Sony furor over changing of the guard

Members of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s 60-person, in-house security force said Tuesday that they plan an organized sick-in today after being notified by company officials that they will be replaced by Memphis-based national security company Guardsmart.

Sony security officers said they plan the sick-in to protest what they call unfair severance agreements handed out to the guards just as they were preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Regular duty guards were reportedly given two weeks’ notice and offered one week’s severance pay by the company, while several reserve guards working regularly at the studio reportedly will walk away from the company with nothing.

“Two weeks’ notice and one week’s pay for a company this size is ludicrous,” said SPE security guard John Coffey. “It is coming up on the holidays, and people who work here have families. The job market is so tough right now, and they are going to give us a week’s pay for people who have been doing a good job for them — some for a long time.”

A SPE spokesman said, “As a matter of corporate policy, we do not discuss personnel issues.” Guardsmart did not return telephone calls.

SPE’s non-union security staff guards operations at Sony Pictures Studios, Sony Pictures Plaza and Culver Studios. Replacement Guardsmart, one of the major security firms in the country, often competes with Van Nuys-based Pinkerton Security and Investigation Services for corporate accounts.

The SPE security crew was reportedly notified of the change at a Monday meeting called by SPE chief of security Michael Cantrell, assistant security manager Ron Kissel and assistant director of human resources Brent Wong.

The planned protest was reportedly sparked when several day-shift guards reported to duty on Tuesday morning to find Guardsmart guards already in place at their former posts. They said Cantrell and Kissel have ordered SPE guards to begin training the Guardsmart guards in preparation for the layoffs.

SPE reserve security officer Robert Tilley said he does not plan to train his Guardsmart replacement. He said he would participate in the job action in protest of the holiday timing of the move.

“The timing is totally off,” Tilley said. “Thanksgiving is right around the corner and Christmas is right behind it. To give two weeks to find a job is not enough — not in California.”

Coffey, a father of two, said timing will put a disastrous crimp on holiday plans. He said his 6-year-old son “is breaking his neck and trying so hard in school. What am I going to tell my kids come the holidays?”

SPE security officers were told they could be rehired by Guardsmart but wouldn’t receive special consideration. Several security officers said it would have been a goodwill gesture to offer placement preference with Guardsmart as one avenue to secure a new job.

The switch to Guardsmart is not the first studio service operation to be rejiggered by SPE this year. Earlier this year, SPE raided independent contractor Classic Couriers to form its own in-house messenger company. It immediately severed its relationship with Classic Couriers, which previously handled delivery services for the studio.

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