Paid sick leave has been a major policy issue in our city since 2011. This policy fight emerged from a high-profile work place struggle that goes back to 2005. Now, 10 years later, we are as close to passing paid sick leave legislation as we ever have been.
On Tuesday, January 27th, Councilman Bill Greenlee will introduce paid sick leave legislation for the third time.
If you stand with the 200,000 Philadelphians who don’t have any paid sick leave, please joins us in City Council Chambers, Room 400 at 10 a.m., Tuesday (weather permitting). POWER Interfaith will be there, represented by Reverend Greg Holston of New Vision United Methodist Church.
For some back ground on the origins of this policy fight for paid sick days, continue reading to learn how ten years ago, hundreds of non-union security officers kicked off the fight for paid sick leave and won many work place improvements on the way.
I began organizing with security officers at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University and the Community College of Philadelphia in 2004. After several meetings with the security officers to talk about their problems, we had a strategy meeting in early 2005.
The purpose of the meeting was to “cut the issue.”
This is organizer jargon that means that we will look at all of the problems that a community is facing to find THE ISSUE that we think has the most promise of providing a much needed win.
Back then, I was the Executive Director of Jobs with Justice and I was assisted by the enormously talented staff organizers, Eduardo Soriano and sometimes, Dorian Lam.
At this point, these security officers didn’t have the option of joining a union (Security officers are restricted under the law to join unions that only have other security officers as their members. There were no “security officer only” unions interested in us or that we were interested in joining). People who are in unions have the benefit of a legal structure (the National Labor Relations Board), which requires an employer to at least discuss all of workers problems. However, since we didn’t have the benefit of being able to join a union, the security officers (most of them were employed by Allied Barton security company) had to find another way to improve their work lives.
They faced so many problems. This video lays out some of the problems that they faced-
Of course they wanted to improve their wages. They wanted to get health care. The security officers needed better training. They wanted better equipment and an improved call-out policy. They needed paid sick leave. They wanted to be treated with dignity.
With all of these problems, problems that caused so much personal pain for these workers, it was difficult to prioritize them. There was an urgent need to address all of them. An organizer will not tell a community that any of their desires for change are impossible. No, we ask: “what will it take for us to win?”
That first win, and sequencing the victories that follow, is “strategy.”
So, the questions changes from “what are the problems we face?” to “which ‘problem’ can we turn into an ‘issue’ that the person in power/company/elected official is forced to take action on?”
Turning “problems” into “issues” = “cutting the issue.”
Of the long list of things that we needed to change, we decide that the most strategic issue to raise, on the long path to improving the lives of 16,000 mostly African-American security officers, was paid sick leave.
Paid sick leave was a problem that was broadly felt (by every security officer we spoke with, regardless of the company they worked for). It was also an issue that was deeply felt. Many security officers had been fired or had seen friends fired for missing work when they were sick, whether they “called out” or not.
Many of our leaders were single mothers, and many of them had stories of having to miss work because their children were too sick to be left alone. Due to this, we found that single mothers were more than twice as likely to be fired within the first year of employment than their male counterparts.
We thought that paid sick leave was the issue to campaign for.
I would like to put this campaign into better context.
At this point (2005), social justice groups around the country were trying to figure out how to improve the working conditions of sub-contracted workers. This type of employment arrangement was growing rapidly.
In fact, security officers at Penn, Temple and the Museum of Art used to be direct employees of those institutions. Back when that was the case, they were treated much better. For example, security officers at the universities use to be able to take free classes and also send their children there for free. Security officers at the museum were members of the union AFSCME and had pensions, living wages, fully-paid health care, generous paid vacations, and paid sick leave, not to mention they were protected from unjust firings by a standard discipline procedure and paid-for union lawyers and volunteer shop-stewards.
However, in the 1990s, all of this began to unravel.
The universities fired the security officers and handed that function over to Barton Security (later to merge with Allied Security, a company owned by Ron Perelman, to form Allied Barton). Barton Security hired back many of the same employees, but at a cut rate. One old-time security officer told me that they were offered their jobs back at $2 less per hour, and year after year their benefits were cut further.
Likewise, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art then-Mayor Ed Rendell fired all of the security officers and sub-contracted to Barton Security. Paid sick days, their living wages, all benefits, and their union all disappeared over night.
Fast forward to 2005 when we launched our campaign for paid sick leave in 2005 at Penn and Temple University.
The company was, by this time, Allied Barton. Allied Barton is owned by MacAndrews and Forbes, the private equity fund owned by Ron Perelman. The President of MacAndrews and Forbes was Howard Gittis.
If those names ring a bell, it might be because Mr. Perelman, his family’s and Mr. Gittis’ names are emblazoned upon buildings at all three sites, to which they have been major donors, and at which, their company, AlliedBarton, has had huge security contracts.
In short, we were really fighting against the tide. We had not a sympathetic ear at any of these institutions. To add to the impossibility of our efforts, our nation would soon get dropped kicked into the Great Recession, a difficult time to extract any economic improvements from large corporations.
