Married Couple Works to Raise Standards in Security Industry


Ben Hartley2croppedBen Hartley and his wife Liz are both security officers working for Universal Protection Service (UPS) in Silicon Valley. Despite the region’s booming tech industry, many service workers are not afforded the opportunity to succeed.

The couple lives in a full house – seven adults in a three-bedroom home. That number balloons to nine people on weekends, when Ben’s boys stay in their room with them: four people in one bedroom. The close quarters are putting a strain on the family.

“We only have one working shower for all of us,” Ben says. “There’s another one in the house, but we can’t afford to fix it. We barely make enough to pay rent.”

Even more troubling, both Ben and Liz have serious medical conditions, but can not afford to treat them adequately.

“Asthma is running my life,” Ben says. Although they were able to reduce their health care premium by opting out of UPS’ plan and buying coverage through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), he still earns too little to afford his pricey asthma medication, which can cost as much as $250 in a single month. And neither of them is able to shell out their $45 co-pay.

Liz Volpe1cropped“We have to pay for health care, because you never know when you’ll need it,” says Liz. “But it also feels like we can’t actually use it.” For five years, she’s experienced numbness in her leg, and is concerned that it is getting worse.

These are the kind of impossible choices the family faces. Even working long hours, it can be a struggle just to afford groceries, and both have watched their health deteriorate.

Yet the couple is working toward a real solution for themselves and other security officers in the Valley. They are joining together in a union to raise standards.

UPS is the biggest obstacle to Silicon Valley officers’ efforts to improve conditions in the industry, but Universal officers are encouraged by other recent victories. Both Apple and Google announced plans to phase out an irresponsible security contractor in favor of stable, full-time jobs with benefits for the officers who protect their campuses. In May, Facebook announced a new policy for service contractors, including a $15 minimum wage and other benefits.

Watch real estate decision-makers at CalPERS react to testimony by another UPS officer here. CalPERS is looking into concerns raised by security officers that UPS may not be in compliance with the pension fund’s responsible contracting policy.

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