OPS security guards complain about low pay, increase in behavioral issues and threats

By: - June 28, 2022 5:35 pm

(Getty Images)

LINCOLN — The union that represents security guards at Omaha Public Schools is appealing to a state labor court, claiming that OPS has failed to bargain in good faith over wages, job duties and “more dangerous working conditions.”

The filing comes as OPS is seeing an exodus of teachers, an increase in behavioral issues and a shortage of security guards. The school district says the shortage averaged 20 a day during the last school year, and the union claims it varied from 35-40 a day — a vacancy rate of 15% at best and 31% at worst.

Sen. Justin Wayne
State Sen. Justin Wayne (Rebecca S. Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)

“In this day and age, we need to make sure there is adequate security in our schools,” said Justin Wayne, a state senator and an attorney who represents the Eastern Nebraska School Security Union Local #28. Wayne is also a former member of the Omaha School Board.

Security guards at OPS are now paid $15.81 an hour and have been without a contract since July 2021. Negotiations are at an impasse, the union said its filing Thursday with the Nebraska Commission of Industrial Relations, which handles labor disputes.

A spokeswoman with OPS acknowledged that there are vacancies in the ranks of security guards, but she said those gaps are filled by hiring contract security help.

Wayne said Tuesday that hiring contractors still hasn’t filled the ranks. He said that during the last school year, Omaha Central and Omaha Northwest High Schools often had only one security guard, when three are normally working.

“OPS is trying to get away with the bare minimum instead of try to do right by the students,” Wayne said, adding that some districts are paying up to $19 an hour for guards.

One of the private security contractors, Josh Higgs, was recently arrested on charges of sexual assault, child pornography and tampering with a witness.

In a press release last week, Le Keith Richardson, president of the union, said security officers have to deal with threats, an increase in non-security tasks and loss of pay when the district declares a “remote day” of learning for students.

The union maintained that OPS has plenty of money to increase pay, including more than $110 million in cash reserves and  $280 million in COVID-19 related aid.

OPS spokeswoman Bridget Blevins said the COVID money is not ongoing and will expire at the end of 2024.

Blevins added that the school board has already approve stipends for all staff in the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years, including security officers, from its COVID funds.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.