Ronnie Polaneczky | For guards, workplace insecurity

Posted: November 06, 2007

YOU'D THINK that, after working 16 years for the same company, Clarence Berry might be afforded the dignity of being able to call in sick from work, just once, and not have it deflate his paycheck.

But Berry, 50, works for King of Prussia-based AlliedBarton Security Services, the country's largest provider of private security personnel. One of its contracts is with Temple University, which pays AlliedBarton about $6 million per year for 300 security guards to cover Temple's dorms, buildings and kiosks.

The guards don't get paid when they're sick. Not one day, no matter how beloved, respected and entrenched they are in the Temple community.

Berry has worked full-time in Temple's Tuttleman Building, on the main campus, for the last six of his 16 years with AlliedBarton.

"The students are like my own children," says Berry, a dad and granddad. "A lot of them come to me for advice when they're homesick or stressed. I encourage them to hang in there."

He's proud that there is no trouble in Tuttleman, which teems with students.

"Not one incident has happened in my building in four years," he says. "I know who belongs here and who doesn't."

He earns $9.15 per hour, except if he calls in sick, in which case he's docked a day's wages.

An AlliedBarton spokesman says employees may use vacation time to cover sick days, but Berry contends that's not the case. "You have to give notice to use vacation days," he says. "If you don't know you're going to be sick, how can you do that?"

Berry's predicament is common for many of the 16,000 AlliedBarton security guards based in Philly. That's why the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) targeted the company during the years it tried to organize Philly's private security guards. Those guards are mostly AlliedBarton employees, as the company has an 80 percent share of the city's market.

But last year, SEIU abandoned organizing Philly's guards. A source familiar with the pullback says SEIU agreed to disband its Philly campaign if AlliedBarton wouldn't fight SEIU's organizing guards in cities where the company doesn't enjoy the monopoly it does here.

Neither SEIU nor AlliedBarton would comment on the allegation, but Thomas Robinson has a lot to say about it.

"It really set us back," says Robinson, an AlliedBarton guard at the University of Pennsylvania who, after SEIU fled, helped guards there finally get up to three sick days per year. "It damaged my credibility with the guards I'd been working with."

Penn's campaign was waged by Philadelphia Jobs With Justice, backed by students, parents, community groups and interfaith ministers. They pressured Penn's president, Amy Gutmann, to intervene with Allied Barton for sick time for Penn's guards. Jobs With Justice executive director Fabricio Rodriguez is helping Temple guards wage a similar campaign.

It's a tough row to hoe, given how wired AlliedBarton is to Temple. The company is held by MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc., whose vice chairman was major Temple donor Howard Gittis, who died in September.

But MacAndrews & Forbes' CEO is big-time Penn benefactor Ron Perelman - and AlliedBarton came through at Penn.

Says Rodriguez, "I doubt Temple wants to rock the boat with a major supporter. But if Amy Gutmann did it, so can [Temple president] Ann Weaver Hart."

Except that Temple has issued this statement about going to bat with AlliedBarton on behalf of Temple guards who'd like a paid sick day or two:

"This issue is between AlliedBarton and its employees . . . . Other than insisting that Temple vendors comply with applicable labor laws, it is the university's policy to not intervene into the employer-employee relationship at companies that do business on our campuses."

What a miserable way to dismiss the importance of people like Clarence Berry to Temple's students. And clueless, given that many Temple guards live in North Philly, a neighborhood that Temple is trying not to alienate as the school grows in stature and wealth.

"I don't feel part of the AlliedBarton family; I'm part of the Temple family," says Berry.

As evidence, he cites the heartfelt support he received from students and staff last month when his son was murdered, a homicide that remains unsolved.

"The students know that I'm more than a body in a chair," he says. "I'd like to think Temple and AlliedBarton feel that way, too." *

E-mail polaner@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2217. For recent columns:

http://go.philly.com/polaneczky

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