Downtown landlords, looking to avoid putting their security guards through a union-developed training program, have come up with a voluntary plan of their own.
Landlords in the Building Owners and Managers Association are under pressure from City Hall and the Service Employees International Union to improve training standards for high-rise security guards.
The union, which is trying to organize the guards, is working through allies on the Los Angeles City Council to push through a mandatory training program.
To sidestep imposition of new rules, landlords have agreed on their own to provide between eight and 24 hours of training in addition to the 40 hours required by state law, according to BOMA president Barbara Harris. Many times, she said, security companies are already exceeding the training standards proposed by the city.
"We were surprised and didn't expect to be told by the mayor's office that our training wasn't adequate when it clearly was," Harris said. "This is an effort to make sure everyone knows the extent of training our guards go through."
A draft ordinance called L.A. Safe & Secure, passed unanimously by the council in June, was proposed by Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose 9th District includes much of downtown. It is being reviewed by the City Attorney's Office. Once it passes legal muster, the council will vote on the final version.
BOMA objects to the ordinance because it would require guards to go through a 40-hour training course based on a curriculum designed in part by the SEIU, which is waging a campaign to unionize public and private security guards downtown. The city's police, fire and other emergency response departments would also design the standards.
Building owners and their security contractors say they already consult with the police and fire departments, as well as the FBI and Homeland Security Department.
Input from these sources has been incorporated into BOMA's plan, dubbed the Accredited Security Organization Program. Separately, the group is installing software that will incorporate building security communications with the city's emergency dispatch network.
Building owners say they want to challenge assertions made by SEIU that L.A.'s high-rises are unsafe. So besides setting tougher security standards, the program is also partly a marketing campaign to combat the union.
"We knew none of what the union was saying was true, but we had to be certain the mayor's office, the City Council and the public members also knew it wasn't true," Harris said.
BOMA's action surprised Perry's staff. "So they are doing this after the council has taken action?" asked Eva Kandarpa, a Perry spokeswoman. "That's interesting."
The SEIU contends that downtown landlords have been slow to respond to security concerns, which the union has been raising during three years of organizing.
BOMA established its safety committee in January, more than four years after security measures had been tightened following the 2001 terrorist attacks.
January was also when Perry's office and then-Mayor James Hahn publicly raised concerns about the safety of downtown office towers and proposed the city get involved in setting training standards.
"It's pretty transparent," said Jono Schaffer, director of security organizing for the SEIU. "This only came about after, and in response to, the work we did with the Police Department, the mayor's office and Jan Perry to come up with a comprehensive plan."
Just because BOMA's training program may include more hours doesn't mean it's more effective, Schaffer said. He also said BOMA's plan doesn't address how to decrease the turnover rate among guards. High turnover undermines the level of trained workers, he said.
Brian Cescolini, president and chief executive of security guard contractor Universal Protection Co., said creating a city program would make it more difficult for companies to provide training.
"We can provide information and training to security guards much faster than any agency," Cescolini said. "Training is best left to companies that are responsible for security and who are experts in it."
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