Operating Profitably in Unionized Contract Security

Rob Snyder
February 26, 2019

      Managing contract security services is difficult - and even more challenging when your guards are unionized. In other parts of SYRG’s blog, we explain why managing to employee availability poses such a serious operational and logistical challenge in any union workplace. But operators in the security industry know that there are security-specific nuances that make filling open shifts difficult. And when research shows that 6-10%+ of shifts change due to vacations and sick days, these security-specific nuances become serious headaches for anyone trying to operate profitably.

We have interviewed workers, managers, and executives from across the security industry, and have deployed SYRG customized specifically for security contractors. Comparing contract security to other unionized industries, we’ve encountered four main roadblocks that prevent profitable operations in unionized workplaces:

Challenge #1: No understaffing. Period.

Other industries can “get by” when missing a few employees. In the security industry, your guard hours are your business. Posts must be covered - no exceptions. Every vacation and sick day must be covered. If a guard doesn’t show, then the current guard on duty stays on post until he’s relieved. Sometimes it takes a few minutes; sometimes it takes a few hours; sometimes it takes a supervisor or manager working a double-shift.

Challenge #2: Overtime is significantly less profitable.

      The first challenge wouldn’t be such a big problem if not for the unfortunate truth that - for most of your contracts - every hour of overtime is close to an unprofitable labor hour for the operation. Every hour that the current guard on duty is required to stay past 40 is an hour that you’re losing money on. In other industries, the link between overtime and unprofitability isn’t quite so clear. A unionized short-order cook, for example, may work overtime but sell enough food to generate profit above their OT wage. This is almost never the case in security.

This means it’s critical to fill shifts fast - and at straight time, when humanly possible. More sizeable security contractors benefit from having multiple accounts within a region - and could theoretically plug in guards more frequently to other sites. But that doesn’t happen - why?

Challenge #3: No position matrices.

      Each post has nuances and specific training requirements. The stakes are higher in the security industry: Unlike other industries, you can’t simply throw an untrained worker into a new role and expect good results. In security, an untrained guard on a new post risks contracts - and, more importantly, security.

Despite this, most security contractors don’t keep up-to-date lists that indicate which guards are trained for each role at their account. In fact, most supervisors and account managers we’ve worked with have kept training information in their heads, not even in written documents. Of course, keeping these lists in managers’ and supervisors’ heads is both a financial and operational risk. Only having an up-to-date position matrix will ensure that only - and all - trained guards are contacted for available shifts. Plus, position matrices can enable cross-contract guard sharing, a practice that helps increase your “pool” of available guards while decreasing unprofitable overtime hours.

Challenge #4: Union Rules.

      Making this even more difficult, most collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) have strict rules limiting the number of part-time guards as well as defining an order for how available shifts should be offered. Supervisors need to keep call lists, and ensure that there are no perceptions of favoritism that lead to grievances. These union rules are often similar to what we see in other industries, and are complex for managers to effectively follow. However, forward-thinking security contractors are adopting automated ways to contact guards according to their CBAs.

The Solution: CBA-Compliant Automation

      Contract security companies with unionized workers require an operations-focused solution tailored to their unique challenges. Any solution they implement must have:

  • Full automation: Wasting already stretched-thin manager and supervisor time making calls filling shifts is a no-go. Shifts must be filled with little - if any - manager or supervisor time or effort.
  • Full security: This goes without saying.
  • CBA compliance, customized to your CBA: To satisfy your union and workers, it’s crucial that any system contacts security guards in a CBA-compliant order. Each CBA is slightly different, and you need a solution that your union believes represents what you bargained.
  • A position matrix that works across contracts: A solution needs to know who’s trained at your contract, but contracts. It also needs to understand every guard’s schedule for the week to minimize unnecessary overtime.
  • The option for performance-based pricing: Security contracting is a lean business. You can’t afford to pay for solutions that don’t provide the value they promise. What if vendor only made money as a small percentage of the cost savings on the shifts it fills at straight time?

Interested in the only solution that increases contract security profitability and meets all these requirements? Let’s talk:


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