And most important, Saidu-Kamara, who works for AlliedBarton Security Services at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, says it is good for security officers to be unionized.
So why does Saidu-Kamara have mixed feelings?
He is an officer in a grassroots union, the Philadelphia Security Officers Union, which began representing museum officers in 2009. "Ultimately they need to be unionized," he said. "We'd like them to be organized with us."
Indeed, if SEIU's drive succeeds, and there are reasons to believe it will, union ranks in Philadelphia will be swelled by an estimated 3,000 guards, including those working in Center City's office towers, the University of Pennsylvania, and Temple University.
"We understand that officers want to be organized and SEIU has a big push" to organize guards, he replied carefully. But "SEIU tried to organize guards , and then the SEIU pretty much abandoned us. That's why we organized the PSOU, because the SEIU abandoned us."
Like many unions, the SEIU says that the National Labor Relations Board election process is flawed, simply opening the door to worker intimidation. Instead, the SEIU pushes firms to recognize a union if the majority of workers sign cards.
That's the approach the union, one of the nation's fastest-growing, has taken to unionizing office cleaners and security guards across the nation, many employed by the same handful of companies. When the majority of workers in the same city, in the same field are in the same union, it gives them more clout, said Gabe Morgan, Pennsylvania director of SEIU Local 32BJ.
It also discourages building owners from simply switching to nonunion contractors for cheaper rates.
In 2007, a drive to unionize local security officers by SEIU and various local activist groups came to an abrupt end because SEIU cut a deal with security companies, among them industry leader AlliedBarton Security Services in Conshohocken.
The union agreed to end its Philadelphia drive in return for neutrality agreements with the same companies in Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities.
That deal ended last year. Lately SEIU organizers have visited the homes of local security officers, including outdoor guards at Penn set to vote April 11 on whether to join PSOU. (PSOU will hold its own rally on Thursday at 2 p.m. at 34th and Walnut Streets.)
AlliedBarton sent letters to employees explaining its neutrality agreement with SEIU.
"The SEIU has asked the company to provide them with a list of names, addresses and phone numbers of employees in the Philadelphia area," says the March 17 letter from AlliedBarton general manager Jim Gorman. "If you do not wish to be contacted at home by an SEIU representative, please phone the Union ... during regular business hours."
PSOU administrator Fabricio Rodriguez found AlliedBarton's helpfulness unusual. Typically, he said, companies "resist every step of the way."
AlliedBarton's chief executive, Bill Whitmore, did not return phone calls, but the company sent a statement saying it provided contacts to SEIU "as part of their efforts to organize the officers ... in a peaceful, non disruptive process."
It is unclear how much the union conventioneers know about the history of security-guard organizing in Philadelphia, but Patrick Eiding, who heads the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, has watched it unfold. He said the Philadelphia SEIU was constrained by deals made by its national leaders.
"It was hard to understand," he said. "We, here on the ground, like to get everybody. But they saw the value in leaving a few behind to get many elsewhere."
"I'm just glad it's happening now," he said.
Penn security officer Kevin Upshaw agrees. He says the guards need a union for job security and better working conditions. In 2007, "there was a lot of pressure" from AlliedBarton, he said. "Now, there's none whatsoever."
Contact Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769, email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @JaneVonBergen. Read her Jobbing blog at www.philly.com/jobbing.