Security officers picket Center for Disease Control

Picketing signs in hand, about 50 security guards and sympathizers gathered at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday to protest what they term unfair and unlawful wages.

The demonstration at the CDC’s main entrance on Clifton Road was organized by Security Police Fire Professionals of America (SPFPA), the international labor union representing the security guards. Organizers said the issue doesn’t concern the CDC itself, rather their security services provider, Chattanooga-based Walden Security.

“Basically, we have a substandard employer here that is violating the law and their workers’ rights,” said SPFPA International President David Hickey, himself sporting a picketing sign reading “Hey Walden! Security officers have families too!”

But Walden’s labor relations consultant, Fred Grubb, said the company has a different perspective on the negotiations.

“The SPFPA is demanding that Walden Security collude with it to defraud taxpayers,” Grubb said. “I don’t say that lightly at all.”

SPFPA Organizing Director Steve Maritas said other unionized security guards in Atlanta enjoy higher wages. At the IRS building in downton Atlanta, he said, guards earn $17 per hour and $3.25 in benefits. At the CDC, he said, guards make $16 an hour and $3 in benefits.

Gene McConville, president emeritus of the union who handled negotiations with Walden, said the security company’s “final offer” came on Aug. 6, but the union found it unacceptable.

“They just did their contract, and we are so far removed from [it],” he said. “It’s a slap in the face to every security officer in Atlanta.”
Grubb said Walden must abide by the Service Contract Act in its negotiations with the SPFPA, which forbids unions and employers from collaborating during the negotiation process. This prevents the possibility that the two parties work together to get excess governmental funds.

“The union and the employer cannot say, ‘Hey, let’s give everybody a $10-an-hour pension plan because the government is going to pick it up,’“ Grubb said. “I’ve been working as a labor relations consultant for 23 years and I’ve never had a union want so clearly to violate the law.”

Grubb, who handles Walden’s union negotiations, said the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is currently investigating the SPFPA on these allegations.

On May 8, Walden Security filed a suit against the SPFPA for trying to involve the CDC in the negotiations. The NLRB regional director in Atlanta decided in favor of Walden, and the SPFPA agreed to stop pressuring the CDC. By law, third parties such as the CDC cannot intervene in union-employer negotiations.

But Grubb said Walden remains open to negotiation.

SPFPA’s Hickey said the union has filed five charges against Walden in the NLRB, among them an unfair labor practice charge.

Approximately 270 guards at the CDC are on Walden’s payroll, according to Grubb. Tom Skinner, a spokesperson for the CDC, said local law enforcement officials and federal employees also provide security services at the centers. He added that Walden is in the sixth year of a multimillion contract with the CDC.

“We feel the situation will not impact physical security,” Skinner said.
In case of a strike, which the SPFPA is threatening to organize, Skinner said the CDC could seek out more local and federal law enforcement officials, and he said Walden would provide other security guards.

Grubb said Walden has prepared for the possibility of a strike.

“[But] I hope that doesn’t happen,” he said. “Nobody wins in a strike. The union doesn’t. The employees don’t. And the employer certainly doesn’t.”

At 2 p.m., the picketers included several sympathizers from other unions such as the AFL/CIO — an industrial workers’ union — and the Teamsters union, which represents transportists. Maritas said the group expected an additional 50 demonstrators to arrive later in the afternoon.


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