The Second Class Citizens of the Google Cafeteria

As part of a week-long exploration of income inequality in the midst of an economic boom, NPR has matched some faces with abstract dots on a map, demonstrating that you can work for Google and still go hungry.

All Tech Considered interviewed Manny Cardenas, a 25-year-old part-time security guard who has worked at Google's Mountain View campus for a year and a half, commuting from low-income housing in San Jose. Cardenas earns $16/hour without benefits and has had to rely on a food pantry to care for himself and his daughter. He never gets more than 30 hours a week.

As a contract worker, Cardenas' access to the basic perks of Googleplex—patient zero of pampered tech industry employees—are also limited:

He says he usually stands in the lot for eight hours and gets a lunch break. That gives him a chance to dive into Google's famous free gourmet food buffet; he would like to bring a few snacks home for his 5-year-old daughter, but as a contract worker, he can't.

"I see people taking to-go boxes," he says. "They give you to-go boxes if you ask for them, but we weren't allowed to do that."

Cardenas says it is strange being on Google's campus, watching the regular employees drive around on company-supplied bikes and scooters and taking food home.

"You feel like you're different," he says. "Even though you're working in the same place, you're still like an outsider. And it's weird because you're actually protecting these people."

Imagine getting your hand slapped away from a to-go box in a campus that boasts "beach volleyball, a bowling alley, a climbing wall, over 25 cafeterias, more than 100 micro-kitchens and seven fitness centers."

Cardenas is not alone. The SEIU-USWW is in the process of trying to unionize more than 5,000 Silicon Valley security officers struggling with low pay. They put out a report in April saying that tech companies purposefully limit hours to avoid paying benefits. While Silicon Valley boasts the second-highest concentration of wealth, the median hourly wage for a security officer there is $14.89 an hour, with many making $9–$12 an hour:

If full-time work is available, the mean annual wage officers earn is $32, 850. However, full-time work often isn't to be found and contracted officers interviewed at Apple and Google report their employers keep them at reduced hours (ironically called "flex-time") on purpose and avoid providing any benefits.

Sure, one could argue that its not Google's responsibility to keep its part-time workers fed. But it really puts Google's answer to "What's the best thing about working at Google Mountain View?" into perspective:

We get to go beyond talking about changing the world to actually doing it, working on really big problems with unparalleled technical resources. With awesome perks like free shuttle bus service from around the Bay Area (with WiFi!), on-site doctors and generous new-parent policies to Café Jia (which serves Asian food) and Café 150 (which sources all its ingredients from within 150 miles of the Googleplex), we're also treated really, really well.

To contact the author of this post, please email nitasha@gawker.com.

[Image via Associated Press]