Shuttle bus drivers who schlep Facebook employees to and from Silicon Valley began voting on Wednesday on whether to form a union, arguing they have an archaic relationship with the tech giant, comparing their situation to nobles and servants.
A total of 87 drivers for Facebook's shuttle bus contractor, Loop Transportation in San Francisco, began voting in shifts throughout the day, deciding whether to become part of the Teamsters.
The drivers are hoping for higher pay and better health care insurance. But they'd also like a solution to the "horrendous" split shifts of driving Facebook employees to the Menlo Park campus beginning at 6 a.m. and returning home 14 hours later, only to be paid for eight of those hours, according to Rome A. Aloise, secretary for the Teamsters Local 853 in San Leandro.
The union began circulating a petition a few weeks ago. By Wednesday, it had about 5,000 signatures.
Aloise said the shuttle drivers came to his group about six or seven months ago. Even though the driver work for Loop, because of who they take to work - Facebook - the labor fight has made it to the pages of USA Today, Business Insider and the New York Times.
"Zuckerberg needs to step up," Aloise said Wednesday morning by phone, adding that the Teamsters have tried to set up a meeting with him and even friended him on Facebook - to no avail. "These drivers are helping him and all his employees make a lot of money. And they just want a fair life."
Even though Facebook doesn't directly employ the drivers, Aloise said CEO Mark Zuckerberg should call up Loop and offer to close the gap on what the drivers are asking for because the company is so profitable and has such a high-profile image.
Facebook spokeswoman Genevieve Grdina declined to comment on Wednesday morning, even as drivers and their supporters rallied the evening before in front of the company's Menlo Park headquarters.
Protesters - many of whom were older men with gray beards - pumped their fists to beeping horns in front of the Facebook "thumbs up" sign in Menlo Park. Some held signs that read "Dear Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook drivers need you." Facebook has indicated in the past that the issue isn't with Facebook, it's with the company the drivers work for.
Loop Transportation President and CEO Jeff Leonoudakis responded Wednesday with a four-paragraph email lauding his "talented drivers." He said Loop has "long provided its dedicated professionals with one of the best wage and benefit packages in the Bay Area and comfortable accommodations between shifts."
Leonoudakis added that the drivers take home "$17-25" and get full medical benefits, up to $714 a month per employee paid by Loop, paid vacations, holidays and sick days. He added that during split shifts, drivers can hang out at either Loop and use the company's lounge with bunk beds to take a nap or watch TV, or eat for free at the Facebook campus.
Aloise said the Teamsters represent five other Loop driver groups, including those who work at San Francisco and Oakland international airports. Those drivers earn between $17 and $24 an hour, he said, but have much better health care packages, get a pension and don't have to work the split shifts. Aloise added that the Facebook shuttle drivers were earning about $17 or $18 an hour until they began complaining and started receiving raises shortly after.
Drivers for public transportation services such as SF Muni, AC Transit and SamTrans, can make as much as $25 or even $30 an hour.
The union drew comparisons to a generic era of nobles and servants, likening Facebook techies to privileged players of a hierarchical social class.
"While your employees earn extraordinary wages and are able to live and enjoy life in some of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the Bay Area, these drivers can't afford to support a family, send their children to school, or least of all, afford to even dream of buying a house anywhere near where they work," Aloise wrote in an Oct. 2 letter to Zuckerberg.
"This is reminiscent of a time when noblemen were driven around in their coaches by their servants," the letter continued. "Frankly, little has changed; except your noblemen are your employees, and the servants are the bus drivers who carry them back and forth each day."