San Francisco's most promin-ent public sector union, the omnipresent, purple-shirted Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West, is seeing red over the Super Bowl.
The union alleges that NFL billionaires are bringing irresponsible, non-union security contractors to town with them — a charge also levied at many of the big Silicon Valley firms located near Levi's Stadium, venue of the big game.
Is this a slap in the face to the city's proud labor traditions, or just business being business?
"It's frightening that protecting human lives should come down to the lowest bidder," local (union) security guard Michael Mally groused at the Board of Supervisors on Jan. 11.
Mally was angry that the NFL hired Culver City-based Security Industry Specialists to protect its VIP Super Bowl parties. SIS is a non-union shop, and SEIU gets steamed anytime non-union companies get contracts. They're not terribly happy that the NFL will also employ non-union S.A.F.E. Management for security at Levi's Stadium during the Super Bowl itself, for example.
But the union has been at war with SIS for years, trying to organize its guards while the company wants nothing doing. SIS also provides security for the Academy Awards and for Amazon (ousting the latter's old unionized guards). Formerly, it contracted for Google and Apple — which last year decided to make its guards in-house employees instead.
There are about 150,000 security guards in California; SEIU California's public services wing has about 24,000 members, including janitors and airline workers as well as guards. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that unionized private sector guards makes a$165 more per week than their non-union equivalents.
SEIU spokesman Stephen Boardman accuses SIS of worker intimidation and flouting state law. He calls the hiring a breach of public trust after San Francisco "bent over backwards" for the Super Bowl.
SIS insists that's a smear campaign, but to back up its complaints, the union points to a National Labor Relations Board investigation that found an anti-union "chilling effect" among Amazon security. "They called an entire staff meeting just to tell us not to hand out union pins," former Amazon guard Richard Bankston told SF Weekly.
Tom Seltz, CFO of SIS, insists the company did no such thing. SIS agreed to a settlement last year while admitting no wrongdoing, and brokered a similar deal after the Seattle Office of Civil Rights accused SIS of punishing workers who used legally mandated sick days. Seattle is conducting a follow-up investigation to ensure SIS complies.
Seltz says SIS "makes mistakes from time to time" but alleges that the investigations, including a still-ongoing California investigation into whether SIS used unlicensed guards at the 2014 Academy Awards, are a harassment tactic instigated by the union.
Labor disputes are nothing new. Just last week, the Super Bowl Host Committee canned a contract with the charter bus company Bauer's IT for fear that picketing by restless drivers — some of whom are trying to join the Teamsters — would spoil festivities.
But some simmer at the sight of a "party for billionaires" — as Supervisor Jane Kim recently dubbed the Super Bowl — blowing into town, draining $5.3 million from public coffers, and spurning the city's pro-labor history at both the big game and their choice VIP events.
"We're disappointed about the non-labor-friendly security," says Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council.
For the most part, Paulson says he's happy with the NFL's local hires, but the security issue rankles him. The NFL confirmed that they're working with SIS and S.A.F.E., but declined to comment further.
Just as in football, you can't win them all, so labor will probably end up doing the same thing that taxpayers are doing about that $5.3 million bill: Eat it.