For Guards, Union in Sight

Contractor to allow union two years after Harvard outsourced guards

Harvard’s security guards will be allowed to unionize for the first time since the University outsourced their jobs two years ago, a change that signals a hard-fought victory for the guards and student activists.

AlliedBarton, the contractor that employs Harvard’s security guards, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) reached the agreement permitting the guards to organize last Friday.

“The parties have reached an understanding in principle for a fair process by which the officers at Harvard can decide whether or not to become represented by the SEIU,” AlliedBarton spokesman Larry Rubin said yesterday in a statement to The Crimson. He declined to comment further.

SEIU spokeswoman Inga Skippings confirmed yesterday afternoon that an agreement had been reached but declined to elaborate.

Several security guards speculated that pressure from Harvard led to the deal.

“Harvard is part of the negative publicity and all the rallies,” said Dani Camille, an AlliedBarton guard at Harvard. “It looks like Harvard is not paying their guards.”

Harvard spokesman Joe Wrinn denied that the University had put any pressure on AlliedBarton to allow the guards to unionize.

“It’s an issue between Allied and its employees,” he said, adding that the University has no position on the issue.

Harvard once employed its security guards directly, and those guards enjoyed membership in the Harvard University Security, Parking, and Museum Guards Union. But the University gradually outsourced its guards because of financial losses, a process completed in 2004. To fill the void, Harvard subcontracted with Security Services Incorporated—now AlliedBarton—which did not permit its Harvard employees to unionize.

Harvard’s Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) has been pressuring the University and AlliedBarton to accept unionization for over two years, according to Adaner Usmani ’08, a SLAM member.

“We don’t have any clout in Allied, we’re not shareholders,” Usmani said. “The main way we can be useful to the campaign is putting pressure on Harvard, on Allied.”

He said the decision marks a significant victory for SLAM, which has made unionization one of its primary focuses this year. SLAM held a teach-in last month featuring David Bonior, a former Democratic Minority Whip in the House, urging Harvard security guards to unionize, and SLAM co-sponsored a protest for guard unionization attended by nearly 100 Harvard employees, students, and SEIU representatives.

“This is a decision that the guards, the union, slam, and the student body have fought very hard for,” Usmani wrote in an e-mail. “It is...something that neither Allied nor the administration granted easily, and not something that they deserve credit for.”

SLAM aimed to get guards a fair contract, a living wage, affordable health care, and a fair grievance process, said Jamila R. Martin ’07, a SLAM member. But she said the fight is “far from over,” because a union is a means to getting a fair contract, which she said the guards don’t yet have.

Emeka Onyeagoro, an AlliedBarton employee who has represented the Harvard guards in talks with the SEIU, said that the details are being worked out and that he does not expect a final contract until early next year.

Camille said she was also excited at the decision to allow unionization.

“It gives us security,” she said, noting that she expects unionization will result in a better pay rate, more sick time, and respect for seniority among guards.

But not all Allied security guards shared her enthusiasm.

Muhammad Shams, an AlliedBarton employee for the past seven years, questioned whether it will result in tangible benefits for Harvard’s guards.

“If there’s nothing new, then union, no union, it’s the same thing,” he said.

He said that he fears that the union will limit the amount of overtime that the guards can work. Overtime pay represents a significant source of income for many guards, he said.

—Staff writer Stephanie S. Garlow can be reached at sgarlow@fas.harvard.edu.