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Deal Reached to Let Hundreds of Security Guards Unionize

With the help of the mayor, the SEIU and L.A. developer Robert F. Maguire III settle a lengthy labor dispute.

By Duke Helfand, Times Staff Writer
April 12, 2006 - One of the nation's largest unions and downtown Los Angeles' biggest commercial property owner settled a long-running labor dispute Tuesday, announcing a deal that would allow several hundred security guards to unionize.

Leaders of the Service Employees International Union called their pact with developer Robert F. Maguire III an opening salvo in a campaign to organize an estimated 10,000 security guards, most of them African Americans, who work in commercial office buildings throughout Los Angeles County.

Union leaders and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who helped broker the deal, said that unionization would lead to higher wages, improved benefits and a reduction in the high turnover rate for one of the region's most dangerous jobs.

"This is an important first step," Villaraigosa said at a City Hall news conference where he was joined by Maguire, SEIU officials and African American religious leaders.

"It is only the beginning of what must be a citywide effort to pool our resources and expertise to upgrade building security … and improve the lives of tens of thousands of workers and their families," the mayor added.

Union leaders said the participation of Maguire, one of the region's most influential developers, would bring other major property owners to the negotiating table. Generally, building owners, including Maguire, contract with security companies for the guard services. Those companies would need to agree to any new contract.

"We're going to move forward aggressively to get other building owners on board," said the SEIU's Jono Shaffer.

Maguire said he already pays security guards at his buildings more than do most other downtown property owners and he provides health benefits. He said that treating employees better attracts a more stable workforce and ultimately makes buildings safer.

"We think it [goes] a long way toward professionalizing security officers and to really enhancing the security we provide in our buildings," he said.

The announcement of the agreement comes as members of the Los Angeles City Council also are trying to improve the lot of security guards.

Two council members introduced a motion last week to standardize the training of private guards in high-rise buildings and require owners to improve working conditions.

The motion, and Tuesday's deal, are aimed at workers who earn about $8.50 on average and often assume their positions with little or no training.

A recent report from the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a workforce-oriented nonprofit organization, found extremely high job turnover for guards.

Officials said the new agreement is meant to address some of those concerns by calling for Maguire and the union to contribute $125,000 each for three years toward a training program for guards.

The SEIU has spent the last four years trying to unionize security guards throughout Los Angeles County. The union has been prodding Maguire for 18 months to allow security guards in his buildings to join the union, and the two sides have been negotiating for the last six months.

Both credit Villaraigosa with helping to find common ground on various sticking points, including whether the guards would join janitors in a joint SEIU chapter, as the union wanted.

Maguire wanted to keep the two separate. Villaraigosa brokered a compromise: The guards could join the SEIU but they would do so in their own exclusive local.

Security officer John Wilson, who works at a Maguire-owned building in Santa Monica, said creating a new union is worth the effort.

"Too many security officers live day to day," Wilson said. "They just want to be treated with dignity."



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