DEPAUL — Dozens of students backed union organizers Tuesday in supporting a one-day strike by front-desk security guards at DePaul University's Lincoln Park campus.
Employees with Guardian Security Services cited unfair labor practices in declaring the one-day walkout, alleging sexual and racial discrimination and charging that time off, health care, retirement funding and sick days were insufficient.
"Guardian Security has been illegally retaliating against their own employees just for speaking their minds and trying to express the kinds of changes they want to see at work," Kevin Pietrick, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union Local 1, said at a protest march on the DePaul campus Tuesday morning.
According to Pietrick, the Guardian Security officers charged with manning the front desks at DePaul residence halls make $11.50 an hour.
"This is well below standard for this kind of work, especially at a university like DePaul," he said.
Guardian spokesman Chet Strzelczyk took issue with that accusation, however.
"Our officers assigned to DePaul receive wages that are significantly higher than the $11-per-hour rate negotiated by SEIU for its members," he responded. "Guardian can proudly report its workforce at DePaul is stable, as the officers' average length of service is in excess of seven years. Guardian offers employees health insurance which is compliant with the Affordable Care Act among other benefits."
Strzelczyk cited Guardian's history as "a well-known family-owned and locally operated security provider in Chicagoland for more than 42 years."
Speaking at the demonstration and backed by dozens of students who joined the picketing, DePaul senior Alex Boutros said more than 1,000 students had signed a petition in support of the security guards.
"We are here to stand with the DePaul Guardian Security officers," Boutros said.
Charging that Guardian was "taking advantage" of the guards, she said, "Our money, our tuition dollars should go to a responsible union contractor."
Boutros called on DePaul to observe its own Vincentian motto to do "what must be done."
Susan Hurley, director of Chicago Jobs With Justice, said the Guardian Security officers "deserve a union contract with living wages and benefits and a pension," adding, "DePaul University can do better, and it's up to us to demand that they do better."
The university issued a statement insisting, "Guardian's business operations and employment practices are independent from DePaul," and emphasizing that the firm and the college were making sure the front desks were staffed during the one-day walkout.
Pietrick said they were unsure how many of the estimated 15 Guardian Security officers were engaging in the one-day strike Tuesday.