Teamsters Launch Drive to Organize Facebook Bus Drivers

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A Google bus picks up workers at 24th and Valencia streets in the Mission District.  (Mark Andrew Boyer/KQED)

The Teamsters Union is asking Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to endorse its effort to organize the drivers who shuttle the companies back and forth from San Francisco to Silicon Valley. In a post on Facebook -- yes, ironic -- the union says: "Teamsters are asking Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to support Facebook shuttle drivers' desire to join Teamsters Local 853."

A Teamsters post on Facebook urging the company to support an organizing drive for  shuttle drivers.
A Teamsters' post on Facebook urging the company to support an organizing drive for shuttle drivers.

The main issue for those who drive for Facebook and other tech firms is not pay -- though at $20 an hour or so they're hardly richly compensated -- but the fact they have to work split shifts. That is, they drive workers to Silicon Valley from San Francisco, Berkeley and other locales, sit around for five or six hours during the day, then drive workers back home in the evening. The drivers are not paid for that downtime. Credit the San Francisco Chronicle with publicizing the shuttle drivers' working conditions. In  a Sunday feature published Sept. 28, the paper gave a glimpse into the lives of workers who are required to work marathon hours for Google. It led off with the experience of a former Google driver:

For Brandon Barlow, life as a Google bus driver was one endless cycle of traffic and exhaust.
He left home before dawn and arrived home late, after long hours spent shuttling Google employees back and forth on Highway 101.

And Barlow wasn’t paid for the hours he had to wait around near Google headquarters in Mountain View before making the return run to San Francisco. That was the worst part of the job.

“They make everything convenient for Googlers, but they don’t make anything convenient for drivers,” Barlow said recently, exasperated. “There are so many fatigued tech shuttle drivers out there.”

The New York Times followed up on the Chronicle's report and apparently broke the news Monday of the Teamsters' new organizing drive:

In a letter sent on Thursday, the top Teamsters official for Northern California urged Mr. Zuckerberg to press Facebook’s shuttle bus contractor to agree to bargain with the union on behalf of the 40 drivers who ferry Facebook employees to work.

“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,” the Teamsters official, Rome Aloise, said in the letter.

Mr. Aloise added: “It is reminiscent of a time when noblemen were driven around in their coaches by their servants. Frankly, little has changed; except the noblemen are your employees, and the servants are the bus drivers who carry them back and forth each day.”

Mr. Aloise said the Teamsters were first seeking to unionize Facebook drivers, and then hoped to organize drivers for Google, Apple and other Silicon Valley companies.

“You have to start someplace,” Mr. Aloise said by telephone. “We hope there will be a domino effect. If we get Facebook and a decent contract, others will follow.”

An anonymous Facebook official told the Times the shuttle bus contractor set pay and schedules.

Jeff Leonoudakis, president of the contractor, Loop Transportation, told the Times, "We believe that we take really good care of our drivers. They’re the heart of our company. Without them, we can’t provide service to our customers.”

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He added that since the company pays $18 to $20 an hour and overtime, and provides medical and dental coverage, "I don’t think the union is necessary in this case." He also told the Times that although he recognized split shifts are tough on drivers, they're "a necessity."