For a long time, we've taken it for granted that AlliedBarton management isn't receptive to its officers' concerns. In the next few months, that could all change.
AlliedBarton security officers have been fighting for better working conditions and a union for years, and it's been a struggle as the company's upper management has consistently refused to talk with guards. But after The Blackstone Group recently bought AlliedBarton, the company that provides Penn's security services, officers are cautiously optimistic. Blackstone has historically been more supportive of workers' rights than AlliedBarton's former owners, so this just might prove to be a pivotal moment in the campaign.
It's time for students and the University to renew their support of our security officers. In the past, Penn has issued statements generically in favor of workers' rights. But it hasn't yet taken AlliedBarton head-on, arguing that it can't intervene in disputes with a third-party contractor. The University's hands were somewhat tied given the inflexibility of former AlliedBarton management - but now that Blackstone is in charge, Penn should step in on the workers' behalf.
"Now is a good time for us to organize," said Natalie Kelly, a member of the Student Labor Action Project, which works to support the guards' campaign and other labor-rights issues on campus. "This definitely changes the plans, and it advances the plans."
Thomas Robinson, a security officer and key leader of the campaign since it began, said that going forward, "We would like to develop a true working relationship with [Blackstone] to improve things for workers, which should be their number-one priority." He added that previous management hasn't been open to dialogue about issues workers face.
With Blackstone's takeover not yet completed, it's hard to determine exactly how the company's relationship with its workers will change.
Larry Rubin, AlliedBarton's spokesman, told me that "nothing will change" in how the company treats its officers - presumably because it believes it's already doing everything right. I'll take that assumption with a grain of salt.
"Something will change, but we don't know exactly what that will be," Robinson said.
Neither does Blackstone. It's negotiated with workers before, but not AlliedBarton workers. This time of transition and uncertainty is the time for the Penn community to support guards in setting the terms of that change.
"We're organizing students in solidarity with the workers," said Eric Augenbraun, a SLAP board member. "I see [the change] as validating what we've already been doing and giving us the OK."
Blackstone's 2007 support of unionized janitors' demands for health care and better wages and working conditions in a dispute in Boston, as well as its support of (non-AlliedBarton) security officers during contract negotiations in Los Angeles, implies that the combined efforts of officers and students may be more effective going forward than they have been in the past.
Though the guards' campaign has won significant victories in the past, including a large wage increase last year and paid sick days, it'll be impossible to continually defend and expand those rights unless AlliedBarton officers have some collective bargaining power.
Whether that comes from a union or from management engaging in respectful and serious dialogue with workers remains to be seen.
What is certain is that the AlliedBarton officers who work incredibly hard on our campus have gotten screwed in the past by their management, and there's now an opportunity for that situation to be improved.
As members of the same University community, we're obligated to work in solidarity with guards to ensure that all workers on our campus are treated fairly. The administration in particular is in a powerful position to persuade Blackstone to open dialogue with security officers and to set standards for working conditions at Penn.
The fact that our community hasn't done enough to support the guards until now is shameful. But we have a window of time in which we can do better. And we must.
Meredith Aska McBride is a College junior from Wauwatosa, Wis. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Radical Chic appears every Tuesday.Comments powered by Disqus
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