Charlie Wilson, who guards the Liberty Bell for a living, is upset.
Wilson, 48, stood yesterday at a news conference near the pavilion that houses the bell, amid laughter and noise of plaid-skirted schoolgirls and T-shirted tourists, and vented frustration over his working conditions.
"Living without health benefits and sick days makes life difficult . . . for those of us here on this site," said Wilson, a diabetic. "It makes it difficult, too, for the thousands of tourists who pass through here each week."
Wilson was among about 30 employees of Wackenhut Security Services and union supporters who appeared with U.S. Reps. Chaka Fattah and Patrick Murphy to announce the launch of the Wackenhut Workers Organizing Committee, a coalition fighting for workers' benefits.
Wackenhut, one of the largest security firms in the nation with almost 40,000 security officers, keeps watch over some of Philadelphia's historic treasures, including the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
Wilson had to take a personal day away from guarding the Liberty Bell in order to speak. He said he has to pay for his diabetes medicine and doctor appointments out of pocket because Wackenhut does not provide health benefits.
"Workers should be outraged," said Wayne MacManiman Jr., district chairman of the Service Employees International Union. "Taxes we pay go to provide the service. We are talking about the largest security company in the world with 430,000 workers. If Charles gets sick, he can't go to the doctor."
In September, Philadelphia workers voted to join the SEIU after several workers complained of inadequate equipment and supplies, such as raincoats that reportedly came apart at the seams.
At yesterday's news conference, a handful of workers from across the country spoke out against Wackenhut. One former employee from Minneapolis said that he was fired after revealing his union affiliation and speaking out against the firm.
"This is where our country started," said Murphy, who once worked as a guard at Veterans Stadium. "Many of those out here are also veterans, so I'm standing with my fellow veterans and workers, because Wackenhut is trying to chip away [at workers' rights]."
Wackenhut senior vice president Marc Shapiro said yesterday that the company would recognize a union after certification by the National Labor Relations Board.
"We will work with that union and bargain in good faith over the officers' terms and conditions of employment," Shapiro said in an e-mail. "In the absence of NLRB certification, Wackenhut will not recognize or deal with SEIU's committee."
Staff writer Damon C. Williams contributed to this report.