Loading...

Breach of Security 

L.A.’s biggest property owners break with their own history and oppose security guards union

Thursday, Jun 17 2004
Comments

Jono Schafer of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) fondly recalls the good old days of 2000, when striking Los Angeles janitors took to the streets and garnered enough support to win a watershed contract that called for a 25 percent wage increase over three years. One of the key players in that victory was Maguire Properties Inc., downtown’s biggest landlord and a firm that made it a point to maintain good relations with labor. Schafer says that MPI’s chief, Robert Maguire, was instrumental in urging his fellow building owners to settle with the janitors. “When the contract was ratified, he came to the union meeting,” recalls Schafer. “He spoke to people. He was autographing T-shirts.”

How times change. Four years later, Maguire Properties is again taking a public stand on a union — giving it a thumbs-down. Just before its first shareholder meeting, held earlier this month, Maguire made official its opposition to the SEIU’s 2-year-old effort to unionize security guards, another low-wage, insurance-poor job that is overwhelmingly performed by people of color, mostly African-Americans, who tend to live in Central or South Los Angeles. According to the SEIU, the median wage for security guards countywide is $8.44 an hour, a figure that’s increased less than a dime in six years. Schafer, now head of the SEIU security-guard campaign, says he’s disappointed with Maguire’s resistance to improvement but hardly discouraged; the union has been accumulating petition signatures from guards at a pace consistent with its ultimate goal of getting 80 percent to 85 percent of the county’s entire security work force — about 10,000 total — signed on. But without the catalyzing support of Maguire and the rest of the downtown landowning community, the battle will likely be much more uphill than the SEIU anticipated. Though Maguire and most other building owners do not directly employ the guards, they can dictate the positions of subcontractors and business owners who do. “We frankly were anticipating some concern on the part of Robert Maguire. We certainly thought he’d be an ally in this,” says Schafer. “Unfortunately, because of some real misunderstanding on his part, he’s not taking that position.” Maguire Properties did not return calls for comment.

Schafer’s explanation of Maguire’s “misunderstanding” of the organizing effort ranges from the usual — management’s fear of ceding control of its employees, an uncertain economy — to a concern about the SEIU being the union that represents both janitors and security guards working in the same buildings, thereby raising conflict-of-interest and loyalty issues in the event of a strike by one group or the other. “They’re afraid the union employees could shut down their building,” says Schafer.

Related Stories

  • Contract Killing 4

    After decades of planning, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is finally set to award a $1.6 billion contract for the first phase of the Westside subway extension. But it appears that nothing on this project can happen without controversy. One of the losing bidders, Dragados USA, is crying foul over the...
  • Foster Farms Recall 2

    After 16 months and more than 600 very sick people, Foster Farms is finally issuing a recall for its chicken. Sort of. After some intense wrangling with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Foster Farms has agreed to recall some chicken produced for just three days in March. You are correct – it...
  • L.A. Bites

    California is the answer to that age-old question, Who let the dogs out? State Farm insurance says the Golden State led the nation in dog-bite claims last year. The company dealt with 449 of them in California, which accounted for $14.7 million in canine-attack payouts by State Farm.  Los Angeles,...
  • California Brewmasters: The Coffee Table Book About The Golden State's Beer Makers

    A weighty coffee table book might seem like an oddly elevated medium for a project about beer, but that's exactly what Nicholas Gingold's California Brewmasters is: a combination of professional-grade photography and text that serves as a hardcover conversation piece about the Golden State's historic and still-growing beer culture. The...
  • Taxpayer Party 7

    The Jay Z-curated Made In America festival in Grand Park and on downtown city streets Aug. 30 and 31 would pay local taxpayers a relatively small amount for police, street closures and other public services. See also: Jay Z's Downtown L.A. Fest Could Gouge Taxpayers A motion introduced by City Council...

