While tech workers typically make high wages at companies like Amazon, the security guards who work on the tech giants campus say they have trouble affording rising living costs.
While tech workers typically make high wages at companies like Amazon, the security guards who work on the tech giant's campus say they have trouble affording rising living costs. HG

More than 150 Seattle tech workers have joined an ongoing call to improve working conditions for security guards who protect Amazon's South Lake Union campus.

Over the last year, security guards who work for Security Industry Specialists (SIS) have complained of unfair treatment at work and said they haven't received pay raises in five years. With support from Service Employees International Union 6 Property Services Northwest, they've demanded pay raises and a union.

Today, tech workers and SEIU members showed up at an Amazon building in South Lake Union to join in those calls from security guards by delivering a letter addressed to Jeff Bezos calling on Amazon to help improve working conditions for the SIS security guards. (The letter has been signed by 164 people who identified themselves as local tech workers and another 1,300 other people online, according to Jeffrey Atkinson, an organizer with Seattle Tech Solidarity.)

Amazon contracts with SIS, so the guards do not work directly for the tech giant. But labor advocates and now some tech workers say Amazon should use its leverage to pressure SIS to improve its treatment of workers and allow them to form a union. The company could sign a "responsible contracting agreement," pledging to only work with companies that offer workers certain pay, benefits, and protections. Neither SIS nor Amazon returned requests for comment today.

Signs from todays demonstration.
Signs from today's demonstration. HG

"These are the workers who keep us safe," said Andrew Lo, a software development engineer at Amazon, as the group sat in the lobby of one of Amazon's many South Lake Union buildings today. "It's our turn to stand up for them."

Complaints about working conditions at SIS have been ongoing, but ramped up this year. In 2015, SIS settled with the City of Seattle after allegations that the company violated the city's sick leave law. This spring, SIS workers protested the lack of access to prayer rooms and successfully convinced the company to provide them. But workers said a retaliatory culture remained. In May, two SIS workers said the company retaliated against them after they advocated for better working conditions. The company denied the allegations.

Abdirahman Mohamed, who worked at SIS for three years, said in an interview today he was fired after beginning to advocate for better working conditions and a pay raise. Mohamed said SIS supervisors showed favoritism toward white employees over immigrant and Muslim workers. One supervisor made a comment about "how to spot a terrorist: they have a beard," Mohamed said. In three years, Mohamed said he never received a raise. Mohamed said that after being fired, he was later offered his job back, but would have had to go through orientation at the company again. He no longer works for SIS.

"The city of Seattle is getting expensive, cost of living is going up, people are getting gentrified," Mohamad said, "and one thing that everybody has in common is the pay... I want SIS to know that they're playing with people's livelihoods and for Amazon to hold their contractors liable because at the end of the day, we support their brand, their name, and we are the people protecting their space."

SIS employee Khalid Elmy makes $15.50 an hour as a security guard on Amazons campus.
SIS employee Khalid Elmy makes $15.50 an hour as a security guard on Amazon's campus. HG

Khalid Elmy, a current SIS employee, said he makes $15.50 an hour working mostly nighttime and graveyard shifts while he attends Seattle Central College. Some workers have trouble surviving on the wage as Seattle gets more expensive, he said. Elmy said he and other workers want pay raises, better health insurance, and protections against favoritism.

"We're here as security officers day in and day out to make sure that Amazonians' work community is safe," Elmy said, "so [tech workers] being a bigger voice for us really helps get our message out there. We represent their brand name on our shirt."

Amazon software development engineer Tegan Mulholland said she heard about the SIS workers' concerns after getting involved with Seattle Tech Solidarity, a group that formed after the November election. Mulholland said tech workers joining the cause could "motivate our leadership to take action."

"These security officers, they work in our buildings, they protect our physical and information security. They're an essential part of Amazon as a business and our success," Mulholland said. "With the cost of living increases that are being caused in Seattle by high paid tech workers, I think we have a responsibility to make sure that everybody in Seattle is benefiting from this."

When workers arrived at the Amazon building today with the letter, they asked for someone from the company's leadership to come down to the lobby to speak directly with them. But no one arrived.

As confused-looking Amazon employees streamed past the group with cups of coffee, dogs, and their signature blue badges, the protesting workers sat in the lobby chanting and listening to SIS workers describe their working conditions. (Seattle City Council candidate Jon Grant was at the protest and his opponent Teresa Mosqueda expressed solidarity with the action.)

After about 45 minutes, the group left, chanting, "We'll be back."