The University is currently reviewing its 10-year-old contract with Allied Universal, the company that provides contractor-employed security guards, commonly known as Hop Cops. Controversy has erupted over the University’s decision to open the bidding process to non-union companies.
Leaders of two student groups, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Black Student Union (BSU), launched a petition in July protesting the University’s decision to consider non-union companies in the bidding process.
After receiving 588 signatures from members of the Hopkins and local communities in less than a week, seniors Corey Payne, Grace Hargrove and Chase Alston sent the petition to University President Ronald J. Daniels. They wrote an opinion piece in The Baltimore Sun on July 29 calling on the University to respond to the petition and outlining their argument why the University should only consider companies with unions.
Officers employed by Allied Universal, formerly AlliedBarton, won the right to unionize two years ago through the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), an organization with over 1.8 million members nationally. The workers have since won health care coverage, coming into effect in January, and are currently advocating for a living wage.
The organizers have tied Hopkins’ renegotiation to the recent unionization and claim that the University is favoring a non-union company, Broadway Services. But the University denied that the unionization was a factor in its decision.
“Union status was not a factor in the decision to initiate this contract review. While union representation is not a requirement of the contract, contractors with unionized employees are welcome to bid and a number of those invited to bid, including Allied Universal... are in fact unionized,” Executive Director for Media Relations and Crisis Communications Dennis O’Shea wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
COURTESY OF ALLIED UNIVERSAL AlliedBarton has changed its name after its recent merger.
The original deadline for bids was in late July, but the petition delayed the final date until Monday August 29, according to Payne.
In their piece, the student activists accuse the University and Daniels of prioritizing the bottom line and being “willing to cut the rights and advancements of its own security guards.” They criticize Hopkins’ allegedly bad treatment of poor, black communities and accuse the administration of having a “white savior complex” that it uses to exclusively further its own interests at the expense of those who they are trying to help.
Keith Hill, vice president of corporate security, and Lee James, executive director of campus safety and security, responded to the activists’ piece with a letter to The Sun, writing that their priority is to keep the Hopkins community safe.
“We are not seeking cuts in wages or health benefits, and we are committed to engaging contractors who are responsible and fair employers,” they wrote.
Payne elaborated in an email to The News-Letter on why the organizers think that Hopkins security guards should remain unionized.
“It’s important that everyone unionize,” he wrote. “Hopkins as an employer is interested in the bottom-line first and foremost. That means that concerns about wages, benefits, and general well-being come second. Through unionizing, our security guards have already been able to win healthcare benefits from Hopkins—something that wouldn’t have been possible without collective action and solidarity.”
Payne criticized the University’s use of subcontracted employees in campus security and dining in place of directly hiring them.
“When there is a labor dispute, it isn’t Hopkins that feels the direct heat—it’s the middle-man,” he wrote. “It certainly saves Hopkins money—but it also removes responsibility for the protection and well-being of the workers and puts it on a separate entity.”
SDS joined the effort after being made aware by the SEIU in late July because Payne says it coincides with their ultimate goal: to create a “truly democratic society.”
“[D]emocracy flows from the bottom-up,” Payne wrote. “Unions are a key piece of that. We support and encourage all people to unionize, and we will stand in solidarity with any that struggle to do so.”
Payne argued that students should support unionization because students are in an unequal relationship with the University and should support those in different, but just as unequal relationships.
“Do our security guards deserve health care benefits from the best medical institution in the country? Do our security guards deserve a living wage from the wealthiest institution in the state of Maryland? We believe students will answer with a resounding yes,” he wrote.
The University said that it admired the passion that the student activists have expressed and added in its letter to The Sun that it hoped to continue working with members of the Hopkins community, including students, on improving security.
“We very much appreciate the compassion and concern that motivates the students who have approached the university on this issue,” O’Shea wrote.