Teamsters Win Big in Silicon Valley, Target Tech Companies

Teamsters Hoffa (Phil McCarten / Reuters)
Phil McCarten / Reuters

After Facebook, Inc. was awarded the coveted 2012 “Best Place To Work” national award by Glassdoor consultants, TechCrunch published an article entitled, “Why Facebook, The Best Company To Work For, Doesn’t Need A Union.” The article explained that liberal, young and engaged workers are so confident of their value they do not need labor protections.

But 3 years later, with tech workers still expected to log 70-hour work weeks, shuttle drivers for Facebook voted to become a union affiliate of the Teamsters. After getting a leg in the tech industry door, the Teamsters intend to unionize Silicon Valley and have already scheduled union elections for workers at Apple, Yahoo, eBay, and others.

The same week in 2012 that Facebook was honored for its happy employees, America seemed to be resetting its relationship with unions as Michigan became the 24th state to adopt the highly contentious right-to-work legislation. The law made it illegal for unions to mandatorily require all employees of a unionized company to join and pay fees.

Silicon Valley tech companies have been huge financial supporters of President Obama, liberal Democrats and leftist causes. But when it comes to inviting the union label into their own facilities, they don’t–or haven’t, until now! Tech companies strategically avoid unions by outsourcing production overseas and contracting out service jobs to small companies, like Loop Transportation, which provides shuttle buses for Facebook.

Crowdpac, co-founded by Stanford University Asst. Professor Adam Bonica, recently compiled a vast database of over 100 million political contributions made between 1979 and 2012 to local, state and federal elections. The results showed an overwhelming preference in Silicon Valley for employees contributing to liberal politicians.

Twitter was the most liberal employee universe with 100 percent of political donations going to liberals; Apple Inc. and Google were at 90 percent; Yahoo, LinkedIn, and Facebook were at 85 percent; and, eBay and PayPal had given to liberals in the low 80s; while a group of older tech companies–Microsoft, Oracle, HP, Cisco and Intel–still had 70 percent of giving going to liberal candidates.

The Teamsters campaign to organize tech drivers began in February 2014 when Local 853 Organizer Rodney Smith and staff went to a Facebook pickup site to “handbill” the drivers, according to a Teamsters report. “The next day, the company gave everyone a 75 cent raise, so we immediately lost a lot of support,” according to Smith. “But, when the company reneged on some of its promises, the drivers decided to try again for union representation.”

Loop refused to recognize the union based on the majority of drivers signing cards, so the union moved to hold a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election. Despite the company running an anti-union campaign and bringing in consultants the Teamsters call high-priced union busters, the Facebook shuttle drivers voted unanimously to unionize.

The Teamsters see the victory as starting a domino effect. “The drivers at Compass Transportation, who drive the shuttles for Apple, EBay and Stanford University, already held a one-day strike.” Smith noted. The Teamsters are scheduled to hold NLRB elections for drivers at Compass and other tech companies after the Loop election. “Some people were waiting to see the outcome of this before they take the leap.”

The Facebook drivers told USA Today that they believed compensation–$18-to-$20 an hour–for marathon workdays ferrying six-figure-earning technology workers to and from work was unfair. The new Teamsters contract gives drivers an hourly pay of $21-$25, increasing to $22.50-$28.50 in three years. Full-time employees receive paid personal and family medical insurance, with provisions for part-time workers. Workers now have increased holiday and vacation time, seniority rights, protections for drivers if the company is sold, plus rights for grievance and arbitration procedures.

Teamsters Joint Council 7 President and Local 853 Secretary-Treasurer Rome Aloise made it clear that the Teamsters are not going to be satisfied just organizing drivers. “These tech companies need to step up and stop demanding the lowest bid contract. They need to all agree to pay their contractors an amount that allows the union to negotiate for decent wages and benefits. Of all the industries in the world, the tech industry can afford to compensate those who help make them successful.”

It has been a great ride for liberal Silicon Valley to advocate, as liberals, that America should enjoy the innovation and core management practices that come with unions, while doing everything possible to keep unions out of their facilities.

But with the Teamsters having broken through and determined to organize everything in tech, it will be interesting to see if Silicon Valley’s political giving changes when they “live the dream.”


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