City Democrats had endorsed the first cut, the universities enjoyed the “generosity” of Mr. Perelman and Gittis’, and had awarded them with huge contracts. The museum, also was in the back pocket (deep pockets, indeed) of Mr. Perelman and had just opened the Perelman Annex (Mr. Perelman’s parents made a huge contribution to make that happen), and our little crew had no union backing us.
Finally, in Philadelphia, Allied Barton enjoyed an near union-free monopoly, bringing more than 10% of its total national revenue from Philadelphia alone, a profitable market that the company was not likely to relinquish with out a fight.
That said, we felt that we had a solid issue to run on. Not only would many security officers be motivated to join our cause, so would many in the general public when they heard that these workers didn’t have the barest protection of paid sick days.
So, we launched our campaign for paid sick leave in 2005 at the University of Pennsylvania. The movement was lead by workers from Presbyterian Hospital, Penn Dorm workers like Thomas Robinson and many security officers from “Penn Rovers” (aka Penn Walk, or the officers that are on bikes and on foot in the periphery of Penn) and students from Penn.
After several protests, our group was approached by Reverend Beverly Dale from the Penn Christian Association. She told us that she was morally disturbed by learning that the security officers had no sick leave. Rev. Dale offered to support us and introduce us to other clergy.
By 2006, we were having meetings with security officers from more than 5 different companies, all of which wanted to support the movement for paid sick leave, because they too lacked it.
We had protest actions on at least a monthly basis which either targeted the president of Penn or Temple, but we saw little advancement.
In 2007, Rev. Jay Broadnax and Rev. Beverly Dale staged a brief sit-in in the office of Penn President Amy Gutmann.
Finally, due to the courage of the clergy, we proved that we could gain benefits for sub-contractors by putting pressure on the client. This was a major break through, and this has informed the actions of dozens of campaigns around the nation since. The video shows us marching away from the office after we gained the promise to meet and negotiate for paid sick days and other issues.
Penn Administrators refused to negotiate directly with our worker leaders.
Rev. Dale served as our proxy and brought security officers our first victory of 5 days of paid sick leave!
This victory increased the pressure on the administrations at Temple.
As Daily News Columnist, Ronnie Polaneczky points out in her 2007 column: “For Guards, Workplace Insecurity,”
But Berry, 50, works for King of Prussia-based AlliedBarton Security Services, the country’s largest provider of private security personnel. One of its contracts is with Temple University, which pays AlliedBarton about $6 million per year for 300 security guards to cover Temple’s dorms, buildings and kiosks.
The guards don’t get paid when they’re sick. Not one day, no matter how beloved, respected and entrenched they are in the Temple community
Winning paid sick leave at Temple was extremely difficult. They just would not budge.
Students and security officers kept the pressure up, going monthly to the Board of Trustees meetings.
This monthly ritual soon became disheartening. We spoke at one meeting, then the next month we were disallowed to do that. We then held up signs in the meeting in silent protest, the next month, we were banned from the meeting altogether. The next month, we protested in the hallway during the meeting, the following month, we were banned from the building.
Finally, On December 10, 2008, our clergy supporters, students, security officer and labor activists had a prayer vigil on the steps of President Ann Weaver Hart’s office.
After having been ousted for months, our clergy stood up and demanded justice.
The last speaker at the vigil was Rev. Dwayne Royster (now Bishop Dwayne Royster and the Executive Director of POWER)
Pastor Dwayne stood with the police barricading the doors behind him and told us how a “holy disruption” was required in times of injustice.
He told us how Mary, Mother of Jesus, had to disrupt her life to bring her son, Jesus, in to the world. He spoke about how the prophets disrupted their lives to make the world a better place.
After his short sermon, Rev. Royster told us that we were being asked to disrupt the meeting, the meeting going on behind him, blocked by armed police officers.
With that, Rev. Royster turned and walked to the doors and we all began to follow.
I was amazed when the police officer opened the door for us and walked away as more than one hundred of us streamed in and up the stairs.
We occupied the stairwell and sang for some minutes before we left, empty handed, but empowered (the photo on the banner of my blog was taken as I addressed our supporters after we left the building).
A few weeks later Eduardo Soriano, Thomas Robinson, and two other security officers returned to Temple and infiltrated President Weaver Hart’s Christmas party (so many big $ donors in the room!).
We did this-
30 days later, Temple announced that they too would change the paid sick leave policy for sub-contracted, AlliedBarton security officers.
Our support network was growing. By 2009 the Great Recession had hit our nation and Jobs with Justice, too, felt its punch. For a period in this year, we were all laid off. Thankfully, despite our embarrassment, the faith community sprang into compassionate action. Members of our clergy sub-committee, such as Rev. Dwayne Royster, Rev. Schaunel Steinnagel, Rev. Jay Broadnax, Rev. Beverly Dale, Rabbi Rav Soloff, Rev. Rene McKenzie, Rev. Andrew Plotcher and Linda Lotz stepped up and supported us by hosting meetings, attending actions, donating, and even putting money and bags of groceries directing into our hands to keep us organizing. My girlfriend at the time, Emily Randle, also supported me…six years later, we are very happily married .
