Johns Hopkins U. Switches from Silver Star Security to Allied-Barton

Allied-Barton Security Services will replace Broadway Services Inc. Silver Star Security as the security company for the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus beginning Jan. 1.

According to Edmund Skrodzki, executive director of Campus Safety and Security, Hopkins had no existing contract with Silver Star, but rather their employment was a short-term part of the response to concerns following Linda Trinh's murder last January.

Skrodzki also said the cost of changing to Allied-Barton will not exceed what the university currently spends on Silver Star Security. The cost for the new guards will come from the Security Department's general operating budget.

This change comes after Security's July request for contract proposals from security services companies. Several companies were said to have responded, including Silver Star. A review process including company presentations, reference checks and on-site evaluations led to the choice of Allied-Barton as the new contracting company for Homewood's security.

Silver Star was deployed without a permanent contract at Homewood in order to provide immediate patrols, replacing Hopkins-employed security guards.

Skrodzki maintained that there were no major problems with Silver Star's service at Hopkins.

He described Allied-Barton as "uniquely qualified" to work for the university because of over 25 years' experience in college settings, as well as its specialized training programs in campus patrol, driver safety, residential living fire safety, service in a residential life facility, CPR/first aid, certified bike patrol training and nonviolent crisis intervention.

Allied-Barton spokesman Larry Rubin added that the company's security guards are specifically trained to be "outgoing" and "helpful."

With its employment at over 70 universities around the country -- including Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown University -- Allied-Barton is cited in industry profiles as specializing in campus security among its other services.

"University campuses create unique challenges to any security or public safety provider. ... [Allied-Barton's] experience and specialized training sets them apart from other security service companies," Skrodzki said.

He also noted Allied-Barton's professionalism and helpfulness during his various unannounced visits to campuses employing the company. "They're very professional. We not only need to provide security, but also a professional demeanor," he said.

However, despite the uniqueness of a campus setting, not all agree that it is a more challenging task requiring additional training. Silver Star Security Officer Tamika Harris believes working in a university setting has been "easier" than her previous corporate assignments. "It's just patience. The students are very easy to deal with. They're friendlier, they're more cooperative. They listen, they're more polite," she said.

The 250 Silver Star employees currently on Hopkins assignments will remain with Silver Star, with different assignments after the transition.

"I would have loved to stay. ... I liked the students, the campus. I really liked my job a lot," said Harris.

Harris said she hopes to be reassigned to work at the Hopkins Hospital after December.

Students have also expressed some concern upon hearing of the change. Sophomore Jamie Rosenow said, "I would rather the school extend Silver Star's contract than hire an entirely new company. It helps that the current guards know me and my friends, because there is both protection and convenience."

Freshman Alassane Soumare agreed: "I think it's a bad idea because the security guards that are here know the students, and who better to stop intruders than people who know who lives here. They're very friendly."

Although Allied-Barton's campus services are highly rated, experiences at many peer institutions also paint an alarming record of the company's treatment of its employees.

In a recent episode at the University of Pennsylvania, five Allied-Barton guards were suspended and put on punishment assignments after petitioning university president Amy Gutmann for higher pay.

The guards were later reinstated upon the university's demands.

In a letter to the editor printed in The Daily Pennsylvanian, an Allied-Barton employee at the school wrote, "Security officers at UPenn repeatedly come and go and receive little training on how to do their jobs. Because our wages are so low, all of us have had a hard time supporting our families and have to work second jobs."

In some cases, the Allied-Barton guards were paid as little as $8 per hour, a wage below Philadelphia's poverty line of $9.28 hourly rate for a family of four.

At Georgetown University, Allied-Barton guards had a base pay of $9.77 per hour, well below Georgetown's mandated pay of $13 per hour for contracted workers' salary, even with benefits included.

Allied-Barton, the largest American owned security service company, grossed over $850 million in 2004 sales and employs over 37,000 people for more than 100 Fortune 500 companies.

The company's treatment of its employees has incited student petitions, protests and hunger strikes at several universities.

At some universities, such as Harvard and Georgetown, mandated wage floors guarantee reasonable pay even for subcontracted workers. In the case of Harvard, the university compensates for the shortfall between outsource company wages and the university wage floor.

Hopkins has no such wage floors for its outsourced services. Skrodzki declined to comment on the specific wages Hopkins will pay Allied-Barton.

(C) 2005 The Johns Hopkins News-Letter via U-WIRE