Around 20 local politicians, University labor organizers and members of the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ gathered outside Alumnae Hall Wednesday for a rally supporting the unionization of security guards employed by USENTRA, a private company that staffs security at two University-owned buildings used by the School of Public Health.
The protest took place outside a reception marking the start of SPH’s 10-year anniversary celebrations. President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20, Mayor Brett Smiley and other public officials and University administrators were in attendance at the reception.
Two speakers at the rally, a current and a former USENTRA security guard, alleged that the company has displayed “negligence” and does not provide adequate salaries and benefits to its employees.
Jonathan Hart, a former USENTRA employee who worked for the company in 2021 providing security at University Marketplace, said that his hours were “changed on a whim” and that he was paid $13 per hour — just $1.50 more than the Rhode Island minimum wage at the time.
“There was no way I could’ve stayed there,” he said.
Kent Gallimore, who currently works as a USENTRA security guard at hospitals in Pawtucket and Warwick, said in a speech at the rally that the company does not “respect people’s time” and would often fail to keep track of requests made for time off.
He added that he wants USENTRA to be more “aware” of its issues, noting that unionization would “bring more attention to (employees’) needs.”
“USENTRA has succeeded for more than 40 years by providing good job opportunities and treating our people well,” Ben Lupovitz, president and CEO of USENTRA, wrote in a statement shared with The Herald. “We take great pride in our employees and continuously look for ways to make USENTRA a better place to work.”
“We believe our compensation levels are very competitive and we are presently engaged in a number of efforts designed to continue the process of finding more ways to improve working conditions for our employees,” he wrote.
Employees with USENTRA are looking to unionize with SEIU Local 32BJ — a branch of SEIU representing more than 150,000 service employees in states throughout the Northeast region. Several representatives of the union attended the rally in support of USENTRA workers.
“I am here supporting the security guards because I want them to secure better benefits,” said Maria Jimeo, a union steward for SEIU 32BJ, in an interview translated from Spanish. Jimeo works as a cleaner for Innovative Facility Services at the Bank of America in East Providence and serves on a bargaining committee for the union.
Jimeo said she began working for IFS before the workplace was unionized and noted that the difference in her working conditions before and after unionization is “tremendous.”
“We are here today for a simple reason — because USENTRA security is spreading poor working conditions among communities that need and deserve better,” said Dan Nicolai, an organizational coordinator for SEIU 32BJ, in a speech at the rally.
USENTRA workers have been calling for a union for more than a year, though an SEIU representative told The Herald that they have not yet filed a petition to unionize with the National Labor Relations Board. In July 2022, the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the USENTRA alleging it interfered with workers’ efforts to unionize, the Providence Journal previously reported.
“USENTRA Security is successful primarily because of our great employees who thankfully choose to be a part of our organization,” Lupovitz wrote. “We recognize that some of our employees are expressing an interest in unionizing. Certainly they have the right to unionize and we have not interfered.”
Several local politicians were also in attendance at the rally, including Reps. David Morales MPA’19 (D-Providence), Enrique Sanchez (D-Providence) and Nathan Biah (D-Providence), as well as Gabe Amo, the Democratic candidate for Rhode Island’s 1st congressional district.
Several speakers at the rally called on the University to support the unionization of USENTRA employees and to use a different security services contractor.
“They have the discretion, the authority and the ability to contract a much more ethical contractor … that actually takes care of their workers,” Morales said.
“We support opportunities for additional jobs in Rhode Island by prioritizing local hiring when we contract with service providers,” University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald. “We offer generous compensation to our own employees across union and non-union positions, and our vendors work independently to manage employment terms with the individuals they employ.”
“It is not Brown’s role to suggest whether unionization is best for employees of another organization,” he wrote. “This is a question for those employees to explore directly.”
Sam Levine is a University News editor from Brooklyn, New York overseeing the staff and student labor and on-campus activism beats. He is a junior concentrating in International and Public Affairs.