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Security guards at Twin Cities office buildings are inching closer to a strike. Yesterday the workers rejected the latest contract proposal from five security contractors by a 278-26 margin. The companies had billed the offer as their final proposal. The primary disagreement is over health insurance costs. Last month the security officers staged a one-day strike to put pressure on the security contractors.

Service Employees International Union Local 26, the union representing the nearly 800 workers, held a press conference at City Hall in Minneapolis today to highlight the labor dispute. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison was on hand to lend support for the workers, as were city council members Elizabeth Glidden, Betsy Hodges, Ralph Remington, Don Samuels and Gary Schiff.

Under the previous three-year contract, which expired in January, SEIU members pay as much as $190 monthly for single coverage and up to $836 for family coverage. Not surprisingly hardly any of the security guards, some of whom make as little as $10 an hour, opt for these insurance plans. Just 17 percent have single coverage, while only 13 workers shell out for family insurance.

James Matias, for example, is a married father of five children. He's worked as a security guard at the First National Bank Building in downtown St. Paul for three years, but can't afford health insurance for his family.

"This is the issue of our time," Ellison said of healthcare at the press conference. "It's got to be a civil rights movement."

According to Local 26, the current contract proposal from the companies would actually increase premium payments. By the end of the proposed five-year pact, family coverage would cost as much as $1,100 monthly. The companies involved in the negotiations are ABM Security, Allied Barton, American Security, Securitas and Viking Security.

Javier Morillo-Alicea, president of Local 26, said healthcare is the only significant issue dividing the sides. "If we resolve this issue I am confident we would agree on a contract very quickly," he said.