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Service employees union looks to organize Downtown Cleveland security guards

 Melvin Barnes Jr., a Downtown security guard, speaks at a Service Employees International Union Local 1 news conference.
Nick Castele
Ideastream Public Media
Melvin Barnes Jr., a Downtown security guard, speaks at a Service Employees International Union Local 1 news conference.

The Service Employees International Union hopes to organize security guards working in Downtown Cleveland.

SEIU Local 1 held a news conference Thursday at Playhouse Square to call attention to workers’ push for better pay and benefits at the security contractor Royce-U.S. Protections Service. The union is also pressing property owners that contract with Royce, including Playhouse Square, to support workers’ unionization.

Melvin Barnes Jr. told Ideastream Public Media that he has worked as a security guard for several employers over 17 years. Now 43, he works for Royce at the AECOM Building on East Ninth Street. Barnes makes $13 an hour, and although his compensation has risen over the years, he feels squeezed by rising costs, he said.

“My pay hasn’t kept proportionate overall not only with the cost of living, (but) also with the time I’ve put in,” he said. “Now I will say that security, there is a lot of transience in there. However, I’ve stuck it out.”

Barnes said he recently had to pay out-of-pocket for contact lenses and took unpaid time off to attend funerals in his hometown of New Orleans.

Joe Conley, the president and CEO of Royce, declined to comment on the union’s efforts but defended his company’s pay.

“We meet and exceed industry standards for pay and benefits, and we are also very confident that we exceed standards for how we treat our people, which is proven by the longevity of many of our security officers,” he said.

Although the union is focusing on Royce, Local 1 Ohio Director Yanela Sims said the scope could widen to other employers.

“It’s about Royce right now, but we’re hoping to be able to collaborate with other employers and other decision-makers to accomplish that goal, so it’s not just them,” she said. “Eventually we hope to engage in conversations with other employers as well.”

A representative for Playhouse Square did not return a request for comment.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.