CLEVELAND — Demands for better pay and benefits are giving momentum to the organized labor movement in Cleveland. Thursday, security officers rallied in Playhouse Square with support from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1.
“Is Cleveland a union town?” one person yelled during the rally.
“Yes!” the group of several dozen people responded.
According to SEIU Local 1, the union and non-union security officers have been trying to work with Playhouse Square leaders for weeks to improve working conditions. It called Royce-U.S. Protection Service, which provides security for many of the Playhouse Square buildings, an “irresponsible security contractor” and said it’s “driving down the labor standard in Cleveland.”
“They should be respected for the work that they do and not disrespected because of it,” said Yanela Sims, the Ohio state director for SEIU Local 1.
She said the average wage for security officers employed by the company is $13 per hour.
Melvin Barnes, Jr. has worked security at the AECOM building on St. Clair and E. 9th St. for 17 years under several contractors, including Royce-U.S. Protection Service. He told News 5 he took the job while attending college to become a music educator, but has struggled to save enough money to complete the required coursework.
“It’s unfortunate that my pay and benefits haven’t kept up with the time I’ve put in, and especially with inflation,” he said.
Barnes also lamented a lack of paid time off. During the pandemic, he said it was difficult to travel home to New Orleans for two separate family funerals.
“[The expense] had to come out of pocket. There was no bereavement leave, no kind of leave, nothing. And I had to borrow money,” he explained.
He and others gathered Thursday believe a union’s representation and collective bargaining power would help bolster pay and benefits.
A group of downtown Cleveland SEIU janitorial workers stood in solidarity with the group. They issued similar requests before unionizing in 2019.
“Our jobs are kindred because on the social strata of most buildings, we’re the amoeba,” said Leonard Thomas, who has worked as a janitor downtown for 15 years.
Thomas said joining a union has improved his wages and hours on the job.
Sims added, “You don’t deserve any less than anyone else who goes to work and does a good job every day. And that is the message that a lot of the workers in these properties want to get across.”
News 5 reached out to Royce-U.S. Protection Service about this story and spoke to President and CEO Joe Conley by phone. He declined to comment about efforts to unionize but defended the company’s treatment of employees.
“I can tell you we meet and exceed industry standards for pay and benefits,” Conley said. “I’m very confident we exceed standards in how we treat our people. That’s evident by the longevity of many of our security officers.”
Sims countered, “My response to that is - talk to his workers. His workers are the ones who see the paycheck and experience what it’s like to be an employee of his.”
She said the next step is a discussion between security officers, their employer and leaders in Playhouse Square about pay, benefits and working conditions, prior to formal discussions about unionizing.
Download the News 5 Cleveland app now for more stories from us, plus alerts on major news, the latest weather forecast, traffic information and much more. Download now on your Apple device here, and your Android device here.