Reporter Wins Media Award for Coverage of Local 26 Security Officers’ Strike

At the first annual Minnesota Ethnic and Community Media Awards last week, a reporter won top honors in the Community Services division for her three-part series in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder that covered the contract battle and groundbreaking one-day strike waged by SEIU Local 26 security officers in Minneapolis in early 2008.

Reporter Lauretta Dawalo Towns’ winning news coverage tells the behind-the-scenes story of the Twin Cities security guards who held a one-day strike–the first-ever of its kind in the Twin Cities–against the largest security contractors in the area: ABM, Allied Barton, American, Securitas, and Viking.

The guards were prompted to strike by the continued failure of the security contractors to address the healthcare crisis facing 98 percent of private security officers in the Twin Cities who could not afford the family health insurance offered by their employer, which cost as much as $836 per month. Hard-working guards like Renita Whicker stood with their colleagues, because a parent shouldn’t have to choose between paying the rent or taking their children to the doctor.

After working without a contract for four months, an April bargaining agreement was reached by the security officers in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. The new contract was a huge victory for more than just the 800 guards who gained access to affordable health insurance, paid sick leave, higher wages, and improved training and equipment–it was also viewed as a major step towards paving the way for similar gains by other workers in Minnesota and helping to restore Minnesota’s middle class.

“This [fight was] about protecting working families and protecting people who live, work, and play in our city’s downtown,” said SEIU member Harrison Bullard, who is a security officer at the Hennepin County Government Center. “People who come downtown want strong, healthy, and well-trained security officers to provide protection for them.

The guards received notable support from the surrounding communities throughout their long contract battle for better wages and benefits. City council members, Twin Cities mayors, state representatives, political candidates and even clergy from interfaith coalitions all rallied resounding support for the officers.

“It wasn’t an easy-won fight,” commented SEIU Local 26 member and Securitas guard Darrell Siewart. “But as most people know, quality health care coverage is more than worth fighting for — it’s essential.”

Read the award-winning Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder articles on the SEIU Local 26 security guards:

>> “Security officers strike for a living wage — and respect“, 3/2/2008

>> “Twin Cities security officers enjoy the fruits of their organizing labor,” 6/1/2008

The Ethnic and Community Media Awards are intended to lend greater visibility and recognition to the important journalism produced by grassroots media in the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota. They are sponsored by the Twin Cities Media Alliance, a group that works to bring together media professionals and engaged citizens to improve the quality, accountability and diversity of the local media.

Through SEIU’s “Stand for Security Campaign,” SEIU Local 26 security officers joined thousands of private security officers in cities from Boston to D.C. to Los Angeles in an historic effort to win affordable individual and family healthcare, wage increases, paid sick days, and increased training so that security officers have a chance to rise up the career ladder, earn enough to raise a family, and move into the middle class.

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