I am related to a security officer who works in the interior of the University. On a heartbreaking phone call recently, they informed me that raises have allegedly been given out to officers who work outside with little to no experience, while the officers who work indoors have had little recognition or pay raises for their efforts. This is a serious issue—one individual I know of has gone through periods where they can barely keep the lights on. A pay raise was due a long time ago, and the University must work with their contracted security firm to ensure that officers working indoors receive the compensation they deserve.
Allied Universal, with whom the University has a security contract, had $18 billion in revenue in 2021. This information, coupled with Allied Universal’s acquisition of several other security firms since 2021, indicates that there is enough for a pay increase.
Some might argue that outdoor work warrants a higher compensation rate than working indoors because it includes physical hazards that indoor work does not, but such a claim would be fundamentally flawed. It is founded on an outmoded system that prioritizes physical health over mental health and does not reflect the forward-thinking values this University theoretically stands for. For the University to place the outside officers’ physical life over the indoors officers’ mental and physical health in the workplace is simply dangerous.
Yes, outdoor officers deserve to be paid fairly because of the dangerous elements outside, but officers indoors do too. During this time of COVID, indoors officers face the possibility of physical harm, just as outdoor officers do, as well as a whirlwind of threats to their mental health. The officers who work indoors during COVID are risking their physical health by default. They are in a contained environment with students, faculty, visitors, etc. who may have the virus, and catching that virus could be disastrous for their health, even if they’re vaccinated. Every day, the officers indoors risk being exposed. They have to constantly ask students to put on their masks. They see many of them finish eating, leave the masks off, and talk, increasing the risk of spreading the virus. The officers indoors simply don’t feel safe or valued. The officers have proven their reliability and dependability to the University by maintaining and ensuring a safe environment for students and staff, while also having to constantly worry about their own physical and mental well-being. It’s simply not sustainable trying to work under these conditions.
What I’m sharing is that this is not only physical wear and tear, but mental wear and tear that is building up within the indoors officer’s minds. I have been told that a lot of people were exposed to the virus, and it attacked their bodies to the point where some of the individuals wished that they were dead. These are people who have been vaccinated. The vaccine saves you from dying, but it doesn’t protect you from the suffering part. At any time, a student who is entitled can say that an officer is rude to them just because they don’t like being told no or what they can’t do.
This has been especially stressful because COVID procedures have been revised and security offers have to enforce these new procedures more strictly. Officers are dealing with the rude attitudes of students on top of false reports of misconduct.
A few indoors officers have had mental breakdowns because of COVID and dealing with the rude attitudes from some students is just too much to bear. Those students have no regard for the feelings of the officers. The officers feel unable to bring this up with higher-level people because they assume that the University will have the students’ interests in mind rather than the officers’, since their money is invested in the University. The officers could end up unemployed or get a transfer just because a student doesn’t want to follow COVID procedures. All this warrants commensurate compensation and more priority placed on the well-being of the interior officers.
In my opinion, the indoors officers have more interaction with the public than outside officers because they talk to everyone that passes their desk. The officers simply feel undervalued for the work that they do. The mental and physical health of the indoors officers is just as valuable as the officers who work outside, and if the University of Chicago can find money to give raises to certain faculty members, then they can do the same for the indoors officers. Allied Universal and the University must come to some kind of solution that supports the indoors officers and ensures these officers’ lives are valued and protected as they should be.
JD is a resident of Hyde Park.