The success of Unite Here Local 19 in organizing Facebook’s 500 contracted cafeteria workers has paved the way for the union to push ahead to start organizing professionals at Silicon Valley’s leading tech corporations.
Unite Here Local 19 (UHL19) is working to be the tech sector’s union change agent. With only 4,300 Northern California members, a $2.6 million budget and staff of 28, the small union is focused on organizing all Silicon Valley jobs. Winning the right to organize Facebook’s cafeteria’s workers is its biggest success, but UHL19 is also a leader in the Silicon Valley Rising movement and Tech Worker Coalition, which are focused on creating solidarity between tech workers, community organizers and labor organizations for civic engagement and activism.
In May 2015, Facebook became Silicon Valley’s corporate leader in demanding that tech corporations require their outside contractors that fill almost all blue collar manual labor to increase the minimum wages to $15. As a result, Flagship Facility Services, which holds the contract to supply labor for the cafeteria, pays its employees an average wage of about $18.80 per hour, with general workers earning $17.85 an hour and shift leads earning $19.75 an hour, according to a report by the UK Guardian.
Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has net worth of about $68 billion, took the Silicon Valley lead in May to advocate for a universal basic income (UBI) that would guarantee each U.S. resident a minimum government stipend each month. The Financial Times reported that Zuckerberg as the commencement speaker for the 2017 Harvard graduating class, “We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas.”
That works out to about $39,104 a year, about a 30 percent premium over the medium American annual compensation of $29,930, according to the latest Social Security “Measures of Central Tendency.” That would be a middle-class wage in most of the United States, but it is a third of what most Facebook tech professionals they are feeding make each year. It is unknown what wage contract UHL19 will demand from Facebook, but it must be a big bump to justify union dues.
Silicon Valley gained a reputation as the “Valley of the Democrats,” because of the overwhelming financial support for social justice causes and progressive politics. But unionization of the area’s tech professionals has been almost non-existent.
With the world moving into what the Economist dubbed the “Third Industrial Revolution,” where digitization of manufacturing, logistics and transportation threatens to destroy hundreds of millions of legacy jobs, ground zero for this disruptive work transformation is the 30-mile strip along the San Francisco Bay Area known as Silicon Valley. Apple, Facebook, Tesla, Cisco, Google, HP, Intel, Oracle and hundreds of other corporations and start-ups have crash programs aimed at proliferating strategies like the Internet of Things, robotics, 3-D printing, autonomous vehicles, and other technologies that aim to eliminate labor input.
Unite Here Local 19 seems to be moving beyond the historic friction between unions that often advocate to defend the status quo, on the one hand, and the tech entrepreneurs that believe that life should be a libertarian meritocracy that allows creative destruction to make way for a better world, on the other.
Blake Griffith of the Tech Workers Coalition applauds the success that Unite Here and the SEIU have had organizing around the periphery of Silicon Valley tech corporation service workers. But he sees the big prize as the rising potential to organize Silicon Valley software engineers and programmers, like himself. Although tech professionals usually enjoy extraordinary significant material advantages in wages and benefits, Griffith warns that they have only marginal job security, given the sector’s vicious boom-and-bust cycles.
Griffith believes that it is now inevitable that Silicon Valley tech professionals will be organized by a modern union movement that can not only cushions economic cycles, but that will also allow professional workers to take greater control of the social policies and corporate objectives of Silicon Valley’s tech multi-national corporations.