Unable to get the city to step in and enforce what they say are their rights under Detroit’s living wage ordinance, Cobo Hall security guards have turned to the courts.

A class action lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court last week claiming that Guardian Security Services Inc. is illegally underpaying Cobo security guards. The guards — 40 to 50 of them — are represented by attorneys from the Maurice and Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice, a project of the National Lawyers Guild.

Detroit’s living wage ordinance was passed in 1998, with more than 80 percent of the city’s voters approving. It currently mandates that companies with city contracts worth more than $50,000 must pay workers $11.77 per hour (less if comprehensive medical coverage is fully provided). The guards at Cobo make $9.05 an hour.

Guardian representatives declined to comment.

According to the complaint, guard Richard Rudolph and others went to the city Purchasing Division in April 2002; 17 months later they were told their union contract “supersedes” the living wage ordinance.

Not true, says Julie Hurwitz, executive director of Guild Law Center and an attorney working on the case. For one thing, she says, no collective bargaining agreement is valid if it’s in violation of applicable law. That’s the situation here. She also points out that the collective bargaining agreement in question has expired, so the point is moot.

Detroit Deputy Corporation Counsel Brenda Braceful says the City is “looking into” Rudolph’s complaint and is aware of the lawsuit, but refused further comment.

The City Council, meanwhile, is taking interest in
the issue.

The case speaks to a larger problem. Living wage ordinances have been passed in more than 120 cities, townships and counties around the country, including 18 in Michigan. Enforcement, Hurwitz says, is often lacking.

“There are many, many, many workers who are entitled to a living wage but are not getting it,” says Hurwitz.

Instead, they get that proverbial shaft.

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