A Closer Look at Security Officers

In 2006, CSS issued a report on the working conditions in Manhattan’s security industry in the post-September 11th environment.   At that time, we found a workforce that was:

  • Predominantly male and black: nearly 84 percent were men, and more than half were black;
  • Not highly educated: nearly a quarter lacked a high school diploma;
  • Poorly paid: the median hourly wage for security officers in the New York City area stood at $9.89, compared to a median hourly wage for all workers of $18.17;
  • Largely lacking benefits like employer-provided health insurance or paid sick leave;
  • Ill-trained, despite serious responsibilities for public safety;
  • Characterized by high turnover; and
  • Struggling to get by and support their families.

Only a small segment of the industry was unionized—about 1,000 security officers were represented by 32BJ SEIU in 2004. While not highly paid, these union members had on average higher wages and more comprehensive benefits, and felt they had received enough training to approach their jobs with professionalism.

Beginning in 2006, unionization of the security industry in New York City increased dramatically. By 2011, 32BJ SEIU had organized close to 10,000 workers, a tenfold increase.

How did the trend toward greater unionization impact the working conditions, wages, and composition of the security officer workforce in New York City? We analyzed publicly-available data from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey and the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Employment Statistics to find out.  Our findings are highlighted below. Complete findings will be available in a forthcoming report in early October. 

Demographic trends

Over the last decade, the workforce of security officers has grown older and become more educated.  In 2010, nearly one-quarter of all security officers were ages 55 or older, compared to 16.9 percent in 2000.  More than half had at least some college education, compared to 37.4 percent a decade before.  These findings suggest that younger, less educated workers are no longer finding the same opportunity for employment in the city’s security industry. 

Wage trends

Between 2004 and 2011, inflation-adjusted hourly wages for security guards in New York City rose by more than 10 percent, from $11.78 to $12.99.  This surpassed the increase for other low-income occupations in New York City, most of which saw their real wages fall during the same period, and also surpassed the average wage increases for security guards in the New York metropolitan area and the nation as a whole.  

Economic security

While hourly pay for security officers in New York City has risen in recent years, especially relative to other low-wage occupations, the current median wage of $12.99 an hour still leaves a full-time, year-round worker earning well below the low-income threshold of $17.24 per hour for a family of three. 

Twenty-two percent of security workers reported receiving food stamps and 20 percent received Medicaid in 2010. Less than 60 percent received employee health insurance.

Union security officers do better; median starting hourly rates across current contracts are $14.35 an hour, as of July 1, 2012. Union contracts also typically include better benefits than non-union workers receive—and these benefits form an important part of the total compensation package.  The union goal is for all security contracts to provide at least employee health coverage by July 2013, with some including family coverage. 

For more, see our forthcoming report:  Upgrading Security:  Unionization and Changes in the Workforce, Wages, and Standards in the New York City Security Industry, 2004–2011.

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