Dan Nicolai, New England District Leader for Service Employees International Union 32BJ, speaks to gathered press alongside members and supporters at Memorial Park on South Main Street in Providence on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023. The rally was to pressure the Ivy League school to ask UNESTRA Security Services to allow its employees to unionize. (Kevin G. Andrade/Rhode Island Current)
PROVIDENCE — “No union! No peace!” was the chant of about a dozen or so purple-shirted people rallying outside the Brown University School of Public Health on South Main Street Wednesday.
Members of Service Employees International Union 32BJ rallied outside the building to call on Brown University to ask USENTRA Security Services, a Warwick-based company, to allow its roughly 200 guards statewide to unionize with SEIU, increase pay, and schedule fairly.
“Our message is simple: the Brown School of Public Health should live up to its mission to help underserved communities by not spreading poverty with a contractor offering low wages and inadequate health benefits, and schedules that offer no consideration of workers’ basic needs,” said Dan Nicolai, the New England District Leader for SEIU 32BJ.
“Ultimately, the only way to guarantee this respect in the long term is to allow these workers to have a union. These officers have important jobs. They face real dangers to protect people and property at institutions like Brown. Like all workers, they deserve to have a voice on the job.”
SEIU 32BJ represents over 700 security and janitorial workers throughout District 615, which includes Massachusetts and Rhode Island. At the School of Public Health, the pay is only $14.50 for security guards, said Tori Bilcik, a communications strategist for the union.
The only USENTRA guard at the site, Olaide Sabola, was on duty during the rally and could not participate. She said in a recorded statement at the rally that apart from low pay, the company omitted that she was entitled to 40 hours paid leave per state law and did not allow her to take one for a year.
“I work so many hours that I am not eligible for state-subsidized health insurance yet the insurance the company offers is so expensive that it is completely out of reach,” Sabola said.
“I came here from Nigeria for a better life because my beautiful country suffers from bad government. I was shocked that my first job in America would treat me so poorly. It is not how an employer should treat their employee anywhere in the world.”
USENTRA did not address those accusations directly in a statement emailed to Rhode Island Current.
“USENTRA Security is a company focused on its employees,” said Carl Santilli, USENTRA’s director of operations.
“Our company is great because of all the wonderful people who are part of our success. We continuously look for ways to make USENTRA a better place to work and always welcome input from our most valuable resource — USENTRA team members.”
Apart from the Brown University School of Public Health — where Sabola is the only USENTRA Guard stationed — Bilcik said The Providence Journal, Providence Community Health Clinics, and the Rhode Island Blood Center also had contracts with the company.
Multiple politicians came to support the demonstrators, most prominently Pawtucket Democratic Sen. Sandra Cano — a Democratic candidate for Rhode Island’s open 1st Congressional District seat — at Memorial Park, adjacent to the School of Public Health.
“They are spreading poverty in our community,” Cano said. “I’m here for you and I’m here for working families.”
Also on hand were Barrington Democratic Rep. Jason Knight, Providence City Council President Rachel Miller, and Providence Democratic Rep. David Morales.
“No one in this state should put in a hard day’s work and still barely make ends meet,” Miller said. “Brown’s School of Public Health has this tremendous opportunity to do what is right and just.”
“You can’t have community health without economic opportunity.”
Morales said guards need to unionize as their employer has made it clear they are not important to them.
“These companies cannot function unless they have security,” he said. “USENTRA views our frontline security workers as expendable. We are calling on institutions to hold USENTRA accountable,” he continued. “Inaction just enables USENTRA to behave this way.”
Representatives from Brown University, The Providence Journal, Providence Community Health Clinics, and the Rhode Island Blood Center, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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