Columbia Public Safety and Facilities renewed their contracts—which were set to expire on Sept. 30—with Summit Security and AlliedBarton on Aug. 22, satisfying activists who were worried that the University would sign a contract with a nonunion security firm.
The new contract, which provides campus security officers and public safety officers, will last for four years. During contract negotiations last month, Student Worker Solidarity sent a letter to Jim McShane, vice president for Public Safety, University President Lee Bollinger, and the Columbia board of trustees urging them not to sign with Command Security, another company that the University was considering, calling the firm “irresponsible and non-union.”
The letter said that Command has a “history of unfair and unsafe practices” along with discrimination and harassment issues.
“SWS supports the decision. We really just didn't want Command to be on our campus at all,” Student Worker Solidarity member Becca Breslaw, BC '17, said in an interview. “Hopefully the pressure that we produced through the actions that we had and the flyering that we had lead them to make this choice instead of choosing Command.”
Columbia administrators, meanwhile, have said that all three finalists for the contract were union-affiliated.
“We are very pleased that the hard-working security guards at Columbia will be able to maintain industry standard wages and benefits through a strong union contract,” Denis Johnston, vice president of 32BJ Service Employees International Union, said in an email. “We deeply appreciate the strong support of the student body for the guards, who work hard to keep the community safe and secure. We believe that the students' support was important in convincing the University to stay with contractors that have a record of treating their workers fairly.”
In 2010, Summit Security joined 32BJ, and members' salaries have since risen from $10 an hour to $14.75 an hour. The union has also helped employees get more health care benefits, paid vacation, and paid sick days, according to Johnston.
“Columbia's had to come up with close to $5 an hour in wage improvements, so people would have wages to better support their families, and not have to work two or three jobs,” Johnston said. “Columbia workers went from having inferior to non-existent health insurance to now having quality and comprehensive family coverage where the security contractors are basically paying the cost of the premium, and of course Columbia is ultimately the one who pays for that if the health insurance costs around $ 8,000 per year, per individual employee.”
Johnston said the rate at which Columbia pays its employees is on track with major building owners throughout New York City and that the previous agreement with Columbia was part of a larger city pattern to improve the benefits provided to guards.
“It's a comprehensive union agreement that we have with Columbia security contract advisors that really moved workers forward to make this a job that people would want to stick around and really care about,” Johnston said.
The new contract also means that there won't be large-scale turnover of officers on campus.
“Now everyone can come back to campus knowing it's going to be same old same old and they're going to be seeing the same security guards they saw, which is really important,” Breslaw said. “Those relationships remain the same and that those workers continue to gain access to better benefits and wages and all those things, because when you're starting from scratch it becomes much harder to work your way up."