Silicon Valley Rising Reports Subcontractor Organizing Success

New Orleans  A comrade and friend sent a report of some good news for labor organizers over the magic of the interweb this morning from Bloomberg News. The brief story focused on the work of Silicon Valley Rising, a coalition of unions and community-based organizations centered around San Jose, California.

The bottom line is that 5000 new contract workers were organized over the last three years. Some of this has gotten wide attention, particularly the Teamsters effort to organize shuttle drivers running the transportation for Facebook, but others efforts have been more invisible to the public, like security workers picked up by the Service Employees International Union on direct recognition without participation of the National Labor Relations Board, and cafeteria contractors through the efforts of Unite Here. Bloomberg indicates the success has come from pressuring a wide range of big name, who’s who tech companies:

…they’ve unionized shuttle drivers at Apple, Tesla, Twitter, LinkedIn, EBay, Salesforce.com,Yahoo!, Cisco, and Facebook; security guards at Adobe, IBM, Cisco, and Facebook; and cafeteria workers at Cisco, Intel, and, earlier this summer, Facebook.

The coalition is on the move according to Derecka Mehrens, former head organizer of California ACORN and now executive director of Working Partnerships USA, a California-based nonprofit, long an advocate for workers. “If you want to get people to buy your product, you don’t want them to feel that buying your product is contributing to the evils of the world,” says Silicon Valley Rising co-founder Derecka Mehrens. Tech companies have been image-conscious and closely watched of late, she says, and the coalition is “being opportunistic.”

The coalition is fishing in a big pool as well. A study done last year in a partnership with Mehrens organization and Chris Benner, a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz and director of the Everett Program, where ACORN International was fortunate to host three interns assisting our hawkers union in Bengaluru this summer, indicates there is still a lot of work that can be done.

 

Benner predicts as many as 78,000 people are in positions indirectly impacted by the contracting practice of high-tech firms. An estimated 19,000-39,000 are in low- and medium-wage occupations, more when outsourced white-collar jobs, such as sales representatives, couriers and messengers, software developers and computer programmers, are accounted for.

Besides good solid organizing, research tracking and opportunistic deployment of resources, there’s another lesson for labor here, and that’s persistence. As Bloomberg notes, a lot of the work builds on the success of SEIU’s Mike Garcia and Jon Barton and their years of work in the vineyards to organize the janitorial subcontractors at Apple, Hewlett-Packard, and other tech conglomerates. My favorite action in the campaign was when they launched boats in a pond abutting one of these companies with their call to organize, but let’s stick to the subject.

A long piece in the New York Times that compared the hard ceiling on wages and opportunity for subcontracted and union-represented janitors at Apple with direct company hired cleaners at Kodak in Rochester in the last century was painful to read. Increasing wages and security is a start, but one of the things that these tech gazillionaires and their companies are still “disrupting” is any prospect of equity in our economy or society as they continue to strip economic and job security from workers everywhere in their footprint, while keeping many in the shadows.

It’s a long road, but Silicon Valley Rising is hacking their way through it.

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