Our campaign expanded and took on more sites, including the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the Philadelphia Museum of Art ,and the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, with mixed success.
At Penn, our leaders, via Rev. Dale, raised wages from $9.80/hour to $15/hour.
We won paid sick leave for the security officers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2009.
At this point, though winning paid sick leave for everyone in Philadelphia was still one of our long-term goals, the movement thought that we were organized enough to start our own independent union.
The security officers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art won an election establishing the independent Philadelphia Security Officers Union (PSOU) in 2010, and though the focus of the PSOU naturally shifted to starting their own union from scratch at that point, I am certain that their high profile campaign for paid sick leave played a role in inspiring what has grown into a powerful movement for paid sick leave in our city today.
As the union moved toward other business, the city-wide movement of paid sick leave began to evolve out of the offices of SEIU in 2010. The original proposal was loosely coordinated with Councilman Darrell Clarke’s office.
That effort didn’t get much traction at that time and sort of dwindled away.
The charge was taken up by Marianne Bellasorte from Pathways PA and the legislative sponsorship shifted from Councilman Clarke to the then-newly elected Councilman William (Bill) Greenlee.
By 2011 (I had since left Jobs with Justice to found the Philadelphia Security Officers Union and then the Philadelphia chapter of the Restaurant Opportunities Center), the coalition, then known as the Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces passed he legislation through city council with the powerful advocacy of Councilman Greenlee and Councilman Wilson Goode Jr.
This legislation allowed every worker employed for a business with more than 5 employees to earn one hour of paid sick leave per 40 hours worked, up to 5 days of paid sick leave.
Sadly, Mayor Micheal Nutter vetoed the bill.
Again, Marianne Bellasorte and the rest of us passed the legislation through council in 2013.
Meanwhile, in New York City, Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, lost her bid to run to be the next mayor of NYC after the unions dropped her for not supporting paid sick leave. Current-Mayor Bill DeBlasio ran with paid sick leave s one of his main issue.
However, here in Philadelphia in 2013, Mayor Nutter vetoed it once more.
A year later, Mayor Michael Nutter formed the Task force on Paid Sick Leave to study the issue. He recruited advocates such and Ms. Bellasorte and Teo Reyes from the Restaurant Opportunities Center (I had moved on once again to organize for POWER), along with business leaders.
Meanwhile, Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild (POWER), SEIU, the Working Families Party, UNITE HERE and others chalked up the first city policy victory for paid sick leave by overwhelmingly passing a city charter change in May of 2014, which included living wages and paid sick leave for all airport workers.
In December, the Task force recommended the policy for businesses with 15 or more employees.
This Tuesday, January 27th, (weather permitting) Councilman Bill Greenlee will introduce legislation granting the benefit for employees who work at businesses with 10 or more workers.
With the mayor’s study out and an election coming up, this Spring we have the best chance we have ever had to pass (and keep) this bill.
Join us on Tuesday, at 10 a.m. In City Hall Chambers to show our City Council that 2015 is the year to make this happen. Ten years is long enough to wait!
Paid Sick Leave Time Line-
February 2005- POWR (Philadelphia Officers and Workers Rising, worker center of security officers that evolved into the independent Philadelphia Security Officers Union) launched their campaign to win paid sick leave for Philadelphia (starting with security officers at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, Community College of Philadelphia, and at the Philadelphia Housing Authority).
2007- POWR Wins Paid Sick Leave for security officers at the University of Pennsylvania, SEIU convenes coalition to win paid sick leave for the city. The initiative was being led by Councilman Darrell Clark.
2009- POWR wins paid sick leave for security officers at Temple University. City-wide coalition disbands.
2010- POWR (which soon won their union election at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and became the independent Philadelphia Security Officers Union) Wins paid sick leave for security officers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. New city-wide coalition forms under the auspices of Pathways PA under the leadership of Marianne Bellasorte. The legislation was transferred from Councilman Darrell Clarke to Councilman Bill Greenlee.
2011- The Pathways PA administered Coalition for Health Families and Workplaces passes earned sick leave legislation through city council. Mayor Nutter announces that he will veto the legislation from the office of the Chamber of Commerce. Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. adds paid sick leave to the 21st Century Minimum Wage and Benefits Standard ordinance.
2011- Earned Sick Leave passes city council. Legislation would have provided paid sick leave for workplaces with more than 5 employees. Mayor Nutter vetoes the legislation.
2013- Paid sick leave passes by a vote of city council again. Once again it is vetoed by Mayor Nutter.
2013- NYC Speaker of the Council, Christine Quinn, loses the support of NYC Labor Unions in her bid to run for mayor against candidate Bill DeBlasio due to her lack of support of paid sick leave.
2014- Mayor Nutter creates the Mayor’s Task Force on Paid Sick Leave. The task force recommends that the Mayor pass an Earned Sick Leave policy for the city for businesses with more than 15 employees. POWER and friends pass living wage and paid sick leave for airport workers during the May mid-term election.
2015, January 27th- Councilman Bill Greenlee will introduce earned sick leave legislation for work places with more than 10 employees.