Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pittsburgh Security Guards Rally for Job Security

Chris Thomas, Public News Service (PA)

PHOTO: Kim McGowan (right) is among the security guards working for private contractors who say today's security challenges call for more training and better pay. They rallied in Downtown Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Photo credit: Maria Montano.
PHOTO: Kim McGowan (right) is among the security guards working for private contractors who say today's security challenges call for more training and better pay. They rallied in Downtown Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Photo credit: Maria Montano.
PITTSBURGH - Steel City security guards rallied Downtown on Wednesday to demand greater job security, and to point out many of the private contractors hired by high-rise owners or managers don't offer their workers enough training, room for advancement, or sufficient pay for the modern-day challenges security guards face.

Kim McGowan, a security guard with contractor Chesley Brown, has been patrolling the same building for 16 years. She says her experience is unusual in an industry where turnover is high due to low wages, and believes the frequent turnover heightens the need for standardized training in areas from terrorism to workplace violence.

"We are on the front lines," says McGowan. "When something happens - like a medical emergency, if somebody fell, a couple arguing at a bus stop, a fire in the building - we're the first ones there."

The security guards are not union members, but are working with 32BJ SEIU to change that. They say one of the attractions is the union has developed a 40-hour training program for private security officers that is already being used successfully in New York City. There are no current training requirements for security contractors in Pittsburgh.

McGowan says Pittsburgh's downtown vacancy rate is low, and more businesses and people in those buildings means more responsibility for public safety. She adds the guards are also convinced joining a union would ensure pay and benefits are fair for all workers.

"We're not getting treated equally," she says. "They have their favorites. We devote a lot of our time and a lot of our lives to these people. I feel we need more respect."

At yesterday's security guard rally, paramedics, firefighters and clergy members all were on hand to support their efforts.

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