During Yesterday’s Fight for 15 Protests, Nearly 50 Chicago Armored Guards Decided to Go on Strike

Arielle Zionts and Micah Uetricht

Brink's workers at the Fight for 15 rally at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

The Fight for 15 cam­paign says that yesterday’s protests in over 200 cities around the coun­try were the biggest yet since the move­ment began almost three years ago. Orga­niz­ers say their num­bers have grown larg­er with each round of strikes. But they have also expand­ed in ways that no one, includ­ing the campaign’s staffers, thought pos­si­ble — like when near­ly 50 dri­vers and secu­ri­ty guards employed by Brink’s, the glob­al secu­ri­ty and logis­tics com­pa­ny known for its armored bul­let­proof trucks, sud­den­ly decid­ed to walk off the job ear­ly Wednes­day morning.

The work­ers say they made the deci­sion that morn­ing after reach­ing out to an orga­niz­er from the cam­paign a few days before April 15. After mak­ing the deci­sion at their head­quar­ters that morn­ing, they were joined by a group of Fight for 15 staffers and sup­port­ers. The work­ers attempt­ed to present a signed let­ter to man­age­ment stat­ing they were going on strike, but mes­sen­ger John Downes says man­agers refused to come to the door. Work­ers have not yet received a response from management.

At 5:00 a.m. this morn­ing, a group of about 20 Fight for 15 staffers and com­mu­ni­ty sup­port­ers accom­pa­nied a group of around two dozen work­ers back to work, a tac­tic which the move­ment has used after every strike. Work­ers attempt­ed to deliv­er anoth­er let­ter to man­age­ment today that explained their strike, but man­age­ment instead called the police on the group. Staffers say the work­ers did, how­ev­er, suc­cess­ful­ly return to work.

At the Fight for 15 ral­ly yes­ter­day, dri­ver John­ny Can­tu said almost 50 of Brink’s Chicago’s near­ly 80 dri­vers and mes­sen­gers decid­ed to strike and demand a raise, over­time pay, increased staffing and vehi­cle repairs. Can­tu says that some peo­ple think of low-paid work­ers as oh, they flip burg­ers, oh they’re just clean­ing up the place. … It’s not about that. It’s about peo­ple try­ing to make a living.”

Can­tu said his chil­dren are work­ing while attend­ing col­lege to help sup­port his fam­i­ly. He said Brinks reduced con­tri­bu­tion to work­ers’ 401(k)s and only pay over­time for five hours per week, even though many work­ers work 60- to 80-hour weeks; oth­er work­ers con­firmed this sto­ry. Downes said new mes­sen­gers, the work­ers who car­ry bags of mon­ey or oth­er valu­ables, make $13.75 an hour while dri­vers make $12.50. Can­tu com­pared these wages to FedEx and UPS work­ers who can make over $20 an hour with overtime.

Downes said Brink’s’ trucks are in poor work­ing con­di­tion, lack­ing air con­di­tion­ing or heat and extreme­ly uncom­fort­able to dri­ve in, and more work­ers are need­ed so employ­ees don’t have to work up to 16-hour days. He also wants to see truck teams of three work­ers, so one work­er can pro­vide secu­ri­ty while co-work­ers deliv­er the valu­able car­go (most trucks only have two work­ers, a dri­ver and a mes­sen­ger) and improved safe­ty train­ing. He cit­ed the death of 60-year-old Brink’s mes­sen­ger Alvin Kin­ney in Hous­ton this Feb­ru­ary after armed assailants robbed his truck.

Mes­sen­ger Alex Alvarez says the company’s man­age­ment has led us on, giv­ing us false hope. [They say] … we’re not the bad guys, it’s not up to us, your raise is com­ing, … just hang tight.” Can­tu says work­ers have com­mu­ni­cat­ed these com­plaints to man­agers for over a year. After see­ing no changes, he says, they decid­ed to join the Fight for 15. Work­ers and Fight for 15 staffers would not com­ment on plans to move towards union recognition.

Brink’s spokesper­son Ed Cun­ning­ham says he under­stands employ­ees’ con­cerns.” He explains that Brink’s works in a very com­pet­i­tive indus­try and had to take some actions to cut costs,” so he was was­n’t sur­prised” to hear of the work­ers’ griev­ances. Brink’s is attempt­ing to ensure the strike does not affect the company’s cus­tomers, Cun­ning­ham says, and he hopes to contin[ue] to try to have a dia­logue, under­stand and resolve [work­ers’] issues” as soon as possible.

The Fight for 15 has expand­ed its focus great­ly in recent months, going beyond fast food work­ers to oth­er low-wage work­ers includ­ing home health care work­ers (many of whom are cur­rent or poten­tial mem­bers of SEIU, the prin­ci­pal union spon­sor­ing the Fight for 15), high­er edu­ca­tion work­ers like adjunct fac­ul­ty and oth­ers. The Chica­go Teach­ers Union recent­ly announced it would make a demand for all Chica­go Pub­lic Schools employ­ees to earn at least $15 per hour as part of its upcom­ing con­tract nego­ti­a­tions with the Board of Education.

But armored secu­ri­ty guards have nev­er been a tar­get for orga­niz­ing in the cam­paign. A Fight for 15 spokesper­son con­firms that they still are not. 

Near­ly 12 hours after they had decid­ed to go on strike yes­ter­day, Brink’s work­ers — still in their uni­forms includ­ing bul­let­proof vests and hol­sters for guns — joined thou­sands of fast food work­ers, union mem­bers, com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions, adjunct pro­fes­sors, home health care work­ers and sup­port­ers to ral­ly at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois-Chica­go. The crowd then took over the streets and passed by the Board of Trade as they marched to a McDon­ald’s in the Loop.

As the march turned north onto Hal­st­ed Street, a reporter approached a group of about a dozen Brink’s work­ers chant­i­ng and hold­ing pick­et signs. When asked to con­firm that the work­ers had indeed decid­ed to stage the walk-off only that morn­ing, one work­er nodded.

We don’t fuck around,” he stat­ed plain­ly, then walked away.

Arielle Zionts is a Spring 2015 In These Times edi­to­r­i­al intern. She stud­ied anthro­pol­o­gy at Pitzer Col­lege and radio at the Salt Insti­tute for Doc­u­men­tary Stud­ies. Mic­ah Uet­richt is the Asso­ciate Edi­tor of In These Times and author of Strike for Amer­i­ca: Chica­go Teach­ers Against Aus­ter­i­ty.
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