Adrian Cassian has a dangerous job.
The security guard works days and nights, often encountering suspicious and unpredictable characters as he patrols the downtown core and darkened job sites and commercial properties.
So when his boss at Themis Security gave him a raise this year, Cassian was appreciative.
Owner Mirko Filipovic increased pay for his 65 uniformed officers to a “living wage,” which now starts at $19.40 an hour. Themis increased its starting wages from $18.25 an hour and now pays up to $22.50 depending on the patrols assigned to guards.
“It was awesome,” Cassian said. “I think a lot of people have given up on the homeownership dream, but even rent is high. Food and other bills go up all the time.” Victoria is an expensive city to live in, said Cassian, and every bit counts when it comes to making ends meet.
A living wage is defined by the Living Wage for Families Campaign as the hourly wage that each of two working parents with two young children must earn to meet basic expenses, after government taxes, credits, deductions and subsidies are taken into account.
It varies from city to city, but in British Columbia in 2019, the list was topped by Vancouver ($19.50 per hour) and Victoria ($19.40). Minimum wage in B.C. is $14.60 an hour, but is rising to $15.20 per hour on June 1, when it will be the highest rate in Canada.
Filipovic said his is the first security company to begin the living-wage certification process.
Themis is a relatively small company compared with some of the larger firms that have contracts with the provincial government and larger corporations. Filipovic, a former corrections officer, started it from scratch following the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, building a stable of commercial and private clients in the capital region.
“We recognize the challenges and situations that we have to deal with on a daily basis in order to keep our clients safe,” said Filipovic. “With an increasing number of incidents and criminal activity, we felt that this was the right thing to do.”
Filipovic said his employees are on the front lines, especially those in the mobile patrol and downtown street patrol units. In many cases, he said, they are first on the scene and deal with some of the same issues police encounter. A higher wage attracts better candidates to fill positions, added Filipovic, noting Themis has brought on 10 more employees as demand for security increases during the pandemic.
Calls by property owners are up, he said, and guards are dispatched to loitering, trespass and nuisance calls. There have also been calls from businesses about belligerent customers who refuse to wear face coverings, though Filipovic said those have declined since December.
“These guys are often the first point of contact,” he said. “In December, we dealt with a suicide, a couple of overdoses. The stress it takes can be quite severe.”
Margaret Lucas, executive director of business development for Parc Retirement Living and a former Victoria councillor, has used Themis Security for years, starting when she managed the former Douglas Hotel, now Hotel Rialto.
“I can’t imagine any business in Victoria not giving a living wage,” said Lucas, whose firm is planning to build a mixed-use project with 255 senior living units, market rental and retail space at the corner of Fort and Quadra streets. “Victoria is expensive and that means paying wages an employee can actually live on extremely important.
“It comes off [Filipovic’s] bottom line, but it shows his employees that he cares.”
For Cassian, a former truck driver, security work is challenging, especially during the pandemic. He said security guards are having more encounters with people suffering mental health and addiction issues, which is fuelling vandalism and thefts, particularly downtown.
“There are very little supports right now to help them” said Cassian. “I feel for them. They’re left to their own devices. It can be hard for us, but I’m always amazed at the responses if you show a little understanding.”
His role is to observe and report to first responders such as police, fire and ambulance, but says security guards often find themselves in the thick of incidents.
“A policeman once told me when I was first starting out that you’re going to be the first paramedic, the first cop in some situations, so I get to help and that feels good. But when the pros get there, you always defer to them.”