In a 43 to 28 vote supervised by the National Labor Relations Board, Facebook shuttle bus drivers have voted to join the Teamsters.
The drivers are employed by Loop Transportation, a San Francisco company that contracts with Facebook to provide to-and-from work transportation for Facebook employees who work at the company’s campus in Menlo Park, California.
Drivers were frustrated by their low pay and poor working conditions that included working split shifts that in some cases meant being at work for 16 hours a day without being paid for much of the time that they were at work.
“We can’t continue 16-hour days, having drivers sleeping in the cold in their cars while we wait five hours to be able to start our next shift. It’s inhumane,” said Cliff Doi, a Facebook driver and new Teamster member. “With our union, we can find solutions to these problems.”
“The only way that Loop will listen to us is with a union and a collective voice. I’m very relieved that we have that now,” said Demaurae Hooston, another new Teamster member.
It’s not uncommon for information technology companies in the region known as Silicon Valley where Menlo Park is located to contract with other companies to provide transportation and other essential services.
Unlike employees who work directly for these Silicon Valley companies, employees of service providing contractors are relatively low paid.
The successful organizing drive at Facebook may lead to more of these workers joining a union.
A union coul help these workers share in the Silicon Valley’s prosperity, which, while widely reported, has not been broad based.
Engineers and programmers for companies like Facebook are well paid, but the workers who serve them are barely getting by.
The Facebook drivers for instance are paid $18 to $21 an hour, which the officials at Loop think is a good wage.
But the cost of living in Silicon Valley and the entire San Francisco Bay Area where Facebook drivers live is the highest in the US.
The high cost of living makes it difficult to afford decent housing on just $21 an hour.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, it takes a wage of $37.62 an hour to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment in San Mateo County where Menlo Park and the Facebook campus is located.
It takes the same wage to afford the same accommodations in two other nearby counties–San Francisco and Marin.
The Oakland-Freemont metropolitan area is a bit more affordable, but it still takes a wage of $30.35 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment.
According to the housing coalition, four of the six counties in the US with the highest cost of living–San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Marin– are located in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The high cost of living means that many Silicon Valley service employees like the Facebook drivers live in or close to poverty.
“These drivers are part of the invisible workforce that makes Silicon Valley run,” said Derecka Mehrens, executive director of Working Partnerships USA, a community group that supported the Facebook organizing drive. “They are members of our communities that work hard every day, but live in poverty, and the business model of tech companies like Facebook counts on that. Tech companies write the checks to subcontractors who hire these drivers and the thousands of other service workers who make these tech giants able to function. They need to set the standards, too, and say ‘no’ to poverty jobs.”
“These companies need to step up and stop demanding the lowest bid contract” so that their contractors can pay a living wage, said Rome Aloise, vice president and secretary treasurer of Teamsters Local 853.
USA Today reports that while technology companies have increased pay for their direct employees, “janitors, security guards and others who work inside the very same companies say their wages have stagnated even as the cost of living has shot up.”
Stagnant wages are one reason why some of these workers have been looking to join a union, and the union victory at Facebook has sparked more interest in unions among these workers.
Jimmy Maerina, a Facebook driver and union activist, told USA Today that workers at Google and Apple have contacted him and expressed an interest in joining a union.
For the Facebook drivers who work for Loop Transportation, the next step is to negotiate their first collective bargaining agreement.
“We’re ready to get to work at Loop to help these drivers better their lives and the conditions they face at work–to get them some justice,” said Aloise.