No security for the guards

Those who protect state offices see their paychecks bounce, but find little support from the bureaucracy

Joy Smith, who guards the Caltrans office on 20th Street, has been given the runaround since her paycheck bounced.

Joy Smith, who guards the Caltrans office on 20th Street, has been given the runaround since her paycheck bounced.

Photo by Larry Dalton

When security guard Joy Smith reported to work on March 6, protecting the Caltrans office at 20th and J streets, she did so as a volunteer. That morning, she was among hundreds of capital area security guards employed by United International Investigative Services (UIIS) who were told by the firm that they wouldn’t be getting a check that day—even though it was payday.

But the guards worked, without knowing whether they’d get paid for their time. It’s unlikely that many of the state workers who passed the guards that morning on their way into work even knew what was happening, and Smith thinks they should.

“The people who work in state buildings need to know what the officers did for them,” Smith said.

As of press time—two weeks after being told they weren’t being paid—up to 400 guards have yet to receive their back pay. The day after first being told by UIIS that they wouldn’t be receiving checks, the service agreement the company had with the state was voided by California Highway Patrol because, a CHP spokesperson said, UIIS didn’t “fulfill its obligation to provide security guards.” Indeed, some guards did walk off the jobs when informed they wouldn’t be paid.

The security guards who worked for UIIS would go on to get jobs with other security firms that picked up the voided contracts. All the guards had to reapply for jobs with the new security firms just to keep doing their jobs. But the lingering issue remained: many security guards were owed over two weeks’ back pay, vacation pay, sick time and other pay.

The company has told the guards that it’s the state’s fault. The state, the firm said, hasn’t paid the company so the company can’t pay them. But the state agencies, which contract individually for security, have told the guards that the company has been paid. Without knowing whom to hold responsible, the guards have been left holding the bag.

“No one has offered us any help,” Smith said. Not even Smith’s union, the National Union of Security Officers and Guards, has helped. Union representatives didn’t return the Sacramento News & Review’s phone calls for comment as of press time.

“Their concern is not the officers,” Smith said. “I made several phone calls to their 800 number and nobody—and I mean nobody—answered the phone or called back.”

The security guards have been effectively caught in the middle of what some of them characterize as an evasive, struggling security company on one side and the bureaucratic nature of how state agencies do business on the other.

United International Investigative Services has been less than helpful, said Mark Hammergren, a security guard who works at the Sacramento offices of the Employment Development Department (EDD). Hammergren said that the UIIS owes him 136 hours of pay, 16 holiday hours and 72 vacation hours.

While Hammergren said that he’s called the company’s Anaheim headquarters every day since March 6, the company has told him each time that EDD hasn’t paid the company. A spokesperson for the department, however, said that EDD has paid the company through January. The bill for February through March 6 isn’t due to UIIS until April 15, said the spokesperson. The department is now considering deducting the cost it incurred in finding another security company to fulfill the contract on which UIIS defaulted.

With a sick relative and his savings dwindling down to nothing, Hammergren faxed a letter to media outlets all around Sacramento on Monday (including the News & Review). He was clearly frustrated.

“Ain’t no security in security, man,” Hammergren said.

And the state agencies haven’t been helpful either, said guards who were interviewed for this story. That might be because there isn’t one entity that’s responsible for the contract. When UIIS’s contract began in 1999, it was signed under what’s called a “master services agreement,” which made UIIS eligible for state work, but left the individual state agencies to contract with eligible security companies themselves. Many chose UIIS. According to a California Highway Patrol spokesperson, there were as many as 800 UIIS security guards who worked for state agencies when the service agreement was terminated.

Hammergren said that officials in the Employment Development Department have told him to take the issue up with the California Labor Commission. But it could take the commission up to 10 weeks to even get to the case.

To get that process rolling, Joy Smith called her government representatives and found that most were indifferent to her complaints. The one that wasn’t was the office of state Senator Deborah Ortiz. One of Ortiz’s staffers said that the senator is in the process of requesting that the Labor Commission expedite its investigation.

“I can’t say enough of that office,” Smith said.

What the Labor Commission might find when investigating UIIS might be cause for some alarm. In May 2001, its owner, William Guidice, was indicted by the United States Attorney’s Office “on charges of submitting false statements to Bank of America for the purpose of obtaining a multimillion-dollar increase to his line of credit.”

According to the indictment, Guidice submitted a financial statement indicating that UIIS had a net income of almost $3.2 million, and retained earnings of about $7.5 million in 1996. The government charged that both figures were actually substantially less. As a result of what the government charges was Guidice’s “false statement,” Bank of America increased Guidice’s line of credit approximately $5.5 million. If convicted, Guidice faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in jail and a $1 million fine.

A representative from UIIS’s Sacramento regional offices declined to answer questions, instead deferring all inquiries to the company’s corporate office and its CEO, Kathleen Guidice, and chief officer Ron Edwards. Edwards, when contacted, referred to a company statement that said the company couldn’t pay the guards because, among other reasons, the state wasn’t paying UIIS on time. The company claims the state still owes it $2 million.

While it’s a relatively small company, only valued at around $6 million, United International Investigative Services has big responsibilities, including—according to its Web site—protecting clients like the United States departments of State and Justice and at least one airport: Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The company has also received contracting work with the Sacramento Regional Transit District.

In 1998, UIIS was the security provider for the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, when terrorists bombed the building, killing 212 people and injuring 4,650 more. UIIS was initially lauded for its efforts to prevent an even wider death toll, but according to a 1998 New York Times article, critics wondered how bombers were allowed to get so close to the embassy at all. The same story, from September 1998, detailed the local Kenyan guards’ working conditions. Some told the paper “they had not received adequate training to counter a terrorist attack like the one on Aug. 7” of that year. Other guards told the Times that they were paid $83 a month and lived in slums without water or electricity.

Certainly, the situation in Sacramento is nothing that bad. Most of the 800 guards have found work with the new security companies that have taken over UIIS’s contracts. And state workers, while not having many answers for the guards, have been generally supportive. Some have even offered to lend guards money. Still, most of the security guards who work in the state buildings are solidly working-class and the missed money—especially the thousands of dollars some are missing now—is taking its toll on how they live.

“I still have two weeks from today until I get a paycheck,” Joy Smith said. “I need parking money, gas money, cigarette money—but what’s happening to the people who have families? What about the men who pay child support and have that money deducted from their pay?

“You tell me how concerned this union and this company is for us,” she said, “as people.”