2015 - the year the Teamsters punctured Silicon Valley's non-union armor

Photo of Compass Drivers

Most often, these days, the only news reports about unions is how they’re facing right-to-work laws and people are grousing because union workers have gone on strike or they “make too much money.”

Amazingly, that’s not true for Local 853. The Local’s numerous campaigns to organize shuttle bus drivers throughout Silicon Valley, raising their living standards, and punching a hole in the previously non-union armor that is Silicon Valley, has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Bloomberg News, and numerous local and national radio programs.

First Loop, then Compass

At the close of 2014, the shuttle bus drivers from Loop Transportation who ferry Facebook employees from across the Bay Area into Menlo Park, voted for union representation.

Inspired by that election, the drivers at Compass Transportation, who shuttle workers to seven major Silicon Valley companies, including Apple, EBay, Yahoo, and Genentech, voted overwhelmingly in February to join Local 853.

The union negotiated great deals for each group. Loop drivers ratified their contract in July, and in November, Compass drivers voted by an overwhelming 95 percent to approve a first contract that provides for industry-leading wages and benefits including 10 paid holidays and nine days of sick leave. The drivers also celebrated their first paid Thanksgiving holiday in 2015.

“This is another big step in bringing middle class wages and benefits to this industry,” said Secretary-Treasurer Rome Aloise. “Under this contract, drivers will be paid between $24 and $31.50 an hour, with affordable benefits and a defined contribution pension. This is an industry where, less than a year ago, the drivers were making between $17 and $19 an hour with very few benefits, and no paid holidays, overtime or sick leave. It’s a life-changing contract.”

Next: Google Express

In August, 140 warehouse and shipping workers at Palo Alto-based Google Express Services voted for union representation. Operated by Adecco, Google Express provides products shipped from local businesses to consumers on a sameday or overnight basis. Workers are required to sign short-term employment agreements with Adecco that limit them to two years before the company lets them go. Workers have also alleged being subject to constant harassment to work faster in poor conditions that include damaged equipment, cracked floors and failing electrical systems that have resulted in fires.

“The reports we have received from workers at Google Express paint a bleak picture,” said Aloise. “It is surprising that Google, a company that prides itself on the treatment of its workforce, would allow this behavior to continue at Adecco.”

In fact, in a July 17 interview on public radio station KQED, Google human resources executive Laszlo Bock stressed the importance of the company and its contractors recognizing and respecting its workers’ right to organize. This is an unusual position for a company to take publicly.

Bock made clear to a caller that the company expects neither Google nor their contractors to interfere in a union drive.

“Folks have a legal right to organize without fear of retaliation,” Bock said in the interview. “And that’s a critical and important thing and we respect that. I mean, there will not be retaliation.”

Then, Clean Harbors

In October, 15 compliance technicians, chemists, in-site technicians and administrative assistants who work at Genentech’s South San Francisco campus through contractor Clean Harbors voted to join the Teamsters. These workers collect and package waste and biodegradable materials needing special attention and care. “We’re looking forward to negotiating a contract that will ensure proper wages, respect and working conditions for our newest members,” Aloise says.

Closing the year: We Drive U

These Shuttle drivers supplement the drivers who work for Facebook contractor Loop Transportation. In November, they ratified a strong agreement providing for significant wages, benefit improvements and gains mirroring or exceeding the Facebook/ Loop Transportation contract already in place.

“This is another step in making extraordinary improvements to the working conditions and overall livelihoods of tech shuttle drivers,” said Aloise. “We are moving to bring drivers in the entire shuttle bus industry into the Teamsters Union so that there is a level playing field on costs and so that the richest companies in the world are assured of quality, experienced drivers for the valuable employees they service.”

Organizing five companies and contractors in Silicon Valley is just the tip of the iceberg. Local 853, along with other Teamster Locals and other unions, are part of Silicon Valley Rising, working together to bring union power to the thousands of workers who provide services for Silicon Valley’s wealthiest companies.

Local 853 got the ball rolling and saw it gather steam in 2015, and has big plans for the coming year.

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