As Silicon Valley seeks to cut spending, service workers fear they will be the first to go
Service workers at Silicon Valley tech giants fear that as companies cut spending, they could be among the first to lose their jobs.
“The frustration right now, as we think about fairness, is that the [essential] workers who were most vulnerable during the pandemic are also now the most vulnerable coming out of the pandemic,” SEIU-United Services Workers West President David Huerta said ahead of an action Thursday outside the parent company’s campus. from Facebook.
The rally of about 150 union organizers, workers and supporters outside Meta Platforms Inc.’s corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., was to urge the company to continue to protect service workers and support workers’ right to get organized. Meta META,
the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, was one of the tech giants that at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 promised to continue paying janitors, security guards, shuttle drivers and other service workers even as they closed their campuses.
As Meta enters what Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg called “one of the worst downturns” in its history, service workers are already losing jobs. More than 40 bus drivers in Meta have been laid off this year, half of them in the past month, said Stacy Murphy, sales representative for Teamsters Local 853, which represents many Bay Area tech shuttle drivers. Now, about 100 janitors at Meta could lose their jobs as soon as September, according to janitors who spoke with MarketWatch, as well as union representatives from SEIU-USWW.
Teresa Barrios, a janitor at Meta for four years, said outside Meta’s main campus on Thursday that if she were made redundant she would have another job as a janitor elsewhere – but it would have a “drastic” effect on her finances because she needs both jobs to survive and support her family.
“A majority of people here, we have to have two jobs,” she said, adding that if the contractor who employs her lays off janitors at Meta, it will mean an increased workload for those who remain.
Meta, like many other large companies, uses vendors that provide workers for its campuses in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, and those vendors are the direct employers of those workers. Meta switched providers for janitorial services, a year after MarketWatch reported that its previous provider had scrapped paid time off for janitors and attributed the move to Facebook, which denied asking for the cuts.
See: Facebook fires contractor, but union says janitors will keep their jobs
SBM, the provider that now employs Meta janitors, did not return repeated requests for comment on its plans to cut jobs. The previous provider employed 368 people at Meta. Huerta said publicly at Thursday’s event that the SEIU-USWW expects “significant layoffs” among janitors, and told MarketWatch it was trying to “mitigate job cuts” in the negotiations with SBM.
Facebook’s Menlo Park campus has reopened to employees, who are asked to be there at least two days a week, but the campus was noticeably less busy on Thursday than before the pandemic. Meta spokesperson Tracy Clayton said the company has adjusted on-site services and amenities to reflect the changing needs of its hybrid workforce, but was unaware “job cuts that our supplier partners have made or will make for the time being”. Asked if the company has reduced the amount it pays its suppliers who provide workers with services, he said he was unable to share that information.
Other tech companies that have promised to pay service workers during the pandemic, like Google parent company Alphabet Inc. GOOG,
and Apple Inc. AAPL,
did not return requests for comment on whether they were cutting on-campus services and service workers. Executives at both companies have reportedly indicated internally that they plan to cut costs and slow hiring due to an economic downturn. Google now expects employees to be in the office three days a week, a policy that would go into effect at Apple in September.
Murphy, of the Teamsters, said she had already seen service job cuts throughout the pandemic and feared there would be many more as companies with huge campuses establish a permanent hybrid schedule where employees only work in the office a few days a week, or work from home all the time.
“My instinct tells me that [service] work will not go back to what it was,” she said.
Maria Noel Fernandez, campaign director for Silicon Valley Rising, an alliance of labor groups and community leaders, said “we’re kind of at this tipping point and a new phase of the pandemic” when decisions are being made on what will follow.
“Whether it’s layoffs, new organizations, or different issues, what these workers ultimately want is a seat at the table and a voice at work,” she said, adding that many of those workers are people of color. “This is a time when we call on tech companies to commit to service workers and the communities that have allowed them to thrive.”
In 2020, Silicon Valley Rising and Working Partnerships USA published a report it showed there were about 14,000 unionized tech cafeteria workers, janitors and security guards in Silicon Valley, which he defined as Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. Of these, they found that 63% were black or Latino. If all technical services workers in the valley lost their jobs, the effect could be catastrophic, according to the report: around 12,000 people would lose their medical coverage and 8,300 tenants would be at risk of not being able to pay their rent.
The action at Meta headquarters on Thursday also involved a call for a supplier, Canon Business Process Services, to negotiate with the Teamsters representing mailroom workers. In December, 52 mailroom workers at Meta’s Bay Area offices held a unionization vote that ended in a tie, less than the majority needed to recognize the union. The Teamsters union, alleging anti-union tactics by Canon, disputes this. A National Labor Relations Board hearing is scheduled for next month.
Canon spokeswoman Christine Sedlacek said, “We are very confident that we have complied with federal labor laws at all times.”