The union attempting to organize 400 contracted security guards downtown is calling on Playhouse Square to consider hiring another security company, alleging that the current one is violating the guards’ right to form a union.

SEIU Local 1 is scheduled to demonstrate in front of Playhouse Square at 10:30 a.m. Friday, making a public plea to the arts institution’s management against PalAmerican Security. Union officials won’t directly say that they want Playhouse Square to replace the company.

“We want Playhouse Square to choose a responsible contractor that is not going to retaliate against workers for exercising their rights to organize,” said Yanela Sims, Ohio state director for the union. “They’ve been intimidating and firing workers for their union activity.”

Playhouse Square is a gem in our city. They should have business practices that reflect their stature in our community.

Yanela Sims, Ohio state director for SEIU Local 1

Sims said the union has filed unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board against PalAmerican based on such claims. The NLRB website reflects that cases have been filed, but decisions have not yet been reached. 

“Playhouse Square expects all third-party service providers to abide by all applicable labor laws, including but not limited to National Labor Relations Board regulations,” wrote Cindi Szymanski, the institution’s communications director, in an email to Signal Cleveland.

“We have been in direct discussion with local SEIU leadership and have taken all actions requested by them during those discussions,” her email states. “We have also met with the local and national leaders of PalAmerican who have assured us they are abiding by all applicable laws and regulations. They have been notified of possible consequences should an investigation confirm otherwise.”

The union disagrees with Playhouse Square’s assessment that the arts institution has “taken all actions requested by them during those discussions.”

“SEIU is open to continuing conversations regarding Playhouse Square using a responsible contractor,” Sims wrote to Signal Cleveland in an email.

Signal Cleveland also contacted PalAmerican about the union’s claims. This article will be updated when comments become available.

While only about 10 PalAmerican guards work at Playhouse Square, the union said there is a reason they have decided to demonstrate in front of the arts institution.

“Playhouse Square is a gem in our city,” Sims said. “They should have business practices that reflect their stature in our community.”

The union is fighting for higher wages and better working conditions, said Camilo Villa, northern Ohio coordinator for the union. He said the security guards working for companies contracted by downtown buildings typically earn hourly wages of $15 to $16. He said their employers can change their schedules at a moment’s notice, often leading to “Inconsistent and irregular” hours.

“One of our goals as a union is to create stable, well- paying jobs for working people,” he said. “We know that union industries have more stability and that’s especially critical in low-wage industries.”

He said that the wages of these security guards, many of them Cleveland residents, stand in stark contrast to the luxury housing at which many of them work. Villa said wages also stand in contrast to the flashy marquees installed this year at Playhouse Square.

“We’re getting all this downtown investment,” Villa said. “There needs to be an investment in workers.”

Sims agreed.

“We’re not anti-development,” she said. “We’re pro-worker. It doesn’t have to be either or. We can have both.”

Economics Reporter (she/her)
Olivera, an award-winning journalist, covered labor, employment and workforce issues for several years at The Plain Dealer. She broke the story in 2013 of a food drive held for Walmart workers who made too little to afford Thanksgiving dinner. Olivera has received state and national awards for her coverage, including those from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. Olivera believes the sweet spot of high-impact journalism is combining strong storytelling with data analysis.