My name is Don Lewis and I’ve been a security officer for more than 20 years. I was born and raised in Chicago, but decided years ago to make a fresh start and headed to sunny California. Right now I live in San Diego with my wife and I’m a proud father of five grown children.
I’m telling my story today because it’s one that, unfortunately, many security officers share.
As officers, we know we do important work. Like many of my co-workers, I enjoy going the extra mile to help customers. I’m good at it. When I put my suit on, I know I’m in the right line of work.
In my career, I’ve protected people and property at both commercial and residential sites. I remember one tense day when we had a suicide situation on the 25th floor of my building, and we had to assist the police and SWAT team to the proper location. I’m glad I was there to help in any way I could. And I know most officers would do the same.
But after 20 long years in this industry, even after becoming a supervisor, I’m still struggling on the wages we are paid. I can’t afford to pay rent, a car note and my bills with my security work, so I had to pick up a second job driving for a car service company. I don’t mind the work, but when you add up all the hours, it’s a big chunk of time away from my family.
And like many of my fellow officers, I can’t afford the insurance my company offers, which means I can’t get sick. I can’t afford to. I joke about it but the truth is, my healthcare plan is really just the vitamins I take every day.
And because February is Black History month, I wanted to talk about fighting for respect and equality at work. I can tell you that in my years working in this industry, I’ve faced discrimination as a black security officer. I felt alone when these situations happened. And I don’t want anyone else to have to feel or go through that.
Where I work, too few black security officers move up to management positions. We need to change that. I believe the more young black officers see people like themselves in supervisor and management roles, it will help people attain that for themselves.
All of this is why I’m fighting to build a strong officer union in San Diego. So that all security officers know about their rights and we can hold companies accountable—whether its discrimination, wage theft, what have you. When you have a union, you level that playing field. You have a team. You don’t have to go through things by yourself. And we deserve that.