Dozens of members of the Service Employees International Union packed Pittsburgh City Council chambers Wednesday morning for a preliminary vote on a bill that would mandate increased training for security guards in the city.
Sam Williamson, western Pennsylvania area leader for SEIU 32BJ, said Council members’ preliminary approval of the measure indicated they were “standing up in the name of public safety.”
“We represent 1,000 security officers now who just started bargaining for their first ever union contract, and one of the main issues that we find talking to officers across the city is they want to be professionalized,” Williamson said. “They complain that they don’t have the investment in their skills and the necessary training to do what they and first responders think is necessary to protect public safety in their buildings.”
The bill that Council voted for on Wednesday looked significantly different than the one originally introduced by Councilman Ricky Burgess in March. Councilman Dan Gilman spearheaded the effort to modify the bill, moving it from the building code to the fire code and exempting student employees, guards at federal and state buildings, and police.
Gilman said the new version also included language referencing the state constitution and Home Rule Charter law which he said gives the city the authority to enact such an ordinance.
“We put in language tying it to what we believe is our legal right to pass this ordinance, tied to state law that permits us to take action on some of these security issues,” Gilman said.
But attorney Gregory Evashavik, who represents the Building Owners and Managers Association of Pittsburgh, said that language won’t protect the city from potential lawsuits.
“These mandates and this ordinance are an obvious direct violation of the Home Rule Charter law,” Evashavik said. “You cannot circumvent this prohibition. This ordinance is illegal. This ordinance will not withstand a legal challenge. I urge you to not vote for this ordinance.”
Evashavik said he will have to talk to his client, but he does anticipate a legal challenge to the ordinance.
Dennis Lejeck, president of Black Knight Security, which according to its website specializes “in security for high-rise and high-occupancy buildings, said the 40-hour training requirement is simply not feasible within the mandated 60-day timeline.
“For ease of math, let’s just say that there’s 1,000 security officers employed in the city of Pittsburgh. I know there’s more than that, but for ease of math let’s say there’s 1,000 security officers employed here. That’s 40,000 hours worth of training that have to be done in three months by a certified training school, of which presently there are none,” Lejeck said.
Gilman said Council has the power to extend the training deadline if necessary.
Meanwhile, SEIU security guards gave Council a standing ovation upon preliminary passage of the bill.
“We can go to work knowing that we are trained to act responsibly, effectively, to safeguard the general public, and to provide a service to these employers and the building owners,” said security guard Jacqulyn Foster. “It’s a day of joy for me, it really is.”