Celebrating King Day, Union President Faith Culbreath and team overcome five years of struggle to unionize the security guards of Los Angeles.
Before the King Day parade started on Monday, members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Security Officers United in Los Angeles (SOULA) Local 2006 announced that its 4,000 security offers had reached a tentative agreement on a union contract that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called, “the best contract for fair wages and benefits which will not only allow them to secure and be the first responders to the city’s buildings, but also to secure their families.” Standing next to the mayor was security officer Michael Johnson, his wife and their five children. Mayor Villaraigosa was responsible for bringing the security officers union and the building owners together with the security contractors.
According to Faith Culbreath, president of SEIU SOULA Local 2006, “This groundbreaking agreement will start to reshape the landscape of Los Angeles not just for the security officers, but for the entire community.”
Johnson added, “We’re all thrilled. Finally I can take care of my family like a man, and do for them how I’ve always dreamed and to give them opportunities that I never had.”
Some of the details of the historic tentative contract allow the security officers to vote to ratify or reject the contract on January 26, 2008; if ratified, it will be the best contract of its kind in the country calling for a 40 percent wage and benefit increase; it will cover security officers that service more than 80 percent of commercial real estate in Los Angeles County; and it will discontinue the practice that lets the private security industry pays wages on average of $8.50 per hour without access to affordable health care.
The announcement was also hailed as a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., since King was assassinated in Memphis fighting for the same benefits for sanitation workers. The community thought it was a fitting birthday present to Dr. King.
A gathering of present and former elected officials, union leaders and businessmen came out to participate in the parade in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Councilman Herb Wesson of the 10th District, in whose district the parade started, was at the podium thanking all the participants and naming all the officials who were there including Assembly-members Karen Bass, Mervyn Dymally and Curren Price; Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas; Council-members Bernard Parks, Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti; SEIU President Tyrone Freeman; Rev. Lewis Logan of Bethel AME Church and Kamala Harris, district attorney of San Francisco.
Nearly 70 percent of the Los Angeles security officers are African American and they are leading the nation’s organizing drive in the labor movement. Without a decent contract, many of them are forced to work at least two jobs just to make ends meet. Notwithstanding, security officers are usually the first responders to any disasters, and there are approximately twice as many security officers as there are police officers.
Furthermore, the union figures that by raising the earnings of the security officers, over $50 million would be pumped into the local economy annually, particularly the South Los Angeles community where most of the union lives.
Therefore it was in the best interest of the city that the mayor stood with the security officers at the negotiation table and at the press conference for as Culbreath said, “When essentials like respect, living wages and affordable health care enter the picture, it changes the way working families make decisions in the here and now, and also how we plan for the future. The tentative agreement gives us more than hope but actual proof of a better future for African American workers in Los Angeles.”