Keeping Students Safe and the Union Strong

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Security Officer

By Ellen Keohane

As a security officer, Nicole Tanis occasionally faces angry or annoyed people who just want to get past her. "It's really important to stay calm," she advised. "You need to be patient, alert and aware of what's going on," she added.

Tanis, 57, currently works at Columbia University for Summit Security Services, which is a member of SEIU 32BJ, as a security officer and at times, a fire safety director. In honor of the quality of her work at Columbia she has earned this year's Building Service Workers of the Year Award for Security Officer at a University.

"Nicole is a strong leader amongst her coworkers," said John Patterson, lead security field representative for 32BJ. She is "highly respected" by her co-workers and her employer, he added. "Nicole leads by example."

"It's very rewarding. I'm very happy about it," Tanis said at the union's offices at 101 Sixth Ave. on a recent Friday evening. Wearing glasses, small gold hoop earrings, black pants and a windbreaker, Tanis occasionally pulled out handwritten notes while she spoke softly about her position at the university. "My duty is screening the students who live at the dorm. And if they have friends with them, they have to register at the front desk-the same thing with their parents," Tanis said.

Tanis also serves as a union shop steward. As part of her duties, she is in charge of a couple of sites, she said. "If they've got problems, I'm the one to handle it with my field representative."

She recently took a six-week leave of absence from her job to participate in the union's political organizing brigade. With other members, she visited local congress members' offices, participated in a phone bank and knocked on doors to support candidates sympathetic to union-supported issues, she said. "Times are hard. If we don't make a little noise, we don't get anything at all," she said.

Born in Haiti, Tanis moved to New York City in 1972.

"It was difficult [with] the language [differences], so I decided to go to Belgium because we had relatives there," she said. "I studied there for a while, but then I came back here."

A 19-year Chelsea resident, Tanis has spent the majority of her life in New York City. In her free time, she enjoys painting and recently participated in a union art show where her portrait of a conquistador was displayed. She is also a mother and a grandmother. Her 29-year-old son, who is in the U.S. Navy, and her 6-year-old grandson live in San Diego.

Tanis studied fire safety at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1989. She also holds certificates in private security and investigation from the Barclay Career School, as well as certificates in tax consulting from the National Tax Training School and accounting from Adelphi University.

Prior to her position at Columbia, Tanis supervised security officers at a car impound lot and worked as a security officer at 6 World Trade Center in the 1990s, in addition to other buildings and government sites. She also has bookkeeping and accounting experience, and has worked as a freelance paralegal, she said.

Tanis has been at Columbia for three years-although in different locations on campus, she said. "It's a very challenging job. I enjoy doing it," she said. "Having also been a student, I understand the students very well. They have a good sense of humor."


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