Facebook's fleet of shuttle bus drivers will vote today on whether to join the Teamsters labor union. The drivers have protested their work conditions, saying their employer requires them to work 15.5 hour-long split shifts, receive pay below the living wage, and say they're "held hostage" for the six hours between shifts when the shuttles aren't running.
The workers who drive Facebook employees back and forth to Menlo Park are hoping unionization will help them negotiate a better deal. But will Facebook let them get away with it?
Union advocates believe there is more than the fate of Facebook's shuttle operators on the line. According to the Contra Costa Times, there are hopes today's vote could spur a wave of service worker unionization across the Bay Area:
With the region's economy on fire, many of the nearly 400,000 members of the new tech elite pull down six-figure salaries, even as they depend on a shadow workforce with services provided by an army of lower-paid drivers, cafeteria workers and janitors. A yes vote by a majority of the 84 full- and part-time drivers for Facebook's shuttle bus contractor, Loop Transportation, could kindle a new labor-force paradigm in Silicon Valley, experts say, prompting other drivers to unite in their fight for better pay and work schedules in one of the country's most expensive places to live.
Facebook isn't fighting unionization in an aggressive, overt way. However, they are trying to undermine the union's talking points. Facebook even voluntarily agreed to subsidize a pay increase for bus drivers just as the threat of unionization was heating up.
The drive to unionize a portion of Facebook's contractors is similar to an effort on Google's campus. The SEIU union had spent well over a year organizing Google's security guards, protesting low wages at their Mountain View headquarters. As demands to unionize the contract workers ramped up, the search giant announced they were severing ties with their security contractor. Instead, Google said it would bring the workers in-house and promised their guards better wages and full-time positions.
SEIU is still working with Apple's security guards, similarly protesting the low wages paid to their contract workers on company property. But Google's maneuver pulled the rug out from one of SEIU's best shots at unionizing some of Silicon Valley's security guards.
"We're not in favor of the union because we don't think it's necessary," said [Loop President Jeff Leonoudakis], who has publicly defended what he called Loop's generous medical and dental insurance plans and overtime policy. "We're pretty proud of the wages-and-benefits package and working-schedule conditions we've structured."
After Loop increased driver wages by 25 cents, Facebook chipped in another 75 cents per hour this summer. However, that has not been enough to sway workers away from the union: the Teamsters say they already have a majority of Facebook's shuttle operators backing them.
There's a distinct fear that today's vote might set a precedent in the Valley. The Contra Costa Times reports that shuttle operators from Google and Apple have already approached the Teamsters about creating their own unions. One area sociology professor believes tech's low-wage workers could see "union representation [as] a way to narrow the income gap in the Valley."
But another outcome is possible. If Facebook's drivers vote to unionize, they could soon borrow a tactic from Google's playbook and kill their contract, leaving Loop's union drivers without a company to drive for.