The U.S. Open's Open Secret
The U.S. Open tennis tournament is probably New York City's most high-profile annual event—worth about $750 million in revenue.
But what's it like to work security during those three weeks in Flushing Meadows? Well, based on what a number of former guards are telling us, it's no stroll in the park.
From 16-hour shifts without bathroom breaks to racial remarks from bosses to ever-shrinking paychecks to only getting one uniform shirt for the whole time, the job sounds pretty unpleasant.
Ten former U.S. Open supervisors and guards—who were employed by massive Northridge, California–based security conglomerate Contemporary Services Corporation—dished to the Voice about the travails of working the Grand Slam event, which ends this year on September 9.
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CSC, they say, makes guards work ridiculous hours in intense heat, for what in the entertainment-security industry is seen as comparably low money. At times, guards passed out. Others got fired for leaving their posts to urinate. They also claim that some of the people working the event do not have required state security licenses.
Former CSC supervisor Sean Felder, a veteran security professional from Harlem who has worked at many of the city's top venues, has filed a complaint with the New York state inspector general's office over what he alleges are unfair labor practices and racial discrimination. He claims that CSC denied him work to retaliate against him for complaining to the United States Tennis Association, which oversees the event. Before he was let go, Felder had worked at the U.S. Open for eight years.
"Guards didn't get paid for hours they worked, they worked 16 hours without a break, there was favoritism," says Felder, who has escorted numerous athletes and entertainers during his career and works regularly at other high-profile venues.
"Mr. Felder has a history of writing numerous complaints, and ultimately his complaints were dismissed," said CSC general counsel Jim Service.
Referring to the complaints by other workers, Service says: "I have no information on any of those complaints. If they want to file formal complaints with us, we would be happy to look into them."
Nevin Reid, 32, of the Bronx, worked at the Open last year and in 2010. He says guards sometimes passed out from having been left on post for so long in the heat.
"They had to call the paramedics for some of them," he says. "If you had to go to the bathroom, you had to hold it. Some people who went to go piss were terminated for leaving their post."
Reid also said supervisors were verbally abusive, and arguments erupted and sometimes led to pushing and shoving.
Reid says he was called a "nigger," by a white supervisor, who he said was a retired police officer from outside New York. "I went into a rage," Reid says. "They had me removed from the post and sent somewhere. You complain, but they don't do anything about it."
Reid says he was making $9 an hour in 2010, and in 2011, the wage was lowered to $8 an hour. By 2012, he had a full-time job in a nursing home and didn't think the money was worth the trouble.
Reid says he complained about some of these issues to upper-level managers, but he was basically ignored. He complained to USTA and got "the runaround."
"What was hard about it was the bs you had to go through with some of the supervisors," Reid says.
Sham Thompson, a veteran security professional who has protected big-name performers, worked at the Open for three years until he says he was dismissed for being "too big" to escort players.
"I went from being a supervisor to being too big to be on the court," Thompson says. "I basically got shunned, and I am still trying to figure out what my weight had to do with working security."
Thompson says his hourly wage declined every year, a claim echoed by other former guards.
Darryl Johnson, another veteran security guard who has worked many high-profile events, says there was favoritism in assigning security posts that seemed to follow racial lines.
"White employees got better assignments than black employees," he says.
Johnson also said that commonly, the Open would end, and CSC still owed money to workers. "You work 16-hour days until 1 or 2 in the morning, and then they act like they don't want to pay you for those extra hours," he says. "One year, they owed me $200 after the event was over, and I tried to get it, and finally, I was like, they got over on me. They still owe me money."
Last, we spoke with a veteran New York City Correction officer who worked for CSC at the U.S. Open in 2009 and 2010. He says he was a player escort, but he stopped when the pay dropped. He says he routinely makes $25 to $30 an hour at other events, but the pay at the Open is less than half of that.
"The U.S. Open pays the least, and you have the world's greatest tennis players and all these celebrities," says the officer, who requested anonymity.
We also heard repeatedly that CSC gave its employees a single shirt to wear for the entire event. That meant after those long shifts, they had to go home and wash it every day.
And then there is the parking issue. The Correction officer says that though many U.S. Open workers get parking passes, security guards don't. They had to either pay the civilian rate or park somewhere else and take the subway in.
"Again, you're treating security badly," he says. "That job was strange. It's not something I would tell other people to do."
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