Monday, March 09, 2015

Who knew? Workers and unions gain in Silicon Valley

I admit it. Amid the daily email deluge, communications from the California Labor Federation usually go straight to "delete." But last Friday one such email flew in; I read it; and I learned there interesting developments underway for the people who service the tech industry on the Peninsula.

Apparently the workers who drive buses for Facebook employees to the company's Menlo Park facility voted in November to join the Teamsters. They have now ratified a contract with the contractor, Loop Transportation, that hires them. It looks as if they've gotten a good deal:

Among the provisions of the contract is a pay hike from about $18 an hour to about $24.50, employer-funded family health insurance for full-time employees, more holiday and vacation time, a 401(k) retirement plan and adjustments to workers schedules.

Loop drivers had complained they work marathon shifts that start at 5:45 a.m. and end at 8:45 p.m., with a five-hour break in the middle of the day -- insufficient time for most of the drivers to do anything besides sleep in their cars or in one of the four beds the company provides in a rest trailer. The deal guarantees a minimum six-hour work day and extra cash for split shifts.

Not bad. And thus it is not surprising that bus drivers for Apple, eBay, Yahoo, Zynga and Genentech also have decided to unionize by a vote of 104-38. The numbers may seem small, but of such small victories are overall improvements for workers scratched out.

Meanwhile the deal for the Facebook drivers is not yet final. According to PC World:

The agreement was sent to Facebook for approval as the paying client.

If Facebook has approval on the agreement, the pretense that these people work for a contracting intermediary seems seriously threadbare. Would "Loop Transportation" even exist without the tech companies? Not likely.

Concurrently, Google and Apple seem to be moving away from the contracting-out model for the services that make possible the tech cocoon. According to the same PC World report, both giants have chosen to take their security workforces in-house, paying better wages and offering better benefits. Good for the workers.

What's happening here? I don't expect corporate high-flyers to assume higher costs out of the benevolence of their hearts. One spur might be union organizing rumblings: a community-labor partnership, Silicon Valley Rising, has come together to encourage more responsible corporate practices.

And I don't think all this worker progress in the South Bay is completely unrelated to the flack the tech companies are catching in San Francisco as their highly paid employees turn the real estate market upside down. Allowing some of their low paid people to enjoy union representation pretty well ensures that many unions aren't going to ally themselves with progressive San Franciscans who are looking for ways to curb the tech invasion. They may still offer verbal support -- after all they represent many middle class workers in San Francisco, especially in the public sector -- but they are not likely to throw down for something highly contentious like a ballot measure taxing speculation in housing.

These things are always tricky. As Derecka Mehrens, executive director of Working Partnerships USA explained:

"For every tech job created, there are four jobs created down the supply chain in the region," Mehrens said. "We don’t want the tech industry to go anywhere. It's a job producer."

The same article concludes that maintaining a middle class presence in Silicon Valley is going to pressure from

outside the market — like the labor movements, unions, industry and activists coalitions, and policy demands represented by Silicon Valley Rising. ..[Activists] are going to have to take the jobs the market will generate, and make them middle class.

Just maybe, we are seeing enough economic recovery so as to create an upward pressure on wages which smart organizing can surf toward worker benefits and rights. About time!


Hattie said...

Do you think maybe this is because techies identify as liberals, even though they don't think much about ordinary workers? Anyway, it's a good thing.

janinsanfran said...

Hattie: I suspect that most tech workers are libertarians who think of themselves as liberals. That is, they believe in personal freedom and personal self-expression, but little appreciate how the structures around them enable that personal freedom. But I could be wrong.

Your question made me curious: does riding a Google bus daily create a tipping relationship? It might. Perhaps especially around Christmas.

I don't know. Does anyone reading this know?

Hattie said...

Hmm. Yes. I think that's exactly right. They are not specialists in social matters. A friend of ours said to Terry once, "The system is set up for people like us, so we should take advantage of it." I don't think your average tech worker understands that but rather feels that he has succeeded on his own merits.
Yes, I should think tipping would be in order. Our bus driver on the Cuba trip was 100% dependable and always helped me off the bus, though I didn't need that, but it was a kind gesture. We all tipped him well at the end.

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