Security contract gives San Jose labor majority the upper hand
A member of SEIU speaks to the San Jose City Council on Feb. 14, 2023 regarding a $9 million security contract with Good Guard. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    Early signs point to a shift toward pro-labor politics in San Jose after the actions of several city councilmembers resulted in a contractor reversing position to earn a multi-million-dollar agreement.

    In a unanimous vote earlier this week, the San Jose City Council approved a $9 million agreement to hire a new contractor, Good Guard, to manage the city’s security guards—the biggest security contract in the city. But it wasn’t without its challenges.

    Councilmembers Peter Ortiz and Omar Torres sent a memo last week asking to find a new contractor after Good Guard failed to sign a labor agreement. Two hours after their memo published, Good Guard signed the labor agreement, promising thousands of security workers that their health care and retirement benefits would not be jeopardized, along with allowing workers to unionize.

    The contractor’s last minute switch highlights the effect a labor majority will have on government policies, City Hall insiders said.

    “I would say that it’s not uncommon for contractors to behave in certain ways when they know a majority of the council is leaning in a certain direction,” Councilmember Sergio Jimenez told San José Spotlight. “The other option I think (Good Guard) would have encountered (had they not signed the agreement) was for us to reject all offers and go back out with a new request for proposal, which they didn’t want.”

    Jimenez said he likely wouldn’t have voted in favor of the contract had Good Guard not signed the labor agreement. He also said if there was a pro-business majority on the council, the contractor would’ve been less likely to have shifted its position. The political pressure wouldn’t have been there.

    For Ortiz, who led the effort with Torres, ensuring the security workers could unionize is personal. Before being elected to the council, he worked with Services Employees International Union (SEIU) to organize security officers across the Bay Area to improve working conditions and obtain bargaining rights. He was also raised by a single mother whose union benefits helped his family stay housed, Ortiz said.

    “The point of our memo was to make sure that the hardworking people that keep all our facilities safe weren’t going to lose their health insurance because of a change in contracts that they had no say in,” Ortiz told San José Spotlight. “I believe our memo had a significant impact on the final outcome and sent a message to all parties that we will not accept a reduction in quality workplace standards and health benefits for city contracted employees.”

    The newly-elected District 5 councilmember also said the contract vote highlights that San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan will have to “compromise more than his predecessor,” because of the labor majority.

    Mahan took office with few political allies. Councilmember Bien Doan appears to be in lockstep with Mahan. And while Councilmembers Pam Foley and Dev Davis align more toward business, they have yet to prove whether their allegiance to Mahan will be consistent. During the election last year, they both endorsed his opponent, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez. The remaining seven councilmembers appear to lean more to labor.

    Doan told San José Spotlight he doesn’t think this recent vote indicates the power a labor majority will hold, rather it’s that workers rights is something all councilmembers can support. However, he said even if Good Guard did not sign the labor agreement, he still would’ve approved the contract.

    “At first I think there was some disagreement, but in the end, for the benefit of the employees, the SEIU, the city and Good Guard, we came together as a council,” Doan said. “I believe that our councilmembers are willing to collaborate to work together and give the city true representation.”

    Torres said San Jose can expect to see more votes from the council that uplift workers rights and benefits in the next two years, as labor maintains a majority.

    “Our vote on Tuesday let our working class know that they have a city council that is looking at the interests of our working class community, and making sure that we continue to work on creating affordable housing here in the city of San Jose,” Torres told San José Spotlight.

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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