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 		 [As they work to solidify their contract, security officers are
struggling to eke out a living in the most expensive region in
America, all the while rubbing elbows with some of the area’s
wealthiest residents.] [https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE LABOR 

 GOOGLE AND FACEBOOK'S SECURITY GUARDS ARE FIGHTING TO EARN A LIVING
WAGE  
[https://portside.org/2018-07-29/google-and-facebooks-security-guards-are-fighting-earn-living-wage]


 

 Kate Conger 
 July 27, 2018
GizModo
[https://gizmodo.com/google-and-facebooks-security-guards-are-fighting-to-ea-1826104897]


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 _ As they work to solidify their contract, security officers are
struggling to eke out a living in the most expensive region in
America, all the while rubbing elbows with some of the area’s
wealthiest residents. _ 

 , Sam Woolley (Gizmodo) 

 

The effort began at an Applebee’s in Redwood City, a link in a chain
of towns that dot that peninsula that connects San Francisco to
Silicon Valley. Robert Taitt, a security officer who works on
Facebook’s campus, signed his union card there. He was one of the
first of more than 3,000 Silicon Valley security officers who guard
the campuses of Facebook, Google, and other major tech companies to do
so.

That was well over a year ago. Although the four major agencies that
employ Silicon Valley’s security guards have recognized the union
[https://gizmodo.com/silicon-valley-security-officers-protecting-facebook-an-1791786431#_ga=2.102308738.2035348176.1532520772-914444462.1527596443],
they have yet to agree on the union’s first contract. Negotiations
have dragged on through the summer, despite a shooting at YouTube’s
headquarters in April
[https://gizmodo.com/possible-active-shooter-reported-at-youtubes-san-bruno-1824294859] that
highlighted the risks that security officers face when safeguarding
tech campuses.

As they work to solidify their contract, security officers are
struggling to eke out a living in the most expensive region in
America, all the while rubbing elbows with some of the area’s
wealthiest residents—the tech workers they’re tasked with
protecting.

The median salary at Facebook is reportedly
[https://www.recode.net/2018/4/30/17301264/how-much-twitter-google-amazon-highest-paying-salary-tech] north
of $240,000 a year; Alphabet, Google’s parent company, pays a median
salary of just over $197,000. Security officers working in Silicon
Valley can currently earn between $13 and $18 per hour—the
equivalent of between $27,000 and $37,000 a year. The average rent for
a one-bedroom apartment in both Menlo Park and Mountain View, where
Facebook and Google are respectively based, hovers above $3,000 per
month, a price that’s far out of reach for most security officers.
Some officers work second jobs to try to make up the difference, while
others rely on overtime. Rent isn’t the only difficult
expense—several officers told Gizmodo they try to only eat while at
work, where the food is free, because they can’t afford groceries.

“You can offer to work for 16 hours a day,” said Annabelle, a
security officer who asked to be identified only by her middle name
because she feared retaliation from her employer. “And they always
have places where they need officers, so if you can say awake and you
can work the hours, you can earn some overtime, and that will help pay
for a desperately needed car repair, or it will put food on the
table—whatever the latest catastrophe is.”

“It is surreal because we’re told by our clients, ‘Keep an eye
on those homeless people.’ The funny thing is, so many of the
officers are themselves homeless. They themselves are living in an
encampment somewhere, and they themselves are living out of a van.”

Some of the security officers who work on tech campuses, like
Annabelle, are homeless; others commute several hours each day from
slightly more affordable areas. Many of them say they cannot afford
the health plans offered through their employers. Some say they are
passed over for opportunities for promotions and advancement based on
racism, ageism, or favoritism. Officers who spoke with Gizmodo say
that winning their first union contract will make their jobs more
sustainable, and they continue to push for its adoption while juggling
the demands of the job and the hardships of life.

There’s been a rising tide of worker activism in the tech industry
this year. Google employees have successfully pressed their leadership
to improve diversity and inclusion efforts and wind down a
controversial military contract
[https://gizmodo.com/google-plans-not-to-renew-its-contract-for-project-mave-1826488620].
Workers at Salesforce
[https://gizmodo.com/salesforce-workers-urge-ceo-to-re-examine-work-with-cus-1827118343], Amazon
[https://gizmodo.com/amazon-workers-demand-jeff-bezos-cancel-face-recognitio-1827037509],
and Microsoft
[https://gizmodo.com/microsoft-employees-pressure-leadership-to-cancel-ice-c-1826965297] are
pushing back against their companies’ contracts with government
agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs
and Border Protection. Because their skills tend to be in high demand,
tech workers are in a position of strength to advocate for the issues
that matter to them. Security officers hope that their union contract
will be one of those issues.

“Tech companies should already be at the table negotiating with us,
in a sane world,” said Eric Murphy, a security officer who works at
Facebook. “Their intentional denial of the responsibility they have
for their own employees is the root of the problem. They outsource the
delay tactics and workplace issues so it doesn’t look bad for
them.”

The union contract delays are a result of the contractor model the
tech industry uses to employ large swaths of its workforce—its
security officers, its janitors, its cooks, its baristas, its bus
drivers. Tech companies like Facebook don’t typically employ these
workers directly. Instead, they partner with contractor firms to bring
in labor. (Apple
[http://www.seiu-usww.org/2015/03/03/statement-regarding-apples-decision-to-bring-security-officers-in-house/],
which made its security officers employees several years ago, is an
exception.) But the tech firms have discretion over what they’re
willing to pay in wages and insurance—so security officers are
negotiating with their employers, who then turn around and negotiate
with the tech companies. The game of telephone slows everything down.

After several May negotiation meetings between the four security
companies—Allied Universal, G4S, Cypress, and Securitas—and the
union, SEIU United Service Workers West, it doesn’t seem that
security officers are any closer to winning a contract.