Maguire Properties has invoked an obscure 1947 law that restricts the National Labor Relations Board from certifying union elections at job sites that have “mixed” representation. This means the security guards will have to join the SEIU via card check, a process in which employers simply recognize the union after a majority of potential members sign petitions. In opposing the organizing, Maguire has made it clear that it will grant no such recognition, creating a Catch-22 — guards have the right to a union in theory, but not in practice. All of the 50,000 security personnel represented by the SEIU nationwide in cities like New York and Chicago have achieved union status through card check; ongoing SEIU campaigns to organize more security personnel in these cities and many others across the country are taking the same tack. Locally, Schafer says, he is working on enlisting the support of other downtown business owners who, like Maguire, are members of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), which is expected to take a position on security organizing in the near future.

 

The cause of the security guards is shaping up into a modern-day civil rights fight. Sixty-five percent of guards in the L.A. area are black, a majority that more or less holds in other big cities; the SEIU is calling its national security-guard campaign the biggest black labor-organizing effort in American history. Nor are the demographics of this fight lost on the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Maxine Waters, Jesse Jackson, and scores of other black civic and business leaders and community organizations that are calling for Maguire and BOMA to do the right thing. Traditional labor advocates, many of whom powered the Justice for Janitors movement, have also sided with the guards, including the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the County Federation of Labor, the San Gabriel Valley bishop of the L.A. Archdiocese and Mayor Jim Hahn. All have written letters of support and pledged their help in facilitating speedy negotiations; other campaign allies joined the guards in a rally staged outside Maguire Properties headquarters during its shareholder meeting this month.

In all the action so far, the uncomfortable question of whether the private sector is simply less willing to aid black security guards than immigrant Latino janitors, whether L.A.’s latest labor movement is suffering from an image problem grounded in race, hangs in the air. But for Larry Walker, a downtown security guard for 15 years, the real issue is dignity and fair treatment for all workers. “When the organizers came to me two years ago, I took a deep breath and said, ‘It’s about time,’” says Walker, 51, a resident of the Crenshaw District. “I’ve seen guards dismissed for personal reasons, reasons beyond performance. There’s never a sense of stability.” Walker says he had an epiphany on 9/11, when his management ordered everybody to go home for safety reasons — except the security guards. “We were alone in that building,” he says. “I started thinking about what we sacrifice for this job. We’re really on the frontlines, especially now. All we want to do is legitimize security, make it more competitive and create a better climate of safety for everyone.”

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets

Slideshows

  • 21st Annual Classic Cars "Cruise Night" in Glendale
    On Saturday, spectators of all ages were out in multitudes on a beautiful summer night in Glendale to celebrate the 21st annual Cruise Night. Brand Boulevard, one of the main streets through downtown Glendale, was closed to traffic and lined with over 250 classic, pre-1979 cars. There was plenty of food to be had and many of the businesses on Brand stayed open late for the festivities The evening ended with fireworks and a 50th anniversary concert from The Kingsmen, who performed their ultimate party hit, "Louie, Louie." All photos by Jared Cowan.
  • The World Cup Celebrated And Mourned By Angelenos
    The World Cup has taken Los Angeles by storm. With viewings beginning at 9 a.m., soccer fans have congregated at some of the best bars in the city including The Village Idiot, Goal, The Parlour on Melrose, Big Wang's and more. Whether they're cheering for their native country, favorite players or mourning the USA's loss, Angelenos have paid close attention to the Cup, showing that soccer is becoming more than a fad. All photos by Daniel Kohn.
  • La Brea Tar Pits "Pit 91" Re-Opening
    Starting June 28th, The Page Museum once again proudly unveils the museum's Observation Pit, which originally opened in 1952 but has spent most of the last half century closed. Now visitors can get an up-close look at Pit 91, which is currently under excavation. The La Brea Tar Pits, home of the Page Museum, is one of the world's most famous ice age fossil locations, known for range of fossils from saber-toothed cats and mammoths to microscopic plants, seeds and insects. The new "Excavator Tour" is free with museum admission if purchased online at tarpits.org . All photos by Nanette Gonzales.