More Silicon Valley bus drivers unionize

Bus drivers for Apple and other Silicon Valley companies voted on February 27 to join Teamsters Local 853.

The drivers work for Compass Transportation, which provides shuttle bus services for Apple, Yahoo, eBay, Zynga, Genetech, and Amtrak in California’s San Francisco Bay Area.

The drivers voted 104 to 30 to join the Teamsters.

Tracy Keller, a Compass driver who voted to unionize, said that the vote means that Compass drivers now have a future that includes better pay and better working conditions.

Before they voted for the union, Keller and other Compass drivers had a chance to see the difference that a union can make.

A few days before the union vote, some Compass drivers attended a union meeting of Facebook bus drivers, who work for Loop Transportation and shuttle Facebook employees between their jobs and home.

At the meeting, the Loop drivers, who joined the Teamsters in November, ratified their first union contract, a contract that addresses many of the same issues that led Compass drivers like Keller to seek out the Teamsters.

Under terms to the new Loop contract, workers’ wages will increase from an average of $18 an hour to $25 an hour. They’ll have company paid health care for themselves and their families, up to five weeks of paid vacation, nine days of sick pay, paid personal leave, grievance and arbitration procedures, and other benefits that most union members have.

The contract also offers extra compensation for workers who work split shifts.

Since the drivers’ job is to take people to work and to home after work is over, there are lengthy periods in the middle of the day when no buses are running.

As a result, most drivers’ shifts are broken into two parts: the morning run and the afternoon run.

In many cases, workers must wait four to six hours between runs, which means that their workday can be between 12 and 14 hours.

But drivers don’t get paid for the time between runs.

The long work day, much of which was uncompensated, was one the drivers’ main grievances that led them to organize a union.

The new contract doesn’t eliminate split shifts, but it does provide a 10 percent pay premium for those who work them. It also guarantees six hours pay for those who only work one run a day.

The new union contract for Facebook drivers and the union election victory at Compass come at a time of widening class divisions in Silicon Valley

“While tech companies make massive profits, the workers who keep them running smoothly have been left behind,” reads the opening sentence on a website of a new worker justice organization, Silicon Valley Rising.

The outrage implicit in the message has not gone unnoticed by area business leaders.

“The income gap (in Silicon Valley) is becoming more sharply pronounced at a faster rate” said Russell Hancock CEO of Joint Ventures Silicon Valley, a policy and research organization of local business leaders, to the Wall Street Journal. “The middle class is disappearing, and the service sector is stuck there with no growth. Silicon Valley is becoming a different place, a place of haves and have-nots, and there are signs of unrest.”

This growing unrest may be the reason that Facebook signaled to Loop that it would be willing to bear the cost for the increased wage and benefit increases for Loop drivers.

Since the union contract was ratified, Loop and Facebook have been negotiating the terms of a new service agreement between the two companies.

As yet, there has been no public announcement about a new contract, but Aloise seemed confident that the two companies will reach an agreement.

“I’m pretty confident that (Facebook is) going to see the value in being the first company to do this. It’s a bit historical,” Aloise said to USA Today.

Aloise said that he hoped that Apple, eBay, Yahoo, Genetech, and Amtrak would encourage Compass to agree to a collective bargaining agreement with wage and benefit improvements similar to those in the Teamsters’ new contract with Loop.

For too long Silicon Valley companies have pressured service contractors like Loop and Compass to lower their labor costs, said Aloise. But the money that it would take to make these jobs good paying jobs with good benefits is “chump change” to these companies.

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