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Security guards rally for higher wages, better benefits

By Alexis Mazzeo / Staff Writer

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After 22 years on the job as a security guard, Dennis England makes $9 an hour — $1.75 above Pennsylvania’s minimum wage. Thursday morning, he decided to march for a change.

England, members of the Service Employees International Union and dozens of security guards from around Pittsburgh held a rally Thursday morning outside the Cathedral of Learning. Marching, drumming and chanting, the protesters called for fairer contracts by adding a wage increase, more lenient sick days and cheaper health insurance coverage.

32BJ has unionized nearly 1,000 security guards in the city in less than a year.

The guards, rallying on Pitt’s campus, which has been scene of several other SEIU rallies in the past year, are negotiating new contracts with security guard firms U.S. Security Associates, AlliedBarton Security Services, G4S, Securitas, International Investigative Services, St. Moritz Security Services, Guardsmark, I.S.S. and Chesley Brown. According to Traci Benjamin, spokesperson for 32BJ, Pittsburgh’s chapter of the SEIU, negotiations started in April. Pitt employs security guards from U.S. Security, but is not involved in negotiations, Pitt spokesperson John Fedele said.

Lonnie Sutton, the Pittsburgh branch manager for U.S. Security, confirmed the company is currently negotiating with the SEIU.

Maria Centeno, a security guard for AlliedBarton, has been a security guard for four years and said the company recently gave her a 21 cent raise, making her total hourly wage $10.86.

Centeno, a single mother, said her new wage is not enough to support her five children and pay for her children’s college tuition.s

“Enough is enough,” Centeno said at the rally. “A lot of security guards have two or three jobs to support their family. Some rarely get to see their own kids, especially single parents.”

Centeno said that part of the security guards’ stress stems from having to respond first to a potentially dangerous situation. The guards, she said, are in charge of maintaining safety before the police, ambulances or fire trucks arrive on the scene.

“It’s a lot of responsibility and these people need to understand how hard we work,” Centeno said.

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Security guards rally for higher wages, better benefits