Students protest security guard wages

Members of the Progressive Student Union launched a letter-writing campaign urging the University to adopt a code of conduct that lays out the minimum requirement for pay by contractors in its buildings.

The group said Securitas, a private security firm in 2000 Penn, pays a starting wage of $8.75 per hour. GW owns the building.

“We are prepared to take this as far as it goes. Through our protest we want to show people the horrors of being employed either directly or indirectly for GW,” said Matthew Brokman, president of the Progressive Student Union.

This fall, members wrote 15 letters to Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz. In a November letter, PSU asked that GW “exert its power as contractor and require that Securitas reform, or risk losing its contract with the University.”

PSU members said the University is condoning the company’s failure to pay the guards $11.75 an hour, a “living wage” as defined by D.C. Department of Employment Services. The District’s minimum wage is $7 per hour.

A management company, not GW, handles the security for these buildings.

each month,” one security guard said. He asked to to remain anonymous for fear of possible retribution from his company.

In some of his letters, Katz assured the PSU that GW intends to provide for the basic standard of living for all its employees, but in his Oct. 23 letter, Katz wrote that GW has no grounds to criticize Securitas.

“The University has not dictated a specific wage floor to be paid by companies with whom it contracts for off-site services and, as a matter of principle, (the University) does not interfere with wage determinations made by independent companies and their workers,” Katz wrote.

Student activists said they are disappointed with the administration’s response.

“Anyone can see that these people are getting paid poverty wages so I was surprised by Mr. Katz’s nonchalant response and lack of concern for such a serious matter. It was like he didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes,” said freshman Steve Muse, a member of the PSU.

Formed in the early 1980s, PSU was the student voice behind the pay discrepancies and harassment of workers at J Street in the late 1990s. In 2004, 11 of its members were arrested at Marvin Center while protesting GW’s indirect use of sweatshops.

Last week, some Securitas security guards received a $1.25 per hour pay increase after pressure from a D.C. security guard union, according to a security guard.

“It makes day-to-day life easier,” the guard said.

Despite the pay increase, PSU plans to move ahead in their protest and partner with other student organizations whose main focus is social justice, such as Students for Fair Trade.

“Depending on Mr. Katz’ response, we will be escalating the campaigns, looking at a protest, sit-ins, hunger strikes and other types of movements,” Brokman said. “Our campaign is not just about individual security guards; it’s about changing the way GW does business.”

“We will continue our actions until the University says,you are right. We will not allow human rights violations to be happening on our properties,” he continued.

Securitas employs 230,000 people and is the largest private security provider company in the world. They are one of four security guard companies with whom GW contracts for use in its commercial real estate buildings.

Federal security guards are paid $14 per hour. At GW, the salary for a receptionist at the Lerner Health and Wellness Center is $7.50 per hour. Work-study students employed at Gelman Library are paid $10 an hour.

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