Security Officers At Philadelphia Historic Sites Raise Concerns About Wackenhut At Community Hearing

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Six years after the World Trade Center was attacked in New York City, security officers who guard Philadelphia historic sites testified about their poor working conditions at a community field hearing held yesterday, September 12. The hearing was chaired by Congressman Robert A. Brady (D-PA) at Christ Church Community House just blocks from the Independence Hall and Liberty Bell sites.

The people of Philadelphia will not let these workers down

Six years after the World Trade Center was attacked in New York City, security officers who guard Philadelphia historic sites testified about their poor working conditions at a community field hearing held yesterday, September 12. The hearing was chaired by Congressman Robert A. Brady (D-PA) at Christ Church Community House just blocks from the Independence Hall and Liberty Bell sites.

Security officers who guard the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall National Park raised concerns with the panel regarding training, equipment, health and safety and workers’ rights. Wackenhut Services Inc., a division of Wackenhut/G4S, the foreign-owned security services company, employs the security officers.

Former and current Wackenhut workers testified before a community hearing that included (in addition to Congressman Brady), City Councilmember Frank Rizzo, Jr. (R), Councilwoman-elect Maria Quinones-Sanchez (D), and Pastor Robin Hynicka of the Arch Street Methodist Church. Congressman Brady vowed to ask the U.S. Congress to investigate whether or not Wackenhut/G4S – which does around half a billion dollars a year of business with the U.S. government – should be debarred from getting U.S. government contracts.

The workers, who receive no health benefits or sick days, told the community leaders that they can’t afford to get sick on the job. “I am a diabetic and living with this illness has become a real struggle for me while working for Wackenhut,” security officer Charlie Wilson said. “I am left to pay for my diabetes medicine myself. Calling in for a sick day means either a penalty or no pay for that day at all.”

“They don’t provide us with the proper clothing or covering,” Wackenhut security officer Lamontez Bentley said. “We all spend a lot of money to make sure we stay warm out there. And it’s money that we can’t afford to spend. Many of my fellow workers are frustrated by the lack of sick days and inadequate uniforms.

“Unfortunately, after many of these workers presented their complaints to management, they either got fired or relocated to another location where the pay was less. It seems to me that Wackenhut is just not willing to listen.”

In fact, forty-six of fifty workers in the security workforce have already signed union authorization cards expressing their desire to be represented by SEIU 32BJ. However, the company has refused to recognize the union, even though SEIU represents more security workers than any union in the U.S.

Following the hearing Philadelphia City Councilman William Greenlee (D) oversaw a community-sponsored secret ballot election in which a majority of the workers took part, 94% voting for SEIU representation. “The people of Philadelphia will not let these workers down,” Greenlee, the councilman emphasized.

Last month, as a result of a federal investigation triggered by a wage and hour complaint filed by a Wackenhut employee, the company informed their employees that they would be receiving back pay owed to them by law. The workers have not been paid their proper rate since October 1, 2006, according to a memo distributed to the workers by Wackenhut.

In July, the company was the subject of a congressional hearing conducted by Edolphus Towns (D-New York), chair of the Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement.

Wackenhut Services Inc./G4S is owned by the London-based security conglomerate G4S. G4S, the largest company trading on the London stock exchange, is under fire from international human rights groups and trade unions for the company's practices in southern Africa and elsewhere.

With more than 85,000 members in six states, including 5,000 in Philadelphia, Local 32BJ SEIU represents the most property services workers in the country. SEIU, with 1.8 million members, is the fastest growing union in North America. SEIU property services workers nationwide clean, maintain, and provide security for commercial office buildings, co-ops, and apartment buildings, as well as public facilities like theaters, stadiums, and airports.

For more information go to http://www.eyeonwackenhut.org .

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Jo-Ann Mort
SEIU
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