Fed-Up Facebook Drivers Vote to Unionize, Join Teamsters

facebook drivers strike
High tech companies aren't typically a hotbed of labor organizing. The most visible targets of unions recently have been fast food chains, low-wage workers for federal contractors, and Walmart (WMT), which seems to have its own special status among Joe Hill aficionados.

But unions have come to Facebook (FB), at least indirectly. Not among programmers or administrative staff. The contract shuttle bus drivers that bring employees to and from the company's campus have voted to join the Teamsters, according to the union. The 43 to 28 result means that the drivers will look to Local 853 to help improve pay and working conditions, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Technically, the 87 drivers aren't employees of Facebook but of Loop Transportation, a company that contracts bus services to high tech companies. The union said that the drivers make around $40,000 a year, which is less than a third of what a San Francisco Bay area software engineer makes.

Not that bus drivers should be paid as though they had engineering degrees, but the broad pay gap is the key. San Francisco and the surrounding areas are among the most expensive places to live in the country. An influx of high tech money has helped drive up demand for real estate and, with it, rents and housing prices as well as costs of other basics. The city voted in a $15 an hour minimum wage earlier this month, as reported in Forbes.com, in an attempt to help long-time residents fend off at least some of the effects of gentrification.

At the same time, nearly 400,000 area tech workers making six-figure salaries "depend on a shadow workforce with services provided by an army of lower-paid drivers, cafeteria workers and janitors," according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Loop President Jeff Leonoudakis had argued that a union was unnecessary because of the company's benefits. "We're pretty proud of the wages-and-benefits package and working-schedule conditions we've structured," he told the Mercury News.

But it was the conditions above and beyond salaries that pushed many employees to vote for union representation. Drivers had to work split shifts, ferrying Facebook employees to and from the company's headquarters in Menlo Park. But because they could not afford to live in the area, drivers would sleep in their cars in the middle of the day. One worker told the Mercury News that he was paid $18 an hour. Drivers for other companies can make as much as $30 an hour.

According to the New York Times, 55-year-old Loop employee Cliff Doi started his morning shift at 6:10, finished that part at 11:10, and then started again at 5:15 in the afternoon, working until 9:45 at night. Doi and other drivers that don't want to sleep in their cars or hang out at Facebook's cafeteria can go to a "lounge" that Loop set up in a trailer. Jimmy Maerina, 54, another Facebook driver, said the split shifts have made his life miserable. He said he leaves home at 5 each morning and returns at 9 at night.

"You spend 16 hours a day - no time for family, no time for the kids," Mr. Maerina said. "When I leave home in the morning, my kids are sleeping, and when I get home at 9, they're done with their homework."

The Teamsters say the problem is as much with Facebook and other tech companies as it is with the bus operators. Because the businesses demand the lowest bid contract, argues the union, they drive down the amount the operators can make and, therefore, what the drivers can ultimately get.
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