Twin Cities officials back security guards in labor dispute

A contentious labor standoff between Twin Cities security guards and their employers grew more heated Wednesday, as government officials publicly called on the security companies to reduce health care costs for the union workforce.

Members of the Service Employees International Union Local 26 were joined by Congressman Keith Ellison and Minneapolis City Council members Ralph Remington, Elizabeth Glidden, Gary Schiff, Don Samuels and Betsy Hodges at the press conference in the Minneapolis City Hall rotunda.

The conference was held a day after union membership overwhelmingly rejected the "final" contract proposal from a consortium of five security companies.

About 800 Twin Cities security officers are represented by the local branch of the union, which organized in 2005 and operates within the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Its members represent approximately 80 percent of the private security workforce in those cities. Buildings that rely on SEIU workers include Block E, the IDS Center, Ameriprise Financial Center and the U.S. Bank Building.

"These folks who put it on line to keep people safe ought to have some economic security," Ellison said, calling affordable health care "the issue of our time. "

"We have the power in our hands to re-slice the pie in a way that's fair for our security officers, and for all workers. "

Ellison also attended the union's Feb. 9 meeting, at which members authorized its leaders to call a strike, if necessary. Union members held a one-day strike Feb. 25 after a previous round of negotiations failed.

But Javier Morillo, president of the SEIU Local 26, called another strike "a last resort," and did not set a deadline for resolving the union contract. More than 91 percent of voting union members voted against the latest contract proposal.

Union negotiators said the proposed five-year contract would require employees to pay more than $1,000 per month for family health insurance.

Of the approximately 800 officers in the SEIU Local 26, only 17 percent are currently enrolled in any employer health plan and less than 2 percent are enrolled in family health insurance.

 "It's up to building owners to do what those in other cities have done and make health care affordable for working families every day," Remington said before a crowd of a few dozen union members who attended the conference.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman was not at the event, but sent a written statement urging the security companies to return to the negotiating table.

Guy Thomas, the lead representative for ABM Security Services, AlliedBarton Security Services, American Security, Viking Security and Securitas Security Services USA, did not respond to several calls seeking a response Wednesday.