“I’ve been at Facebook three years. I’ve walked in the building.
I’ve seen signs that say ‘women’s rights matter’ all over the
wall. I’ve seen ‘black lives matter’ all over,” Taitt
explained. “The problem is, when I reported the issues to them,
they’ve done nothing to resolve the issues. They’re telling me
that because I don’t work directly for them they can’t help me.
But I don’t believe that because I think they can do a lot of things
to help me or help our cause but that they chose to sit back and
continue to let it happen.”

In a statement emailed to Gizmodo, a G4S spokesperson did not say why
the union negotiations have taken more than a year to finalize but
said that the company “respects the rights of its employees” to
have union representation.

“Throughout the United States and across the globe, G4S respects the
rights of its employees to choose whether or not be represented by a
union in accordance with applicable law,” the spokesperson said.
“G4S has positive and constructive working relationships with the
unions that represent its employees, including our employees in the
Silicon Valley area.”

Neither Allied Universal, Cypress, nor Securitas have responded to
Gizmodo’s requests for comment.

Officers told Gizmodo that they’re often discouraged from
interacting with tech workers, but that tech workers have spoken up
for them when they’ve observed mistreatment. Facebook officers have
successfully pressured Allied Universal to allow them to sit in chairs
and to have water bottles when they’re stationed at outdoor
posts—efforts that some Facebook employees supported.

“The funny thing about the Facebook employees is they’ve actually
fought for us before against their own security management about
treatment that they’ve seen,” Taitt said. But for problems that
aren’t as easily visible, like wage disputes
[https://topclassactions.com/lawsuit-settlements/lawsuit-news/261293-alliedbarton-settles-wage-class-action-lawsuit-11m/],
security officers are often on their own.

A Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo in an email that the company
“values the partnership with our security providers and we greatly
appreciate our Security Officers and the tremendous work they do every
day to keep our people and offices safe and secure.” The
spokesperson added that Facebook is not currently considering making
its security guards full-time employees but supports their
unionization efforts.

“Facebook, as a whole, respects the right of our vendor employees to
organize. Union organization by vendor’s employees does not alter
our decision to work with or engage a vendor,” the spokesperson
said. “In fact, we believe that is also important that the vendors
we work with do not oppose or inhibit the right of their employees to
unionize.”

In May, security officers organized a march near Google’s Mountain
View campus to raise awareness about their unionization efforts.
Although several hundred officers turned up, the march highlighted the
insularity of the tech industry; because Google’s security officers
can’t be on campus more than two hours after their shift ends, they
had to stage their protest in a nearby park, not quite within view of
the campus. The march traced through mostly empty streets—since
Google busses its employees to campus and provides them with free
lunches, they don’t have much incentive to leave the office during
the day.

“I’ve seen signs that say ‘women’s rights matter’ all over
the wall. I’ve seen ‘black lives matter’ all over. The problem
is, when I reported the issues to them, they’ve done nothing to
resolve the issues. They’re telling me that because I don’t work
directly for them they can’t help me.”

“Most of the people who work here can’t afford to live here.
There’s another answer to that besides building affordable
housing—it’s to make sure that people get a living wage,”
Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel told the assembled security officers.
He noted that tech firms tout their high median salaries, but that
such numbers are only possible because the companies are excluding
their contract workers from the calculations. “We don’t just need
software engineers, we don’t just need venture capitalists, we need
people to do the grunt work that makes Silicon Valley possible,” he
said.

Like Facebook, a Google spokesperson said the company “absolutely
supports workers and their right to choose to unionize or not
unionize, and Google works with both union and non-union vendors.”
The spokesperson emphasized that Google is not involved in the union
negotiations. “Google is not the employer of these workers,” the
spokesperson said.

The contrast between security officers’ wages and tech workers’
salaries isn’t lost on officers.

“It is surreal because we’re told by our clients, ‘Keep an eye
on those homeless people,’” Annabelle explained. “The funny
thing is, so many of the officers are themselves homeless. They
themselves are living in an encampment somewhere, and they themselves
are living out of a van.”

“There’s always these terms that are bandied about, you know,
we’re disrupting this, we’re disrupting that,” she added.
“They’re disrupting people’s ability to live in a decent and
dignified manner under a roof instead of in a car. When you’re
saying that we’ve disrupted the old temp agency model and you’re
getting away with a much more streamlined operation and you’ve got
workers that are so desperate that they’ll work for ten, eleven
dollars an hour, I don’t think that’s anything to be proud of, I
think that’s a disgrace.”

(California’s state minimum wage is currently $11 per hour for
companies with 25 or more employees. Local minimum wages vary; Palo
Alto’s minimum wage rose to $13.50
[https://www.cityofpaloalto.org/business/minimum_wage.asp] as of
January 1, while Mountain View’s minimum wage is now $15 per hour
[https://www.mountainview.gov/depts/comdev/economicdev/city_minimum_wage.asp].)

A Google employee who requested anonymity to speak freely about the
security officers’ union told Gizmodo that most of his coworkers are
unaware of the officers’ stalled contract.

“If tech workers are going to build a real labor movement, we have
to tackle issues of race and discrimination and housing,” the
employee said. The security officers, he noted, are employees’ first
line of defense, and especially after the shooting at YouTube, Google
should prioritize their wellbeing. “It is in nobody’s best
interest to have a guard who is tired, hungry, or sick,” he said.
“I’m honored to be supporting this effort because they’re doing
something a lot of tech workers are still hemming and hawing about.
They’re standing up in a way other workers with far more power and
privilege haven’t gotten around to. They’re proving to us that it
can be done.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Conger [https://kinja.com/conger]

Kate Conger is a senior reporter at Gizmodo.

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