Economy

Facebook’s Bus Drivers Form Union To Fight Low Wages And Grueling Hours

CREDIT: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

After protests and heated debate, Facebook bus drivers that shuttle Silicon Valley’s tech workers unionized to combat the long hours and low wages.

Eighty-seven drivers from Loop Transportation, which provides bus service for Facebook, voted Wednesday to join the Teamsters Local 853 in San Leandro, California.

Drivers said they were subjected to gruelingly long shifts — from 6:00 a.m. to almost 10:00 p.m. — and organizing was the only way to get better treatment. “We can’t continue 16-hour days, having drivers sleeping in the cold in their cars while we wait five hours to be able to start our next shift. It’s inhumane,” said Cliff Doi, a driver, in a Teamsters union statement.

Widening income equality in the Silicon Valley has strained the relationship between the area’s booming tech sector and resident community. While the industry is known for comfortable salaries, the workers who keep the companies humming are often not paid enough to live in the area. The invisible workforce of security guards, cooks and cleaning staff are overwhelmingly people of color — only 26 percent are white — and they frequently make less than what’s needed to live near their jobs.

Now, workers are starting to organize to gain leverage against unfair contract terms with tech companies.

“The only way that Loop will listen to us is with a union and a collective voice. I’m very relieved that we have that now,” Demaurae Hooston, another Facebook driver, said in the statement.

Tensions have escalated in regard to tech companies’ shuttle buses for employees. Last year, protesters staged a fake confrontation between a Google employee and activists to illustrate how the tech workers’ privilege caused social and economic strain in the region.

Housing advocates in San Francisco protested how the private shuttles brought in tech workers who displaced residents and drove up real estate prices. Residents started resenting the bus lines that clogged city traffic. Local legislators responded to the outcry by imposing regulations on the bus lines and routes; San Francisco now charges Google, Facebook and other tech companies that use public bus stops for employee shuttle service.

The drivers’ union is the latest instance of the new organizing wave in Silicon Valley. Protests over tech companies’ labor violations are slowly starting to yield results. Following nationwide protests, Google hired a number of its security guards as full-time employees after workers challenged the lack of benefits and disproportionately low wages.

Security guards backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) protested in front of Apple stores the day the iPhone 6 hit stores to raise awareness of the growing economic disparity between tech workers and service workers even when they work for the same company.

Ride-share app Uber has also had it’s part in wage wars. UberX drivers have protested across the country and there is a growing belief that the only way for things to change is for the drivers to organize on their own or through a union. Ride-sharing drivers formed CABA, the California App-based Drivers Association which helps organize protests for Uber, Lyft drivers.