It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
After decades on the job and unblemished work records, in early spring two Commack School District security guards were let go for a mistake their colleagues considered a minor oversight. “They missed an open door although the building wasn’t compromised,” said security guard Joe Hendrickson. “One guy was in his 80’s and doing overnights and they basically bullied him to resign — it just wasn’t right.”
The action accomplished in a matter of weeks what Hendrickson and fellow security guard Tom McFadzen had sought for the last seven years — it convinced the guards to unionize. “A couple of guards were hesitant to unionize but as soon as I mentioned the guards forced out, they signed on,” said Hendrickson who worked with McFadzen to organize the local.
After reaching out to the Teamsters, Communications Workers of America and NYSUT, the group settled on the statewide union since “they work in schools and are more in line with what we do,” said McFadzen noting that like educators, the guards’ chief concern is the well-being of students. “Teaching and security go hand-in-hand when it comes to kids.”
The 65-member Commack Security Guards Association provides 24/7 security year-round for the district’s eight schools and one district office building. In addition to officers assigned to patrol individual buildings and grounds, the guards staff a central security base.
Once the guards made the decision to organize things moved quickly, said Hendrickson, a retired New York City Police Department patrol officer and former NYC Police Benevolent Association rep. They held several informational meetings to explain their options and NYSUT organizer Alexandra Castillo-Kesper and labor relations specialist Tom Glenn were on hand to answer questions. “In early May we got 100 percent compliance for interest forms and union membership forms, it was impressive.”
District acceptance also went smoothly with the school board recognizing the local without challenge. The Commack Security Guards Association elected an executive committee in late June. Hendrickson will lead as local president and McFadzen as first vice president.
The group hopes to have an agreement in place by the start of the school year. Since the majority of the local are retired law enforcement officers, most from the NYPD, they’d like greater respect for their decades of experience and training. “We’re experts in our field and lots of us live in the district and have a vested interest in it and the students,” said McFadzen who retired as an NYPD detective after 22 years. “Also, better salary and benefits and things like days off and personal days, we’d like to be treated like others in the district.”
“Job protection is important, we don’t want to be let go for minor infractions like what happened earlier this year,” said Hendrickson. “It’s time for us to get our seat at the table.”