powers over any other workers.

Scruggs says she wants to be rehired because she is good at her job and is close with her co-workers. Since being fired, she says she has lost her health insurance, had to pull her son out of preschool and signed up for unemployment benefits.

The majority of Brink’s workers have signed union cards and would like to join the International Guards Union of America (IGUA). So far, Brink’s has refused to enter into any formal conversations with workers who wish to unionize.

Because of some unusual laws and precedent, Brink’s workers are essentially unable to join or even receive assistance from larger unions like SEIU that have more resources. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act prohibits unions that represent non-guards from also representing guards, and in 1953, a ruling classified armored car drivers and delivery-people as “security guards.”

These laws allow companies to voluntarily recognize guard units of non-guard unions, but they can withdraw recognition at any time and the NLRB can’t offer any protection to the workers. Retired AFSCME Local 2858 president Steve Edwards writes in Labor Notes, “For decades guard unions were strong enough to enforce their collective bargaining agreements without a legal framework. But in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Brink’s launched a wave of de-certifications.” Similar companies soon followed suit.

Brink’s Chicago workers have been unionized and gone on strikes in the past. In 1955, when over 400 Brink’s workers struck for five and a half weeks, they were represented by the Baggage and Parcel Drivers Local 725. The most recent strike seems to have been in 1983.

Before the April 15 strike, Scrugg’s colleagues asked her why she was risking possible retaliation to fight for conditions that don’t directly affect her. She replied that she doesn’t have the “right to sit by the side and ignore it. If I know it’s wrong, I have a duty to speak up, regardless of whether it’s going to jeopardize my job or my livelihood.”

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Arielle Zionts was a Spring 2015 In These Times editorial intern and freelance reporter. She is now a producer at the Interfaith Voices radio show in D.C. She studied anthropology at Pitzer College and radio at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Arielle loves to ride her bike and listen to public radio. She tweets at @ajzionts and her website is ariellezionts.com.

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