Security guards in Philly region, nation seeing wages grow more than most sectors

A security guard checks inside of a meeting room after it was evacuated by police with the Department of Homeland Security, where the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was about to vote on net neutrality, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington. The room was shortly declared to be safe and the meeting continued where the FCC voted along party lines to repeal net neutrality. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo)

A security guard checks inside of a meeting room after it was evacuated by police with the Department of Homeland Security, where the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was about to vote on net neutrality, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington. The room was shortly declared to be safe and the meeting continued where the FCC voted along party lines to repeal net neutrality. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo)

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that average hourly wages increased by 2.9 percent in the past year, causing Joseph Brusuelas and other chief economists to label 2018 as “a year of rising wages.”

For security officers, average wages have not only risen — they’ve spiked.

A Bloomberg report estimated that between November 2016 and 2017, the average hourly wage for security employees increased by 6.1 percent, pegging the national average at $15.62 an hour. A Labor Department report in January showed 7 percent growth in that sector.

But is the national trend reflected in local companies?  For Michael Visnov, executive vice president for Echelon Protection and Surveillance, the answer’s not so simple.

“What are they counting as security guards?” Visnov said. “There’s security guards unarmed. There’s armed. There’s personal protection, which would be like a body guard.”

At Echelon, a company with offices in Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Visnov estimates that workers are paid somewhere between $12 and $25 an hour.

But Visnov can’t say the same for larger companies, such as Cambridge Security, which declined comment on the topic of wages.

So, what’s bringing on the national trend? Visnov thinks turning on the news is enough to make people willing to pay more for security. In 2017, the country had 347 mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The death of 17 at a Florida high school Wednesday has pushed gun violence once again into the national spotlight.

“A school shooting. A church or a synagogue, a religious institution being vandalized or attacked. You saw what happened with the hotels in Las Vegas,” Visnov said. “I mean, on and on and on, you don’t have to know anything about security to turn on the TV and go, this is an issue based on what’s happening nationally.”

Gabe Morgan, Pennsylvania director of the Service Employees International Union, said the regional hourly wage might even be higher than the national average.

But Morgan said it’s not terrorism making people pay more for security services — it’s unions.

In 2012 and 2013, about 2,500 security employees transitioned into unions, demanding medical benefits and higher pay.

“If you and several thousand of your co-workers are able to sit down and negotiate for yourself, you tend to do a lot better than when you don’t have the ability to do that,” Morgan said.

Several years ago, Kobra Oden was dissatisfied with her salary as a security officer for Allied Universal working for Temple University Hospital. At a 2012 rally, she spoke about the need for better health insurance and higher wages for security employees.

Now, Oden makes $14.20 an hour and needs to provide only a copay when seeking medical care. Joining a union, she said, helped make the difference.

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