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The current average wage for Penn security guards is $12.78. The minimum wage for guards will soon be raised to $15. (File Photo)

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney set a new law in place Tuesday to increase the wages for security guards to $15 — a significant wage hike for Penn's security officers.

Kenney announced the higher prevailing wage for security officers at a Tuesday press conference held at Temple University by the local 32BJ branch of Service Employees International Union, which covers Philadelphia and Delaware. Julie Blust, deputy communications director of 32BJ SEIU, said the current starting wage for security guards at Penn is $11.88 and the average wage for officers overall is $12.78. About 95 percent of the security guards in the city are represented by the SEUI, Blust said.

The new law will affect about 2,000 security officers at Penn, Temple University, Drexel University, and other publicly subsidized institutions. It will take effect July 1. 

Kenney's announcement Tuesday comes after years of union advocacy to increase the average wage for security guards.

“Working class Philadelphians should not have to struggle to support their families if they are employed, especially by world-class institutions," Kenney said to a cheering crowd. "I’m excited that our institutions will be providing a livable wage at $15 an hour for all of our security officers and building service workers."

Penn's security guards are employed by Allied Universal Security Services through a contract with the University. The security officers are managed under the Penn Division of Public Safety's Security Services department.

University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy did not respond to requests for comment.

Credit: Chase Sutton

Prevailing wages are determined by the government as the local hourly rate for workers who hold jobs in the public sector. The prevailing wages for each industry are often related to rates negotiated by unions. Inclusion of security officers in the prevailing wage law became policy in 2016 as a result of advocacy efforts by 32BJ SEIU.

"The idea behind the prevailing wage is that entities that get public money should not be using it to provide poverty jobs," Blust said.

This announcement follows steps taken by Illinois and New Jersey to raise their overall minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 and 2024, respectively. Philadelphia has had a prevailing wage law for decades, affecting different industries such as construction. In 2016, Kenney signed a bill to expand the city's prevailing wage law to include service workers — including security guards — at publicly subsidized institutions.

"What we felt was a lot of low wage workers, particularly security officers that guard different institutions in the city, were not benefitting from the prevailing wage even though they make up such a large workforce and really need the wages to live," Blust added.

The new prevailing wage comes as part of the Kenney administration's broader efforts to increase minimum wage, advocating for higher wages for airport workers, food service workers, and other service industries in the past.

"People that secure buildings in the city and make the city go that aren't earning the living wage that they should be," Blust said. "Part of this effort is to make sure that everyone benefits from the prosperity that the city is seeing right now, and especially those that live right here in Philadelphia neighborhoods."