Last week, security officers, housekeeping staff, and other Philadelphia community members gathered in front of the Benjamin Franklin statue to protest unfair wages, unsafe practices, and workplace harassment — among other issues.
The rally began at approximately 11 a.m. in front of the Benjamin Franklin statue, with attendees chanting, "What do we want? Fair contract! When do we want it? Now!"
The Philadelphia Security Officers Union and the Teamsters Local 115 labor union organized the rally. It drew a group of nearly 50 people on Thursday, June 2. President of PSOU Colin Koch said that the purpose of the rally was to show Allied Universal Security Services and the University that the Union "[was] not going to take their horrible counter offers" when negotiating a new contract.
Koch told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the security officers were promised a raise by July 1, 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. That date was later delayed to January 2021. While the wages of supervisors at contracted security companies were raised, the promised higher wages for security officers have yet to arrive as of June 2022.
Tony Luckangelo, a hard surface custodian at Penn, told the DP that he and others at the rally "are actually contracted as essential personnel." Luckangelo said, "We don't feel we're being treated as such," referring to the safety issues posed by rising crime rates in West Philadelphia and financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — as well as recent inflation.
The two-tier wage system for housekeepers was a focal issue for those attending the rally. This system separates employees — with one group earning lower wages or less employee benefits than another. Those at the rally asserted the importance of equal benefits for all workers.
Patricia Fallon (middle), a housekeeper working in the Biology Department buildings at Penn who is paid in the top tier of the two-tier wage system, said that it is important to her to support her colleagues who are getting paid in the lower tier. Fallon said, "Somebody fought for me for what I have, and I'm privileged to have [what I have] right now." She added, "We are all doing equal work, and we all should be getting the same amount of pay."
Grant (middle), a Penn security officer, spoke to the DP about the danger that he experienced working late at night, most notably on May 15, 2022, when he reacted to an armed robbery at the corner of Preston and Pine streets. Grant said that, while he was in a different uniform that night, he "probably could have taken a hit … if they had seen me in my yellow uniform, [since] they would have thought I was a cop." He noted that patrolling as a security officer, which is less equipped than Penn Police, had been particularly difficult due to the lack of equipment.
"We need the the body armor or radios because this is not doable. I mean, if it wasn't for the fact that we all have cell phones, we would have no way to communicate," he added.
Ja'Wuan Thomas, a housekeeper working at Penn, spoke directly to incoming Penn President Liz Magill in an interview with the DP and asked that she bring in and question top labor relations officials at the University — including Executive Director for Staff and Labor Relations Jeff Rowland and Director of Labor Relations for Facilities and Real Estate Services Jim Bean. Thomas said that they should be questioned on why they have been "continuing with unfair labor practices," such as "overworking housekeepers" and "violating … civil authority." He hopes that Magill will address the two-tier wage system during her tenure as president.
Thomas also spoke about some unfair practices and incidents of harassment that have been levied on the University staff employees. "They're making housekeepers clean two or three buildings within eight hours. [They overwork, over-manage, and send] two or three managers over to supervise one housekeeper. A lot of harassment has been going on — physical harassment as well," Thomas said.
A new contract will be negotiated and signed between the University and its staff employees when the current one expires at the end of June. The rally attendees are hoping to gain better terms when the new contract is negotiated with the University.
The rally ended with a group photo of all the attendees. Koch told the DP that he encourages students, faculty, and community members to show their support for staff employees by emailing the new president and demanding that the "University and Allied Universal negotiate in good faith and respect these unions."
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