Twitter's austere approach to its initial public offering was not enough to placate San Francisco's have-nots. A coalition of tenant advocates, seniors, workers, and students gathered outside the company's Mid-Market headquarters today, in the middle of Twitter's stock market debut, to draw attention to corporate tax breaks and what the group claims is Twitter's role is "displacing thousands of families, seniors, and working people in San Francisco," according to a press release.
Luke Hendrickson who was taking photos for Valleywag from Market Street, said the event had about as many members of the press as actual protesters. It seemed like business as usual for the cops and onlookers milling about. Nonetheless, Hendrickson said, "the message was pretty powerful."
Many who spoke were residents of over 25 years, many of whom are in the process of being evicted under the Ellis Act. Many also conveyed the sentiment that Twitter is just a representation of a much larger problem: tech companies infringing on the living situations of long-standing residents of San Francisco who can no longer pay the rent and/or are being evicted for more affluent tenants.
But one local community organizer called the protest misdirected. "If you walked down Mid-Market and said it was gentrified, I would say are you out of your mind?!" Randy Shaw, director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and author of the The Activist’s Handbook told Valleywag.
Shaw's office represents the vast majority of Ellis evictions and thinks the act needs to be repealed, but Twitter's presence has "promoted a lot of investment in Mid-Market," he argued. The American Conservatory Theater, for example, is coming to the former Strand Theatre on Market Street. There's also a development planned for 950 Market Street on a site that has been vacant for ages.
Shaw compared the neighborhood to Alphabet City 20 years ago. San Francisco's cyclical tech booms have gentrified the Mission, but Market Street was left untouched, he said. Investment in the area didn't come until Twitter's arrival. The national media's focus on Twitter's IPO has brought attention to the area and the very real rising eviction rates, but Shaw says objections are not coming from residents of the neighborhood.
The housing market is clearly at an inflection point, Shaw argued, and an influx of money is spurring a speculative exuberance, but the tech industry's nouveau riche aren't the only ones to blame. "We need to get the [Ellis Act] repealed, but the notion that evictions are up because of Twitter, there’s just no factual basis for that," according to Shaw.
However, housing wasn't the only issue on the docket.
Members of the Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West—one of the organizers for today's day of action—were there to protest Twitter's use of "famously anti-union" security contractors, rather than members of its union. They tried demonstrating outside Twitter's headquarters last month, but failed to make much of an impact.
SEIU had previously met with Twitter "to encourage them to contract with a responsible company, but our discussions were not as productive as we hoped they would be," Alfredo A. Fletes, a senior political/community organizer with the union told Valleywag.
Fletes seemed more optimistic about negotiations than some of the other organizations sponsoring the event, like Senior and Disability Action, which dragged a mock coffin onto Market Street to symbolize the notion that affordable housing is dead.
"[Twitter is] incredibly influential and they can play a role in lifting the floor for all workers and all residents of San Francisco and not just its employees," said Fletes. "We want to have a positive relationship with Twitter and we see a shared investment that the city made as a way to try to make San Francisco a thriving place for everyone."
Fletes said "companies like Google and Apple have come out and stood up for good wages for janitors." But, he added, "It's a struggle. It takes time for companies to come around." His organization represents thousands of janitors at different tech companies in Silicon Valley, but its membership within San Francisco is mostly security officers.
Fletes said he couldn't speak to the tech community's backlash against the BART strike, but noted, "What union workers are trying to show is that everyone deserves benefits. Not only tech worker who are bringing new skills. Lifting the floor for all workers does not stifle innovation. It shouldn’t be an us against them."