Security officers protested budget cuts that have resulted in lost jobs for some and reduced pay and benefits for others outside the CUNY Graduate Center on Wednesday.
According to Johnny Patterson, the lead field representative for the local 32BJ workers’ union, security staff was paid $9.10 per hour for almost five years. The union then reached a deal with the security vendors to increase hourly wages to $14.35. Shortly afterward, they received word that CUNY would be ending many of its contracts with security vendors and cutting out “the middle man” to save money.
Carolyn Burnett, a security officer at CUNY’s York College for the past three years, said: “It's going to affect us a whole lot, because we still have families and we still have bills to pay. We were coming up out of the water, and now they're trying to put us back down. I don't think that's fair, and these budget cuts gotta go.”
Local 32BJ represents more than 400 security officers across the CUNY system and has been organizing protests on various campuses. “They're taking the jobs away from security officers who have worked here for five years without a raise, any raise at all,” said Kevin Doyle, executive vice president of 32BJ. According to Doyle, the union had worked for several years to get increased wages for the security vendors, but once an agreement was reached, CUNY terminated its contracts with those vendors.
“Look at how the economy is. We can hardly put food on the table for our family. At least look somewhere else to cut. Don't cut at the bottom. Don't start at the bottom—try to start from the top,” said Webster Mills, addressing the crowd on Fifth Avenue amid the stifling heat. Mills has been a security officer at York College for the past 20 years. He is a cancer survivor and depends on his wages to afford medication that is costing him more than $150 a month.
Raymond Soldavin, vice president of the CUNY Graduate Center, said that schools have, in fact, been looking to make cuts starting all the way from the top. Soldavin's own staff has been reduced by 20 percent over the past six months. According to Soldavin, the situation is similar at other schools in the system as well.
The Graduate Center has ended its contract with the security vendor to eliminate the costs associated with going through a middle man. According to Soldavin, the vendor for the Graduate Center has increased security services costs by more than 50 percent over the past two years.
The school has offered all of the security personnel to apply for jobs directly through the school. The Graduate Center plans to give these officers preference over other applicants, while offering wages comparable to what they were paid through the vendor with variance depending on experience.
The security vendors for the CUNY system are Securitas, Andrews International, and Allied Barton.
Tristan Husby, a classics graduate student, interacts with the security officers for a routine ID check more than 10 times a day. “When you deal with a workforce that is not unionized and doesn't have benefits, that means that people come and go much more quickly,” Husby said.
He added: “If you have any sort of friendship or relationship with the security guard here, this means that you can't really count on them since they might not be here in a couple of weeks. Given how vast and sprawling the community is, there isn't really certainty that you'll see the person that you know behind the desk here. In a lot of ways, it cuts down on the feel of the community here, which is hard enough to find to begin with."