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Security guards at locations around city unionize

About 2,500 Philadelphia security guards, working at most of the city's office buildings and major institutions, have become unionized and ratified their first contract.

The Gallery in Center City is among the holdings of Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, whose profit fell sharply in the fourth quarter because of a large "impairment charge" against a new project in Chester County.

About 2,500 Philadelphia security guards, working at most of the city's office buildings and major institutions, have become unionized and ratified their first contract.

The ratification, coming as union membership is declining and unionism is under attack, will be announced at City Hall on Wednesday.

The contract brings wage increases and health benefits to guards at the Gallery, the University of Pennsylvania, the Convention Center, and Temple University.

"It means a lot to me," said Pamela Legg, 44, of West Philadelphia, a security guard at Temple University Hospital.

"It means I'm going to get a raise. I'm going to have medical," she said.

The security guards, employed by some of the largest international security companies, will be represented by SEIU Local 32BJ, which represents office cleaners in Center City.

"For a service sector [union to organize so many workers] all in one swoop is pretty unusual these days," said Lonnie Golden, a labor and human resources professor at Penn State-Abington.

"The presumption is that low-wage workers' will to organize is very strong when their wages are low," he said. Actually, he said, they "vote to organize when they feel the economy is better. They have to feel they have some leverage."

The contract, ratified Saturday at University City High School, begins Jan. 1. Most officers will see their hourly wages increase from between $8 and $11 per hour to between $10.45 and $13 by the contract's expiration on Sept. 30, 2016, the union said.

Full-time officers will receive health benefits starting Jan. 1, 2014.

"AlliedBarton Security Services has long been a leader in raising industry standards of security officer selection, training and performance," the company said in a statement.

Our "experience has been that we are able to maintain our high standards of service and performance at unionized locations just as we do at nonunion accounts," the company said.

"It's a brand-new industrywide private-sector union contract," said 32BJ's Pennsylvania director, Gabriel Morgan. "That hasn't happened in a long, long time."

The guards work for huge international and national companies that in turn bid to provide security services to Temple, Penn, and other organizations.

Morgan said the four companies signing the contracts represent about 80 percent of the Philadelphia market.

The largest, G4S P.L.C., headquartered in England, has 657,000 employees in 125 countries.

Others are Securitas, in Sweden, ABM Industries Inc., in New York, and AlliedBarton Security Services, a 55,000-employee company in Conshohocken.

The security officers' contract is different from the norm. Typically, a union and a company have a contract. In the building trades, employers form an association to negotiate a group contract.

In this case, the contracts are between each company and the union, but are virtually identical. The firms agree to this so they don't undercut each other when bidding.

The effort to organize security guards here has been controversial.

In the mid-2000s, SEIU began to organize security guards in Philadelphia, but abruptly dropped its campaign in 2006. The union cut a deal with AlliedBarton allowing it to unionize 8,000 security guards in Washington and Los Angeles in return for exiting Philadelphia.

The deal left the fledgling campaigns in the lurch. Another group, the Philadelphia Security Officers Union, formed and now represents AlliedBarton guards at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The SEIU contract came as the result of a neutrality agreement. The trade-off is labor peace for the companies in return for their allowing access to union organizers.

Organizers ask employees to sign union cards. If enough do, the employer agrees to recognize the union without an election.

That's what happened here. By March 2012, AlliedBarton and the others allowed SEIU access to Philadelphia guards. By July, a majority had signed, and contract negotiations began.