We’re security officers, but we don’t feel secure

Security guards
Security officers, on the job as "essential workers" are taking risks during the pandemic to help building owners. They should be compensated fairly. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

I’ve been a security officer for over 11 years, and our industry has never gotten the respect we deserve. Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are not only struggling with the usual challenges we face, but in many case we are being forced to put our health and safety at risk without proper protections.

Like millions of Americans, our work has been deemed “essential,” and we don’t have the choice of working from home. Security can’t do our job remotely. We can’t watch a building from home. We can’t unlock doors from home. We are out here interacting with people and keeping the buildings we protect safe.

Until recently, the only way most of us could get personal protective equipment was if we dug into our own pockets or if, like me, the building we protect stepped up to help us out. (Like most security officers I’m employed by a subcontractor, in my case Whelan/Garda.)

Some security officers in our Union start out at $13.80 per hour, with even the most senior of us still making less than $17 per hour, so it isn’t as if we have a ton of extra money to buy masks and gloves. And we shouldn’t have to. In addition to PPE, we are also pushing through our union for “essential worker” pay. We’re out here doing our job during a pandemic, and it feels like a couple extra dollars per hour is only fair.

As a leader of Service Employees International Union Local 26, I hear stories from security officers across the metro who are facing risks every day and are worried about bringing this virus home to their families. One officer who has to keep homeless people from sleeping in the entryway of the building was spit on by a man when he asked him to move.

Another officer protects a child care center, and worries about all of the people they are coming into contact with while they don’t have proper PPE. Our union has already lost Armando Solis to COVID-19, and we don’t want to lose anyone else.

Our job is so much more than just “observe and protect.” These corporations make a lot of money by having us do much more than just the main things in our job description. While others have been sent home, we’re helping with maintenance, answering phones and greeting clients. We know that many security officers know more about the building than the owners.

Which makes us ask: If we are “essential” workers who protect buildings housing some of the richest corporations in the world, why aren’t we worth the cost of some damn masks and gloves? While I see some people complaining about being bored at home during this time, for security officers it has been a really draining experience and has brought on a lot of depression and fear. And it is impossible to overlook the fact that many of the underpaid “essential” workers who aren’t getting proper PPE are people of color.

In addition to the general challenges we are facing, in many cases our workload has gone up due to layoffs that have led to shortage of staff. This creates even more anxiety. In my building we went from five people down to two. And if we complain, we could lose our job, which would bring even more stress.

Nothing has changed in our work schedule even though many of these buildings are closed. I signed in over 40 people the other day, which means I have to unlock countless doors and rooms. There are still many people coming and going, including vendors, construction workers and utility workers. Most people I see aren’t practicing social distancing. When we tell people to not cram into elevators, we are met with anger. I’ve been called an idiot for telling people working in my building to follow social distancing guidelines.

We are in danger ourselves and then we have to deal with verbal and mental abuse. At the end of the day, it’s hard to even unwind because I’m so worried about exposing my family. Throughout this pandemic I have felt exposed and fearful. It feels like people have forgotten about us.

When we call for PPE and essential worker pay, what we really are saying is “don’t forget about us.” We have loved ones at home, too. We are keeping people safe. We hope our companies and government will show they care about us and will take steps to keep us safe.