After Long Struggle, Philly Museum Guards Unionize

Gemma Baltazar

Union activists, including Penn Presbyterian Medical Center AlliedBarton guard Daniel Williams (far right), march to AlliedBarton Security Service's Philadelphia office in April.

This past weekend marked a triumph for security guards at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as a two-year long effort to form a union ended in victory.

The National Labor Relations Board certified the guards’ win to join the independent Philadelphia Security Officers Union (PSOU) by a vote of 68 – 55.

It has been 17 years since the museum has seen a formal collective bargaining group. Back in 1992, museum security guards were members of a city union and paid $14 per hour, plus benefits, until their jobs were privatized by then-Mayor Ed Rendell. Museum guards are currently paid $10.03 an hour.

Victory did not come easily for the guards, despite support for unionizing from the community and local politicians.

Museum guards signed union authorization cards in November 2008, but couldn’t find a union willing to stand up to their employer — security industry giant AlliedBarton — to help them fight for recognition as a bargaining group. (Under the federal National Labor Relations Act, security guards are prevented from joining most labor unions.)

A string of unionizing stipulations left the guards with potential union representation under the card-check process, but with no power to even begin negotiations for better working conditions.

But although the guards have won the election, they have only won half the battle for better jobs. They still have to negotiate a contract with AlliedBarton. Top issues up for discussion? Wages, benefits such as healthcare, and overall respect for the guards.

Finally organized and officially recognized, the guards may be able to regain the standard of living they had back in 1992 — and perhaps surpass it.

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Gemma Baltazar is a fall 2009 In These Times editorial intern and a student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
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