December 12, 2013
By Steven Wishnia
The half-dozen or so security guards hastily filed back to work on the afternoon of Dec. 4, back through the marble-and-brass entrance of the American Express headquarters in Battery Park City. They had been outside protesting the company’s cutting their wages by around $100 a week by switching to a contractor that paid less, but supervisors had texted them to get back inside—and management personnel had been watching the demonstration through a lobby window, pointing out which guards were participating. SEIU Local 32BJ organizers at the scene called it “definitely surveillance, bordering on intimidation.”
Local 32BJ organized the protest after American Express ditched their old security company, Securitas, last month, and hired a new one, SOS Security. “Overnight,” says 32BJ spokesperson Meredith Kolodner, wages for the 60 to 75 guards were cut to $11.50 an hour, and the workers also had to pay $288 a month if they wanted health insurance for their families. “Most of the guys lost their health care,” she says.
About 100 people turned out, a mix of activists participating in the New Day New York demonstrations—which also included protests at Bank of America, Chase Bank, and the Communications Workers of America inflating a large plastic pig outside a Cablevision board member’s house—and fellow security guards who are 32BJ members. “We’re all workers, we all want the same thing,” said World Trade Center guard Lance Mumford. “One fight, you know what I’m saying?”
Union security guards at the World Trade Center make $14.45 an hour, he added.
The American Express guards’ wages had been cut from $14, said Monique Spears, another World Trade Center guard, and “that’s not fair. They can’t pay their rent, they can’t buy food, and this is the holidays and they can’t buy gifts for their kids.
“American Express has enough money to pay them.”
American Express reported $1.37 billion in profits for the third quarter of 2013, up 9.3 percent from the same period last year, and a record $1.41 billion in the second quarter.Its CEO, Kenneth I. Chenault, is now the nation’s highest-paid bank executive. He got around $28.5 million last year, up $5.5 million from 2011.
The company announced plans to eliminate 5,400 jobs last January.