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

Arielle Zionts

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.”

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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