With the festivities surrounding the Kingdom Day Parade and the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a backdrop, the Securities Officers United in Los Angeles (SOULA) announced a tentative contract agreement with the building owners security contractors that could infuse $70 million into the South Los Angeles economy over the next five years, and provide the 4,000 members of their union with a nearly 40 percent increase in wages and benefits.

The agreement was hammered out after 24 consecutive hours of negotiating, seven months of talks, and six years after the fight began to unionize the workers.

“The security officers’ spirit and enthusiasm has renewed my commitment to the union,” said SOULA President Faith Culbreath after the announcement of the tentative agreement. “They’ve been boxing for six long years (to get the agreement). A lot of people would have thrown up their hands. But they never got tired.”

Culbreath said what helped the talks get to a breakthrough point was a combination of political and community support.

The contract, which will be voted on on Saturday by union members, will give the average security officer better wages, paid time off, and health benefits for the first time. Additionally, a training center that will be jointly funded by the union and Maguire Properties Inc. and located in South Los Angeles will eventually provide services ranging from job training and placement to parenting courses and after-school programs.

The union president said the center will be a key part of the effort to keep these jobs as career options for African Americans, unlike what happened 20 years ago when the janitors unionized. At that time, the workforce was primarily African American, and after they won the right to union representation and a contract, the black workers were eventually squeezed out.

“Twenty years later we are more mature. . . We didn’t have the necessary structure (in place back then) to fight how they broke the union. We’ve learned from our mistakes,” said Culbreath, adding that the job training center came out of that learning.

Mike Garcia, president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1877, another person who played an instrumental part in helping organize the security officers, explained why the union is calling the contract historic. “It’s the best in terms of the economic cost. It is a sizable wage increase, and the institution of healthcare for the first time. These are all costly items to include in a first contract. It’s also family healthcare in the contract,” said Garcia, who also attributed the success of the organizing campaign to backing from the community, faith-based organizations, and all the synergy this created.

Robert Branch, who has worked four years as a security offer, and was on the negotiating team, said the agreement, if ratified, means being able to live in a better neighborhood and vacationing in some place other than Six Flags.

He believes the training and job referral service and the new employment center will help keep African Americans as a core part of the union and the workforce.

“When you don’t have training you don’t do the job as competitively and professionally as you need to. And if you get the training, but don’t have a job to take it to, that does not work either,” said Branch, adding that Culbreath eventually wants to make General Education Degree (GED) training and daycare part of the employment center.

If security officers ratify the contract, union officials say it will become effective immediately. They contend that it will also set the stage for negotiations with the same contractors in other cities such as Seattle, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Minneapolis.