Stuck Living in Trailers and Garages, Facebook Cafeteria Workers Unionize in Bid For Higher Wages

Around 500 cafeteria workers at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park have elected to unionize in an effort to negotiate higher wages, health care benefits, and pensions.

"They're living in the shadows," said Enrique Fernandez, the business manager for Unite Here Local 19. "Access has to be there for all."

Local 19 is the local chapter representing the group of Facebook workers and more than 4,000 other hospitality workers in Silicon Valley who have unionized at companies like Intel Corp., Cisco Systems and Dell.

Many tech companies rely on a growing number of drivers and culinary staff to accommodate their expanding workforces, but service workers say they feel the impact of Silicon Valley's lack of affordable housing.

Many opt to live in vans and trailers — which can be seen lining the streets in Mountain View neighborhoods near Google's headquarters — in an effort to make ends meet.

Fernandez says the problem extends throughout the region.

"They park next to the park and they shower. It’s very sad," Fernandez said. "This is working people. It is not like these people are not working."

Two of those workers raise their three children in a garage just blocks from Facebook headquarters, according to the Guardian.

The majority of the cafeteria workers are employed full-time and make an average of $18.81 per hour, according to the union, which would be an annual salary of just under $40,000 per year.

However, the cafeteria workers say their earnings can't keep up with the high living costs in San Mateo County, where the median household income is $101,272 annually.

Facebook said it has been working to address affordable housing concerns and employed one of the earliest set of standards for contract vendors in 2015, which included a $15 per hour minimum wage, 15 paid days off and new child benefits.

"Our vendor workers are valued members of our community," a Facebook spokesperson said. "We are committed to providing a safe, fair, work environment to everyone who helps Facebook bring the world closer together, including contractors." 

Most of the upcoming discussions will be handled directly between the employees and the company handling the contracts, Flagship Facility Services, which has said it is willing to negotiate with the union.

Fernandez said because of the positive partnership, he expects a contract to be completed in a matter of months. 

"Living in Silicon Valley is hard," Fernandez said. "But I'm optimistic that it will not take long. It could take six months, it could take three months — you cannot rush the process."

Facebook's shuttle workers, who voted to unionize in 2015, successfully negotiated a union contract in roughly three months.

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