Downtown Security Spat Results in National Labor Complaint

The genesis: two local security companies losing out on a downtown security contract to an embattled, out-of-state giant.

Local security companies were outraged when a city of Portland contracting policy resulted in their losing work to out-of-town firms that agreed not to oppose labor organizing (“Insecure,” WW, June 15).

Now the National Labor Relations Board is investigating a complaint by one of the local firms, Northwest Enforcement, alleging that several downtown entities entered into a “hot cargo” agreement that led to the awarding of a contract to international security conglomerate GardaWorld.

(A hot cargo agreement is a deal between an employer and union in which the employer agrees to hire only companies friendly to that union.)

The June complaint names the downtown enhanced service district Clean & Safe—which keeps downtown tidy by charging a fee to businesses within its boundaries—Service Employees International Union Local 49, and the Portland Business Alliance as defendants.

At issue is a city procurement policy enacted in 2020 that requires city contractors in laundry, security and janitorial work to obtain a “labor peace” agreement with a union in order to work for the city. Such an agreement is mutually beneficial: The company doesn’t have to worry about striking workers, and the union doesn’t have to worry about the employer interfering with unionizing efforts.

Clean & Safe, closely affiliated with the Portland Business Alliance, agreed to abide by the city’s procurement policy during contract renewal negotiations last fall. (City Commissioner Carmen Rubio says she made Clean & Safe’s adherence to the policy a condition of the district’s renewal. An August 2020 city audit heavily criticized the enhanced service district, citing poor oversight and a need for greater transparency.)

Portland Patrol, a local company that provided Clean & Safe’s security for over two decades, did not obtain a labor peace agreement before submitting its application for renewal of its contract this fall. Neither did local security company Northwest Enforcement, which provides security for the Central Eastside enhanced service district.

Both lost out on the contract. It was instead awarded to GardaWorld, an international security giant that’s been locked in a number of controversies over the years, including allegations it lost millions of dollars for clients through its money vault branch and created unsafe working conditions for employees.

Political director for SEIU Local 49 Felisa Hagins tells WW this is the first she’s heard of what she characterizes as a “meritless” labor complaint.

“[The company] didn’t get a contract and now they’re on a path to leverage why they din’t get that contract,” Hagins says. “For us, it’s annoying, but obviously it’s going to get tossed, because it’s the law.”

Hagins says Local 49 worked on the procurement policy for three years before city council ratified it.

“There were multiple hearings and public meetings about it. It was a years-long process, and none of these companies participated in that process at all,” Hagins says. “They didn’t come to the hearings, they didn’t testify to city council.”

Clean & Safe and PBA did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, the city is being sued over the same labor peace policy by DePaul Industries, a local company that has historically provided unarmed security guards for the city. DePaul employs Oregonians with disabilities and filed the lawsuit in December after the city rejected the company for a security contract because it did not obtain a labor peace agreement. (The contract was for four unarmed guards at Mt. Tabor Park. Disabilities can range from PTSD to partial deafness.)

In court documents, city attorneys have defended the policy and DePaul’s need to adhere to it.