Anti-Labor Google Gives Shuttle Drivers Wage Increases To Stop Unionization By Teamsters

Anti-Labor Google Gives Shuttle Drivers Wage Increases To Stop Unionization By Teamsters
Google giving bus drivers a raise, but not everyone is happy
By Kristen V. BrownMarch 12, 2015 Updated: March 12, 2015 12:37pm

Teamsters Steve Bender (second from left) and Rodney Smith celebrate following the 104-38 decision to unionize tech shuttle bus drivers at Compass Transportation, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, South San Francisco, Calif.

Google is giving the shuttle bus drivers who haul its employees to and from Mountain View a raise — but some view the news as an attempt by the tech giant to undercut efforts to unionize Silicon Valley contract workers.

On Wednesday, Google disclosed to its five shuttle bus contractors that it planned to raise drivers’ wages about 20 percent, to an average of $24 an hour, and will offer additional benefits such as a 15 percent premium for drivers who work much-maligned split shifts.

But shuttle drivers for many other Silicon Valley giants have in recent months voted to join the Teamsters union in an attempt to address complaints that drivers are overworked and unfairly compensated for time spent on the job.

“Google is the last big tech company that needed to unionize its drivers,” said Jimmy Maerina, a Facebook shuttle driver who has been a leader in the unionization efforts. “This move undermines the whole idea to unionize high-tech.”

Last fall, drivers contracted by Facebook were the first to vote to join the union.

That push for representation was expected to ricochet to other Silicon Valley service industries, such as security and food preparation.

Last month, Facebook drivers voted unanimously to approve their first union contract, which includes an increase in the average pay for workers at Facebook vendor Loop Transportation from $18 an hour to $24.50, and offered wage increases for employees who work split shifts. A week later, drivers at Apple, Yahoo, eBay, Zynga and Genentech voted to join the Teamsters, too. (The contract for Facebook workers still awaits approval from the social network and Loop. A contract has not been approved by drivers for Compass Transportation, the vendor for the other companies.)

The increase will take effect in April for Google drivers and will vary depending on the contractor and a driver’s previous wages. In addition to a premium for split shifts — unpaid breaks of up to six hours many drivers have between the morning and evening legs of the commute — the company will add health benefits to cover at least 80 percent of care for drivers and their dependents and begin matching 401(k) plans at up to $1 per hour.

“We value the drivers who help to get thousands of Googlers to work safely every day,” said a Google spokeswoman. “Since the fall we’ve been working with our vendor partners to address their concerns, by reducing the number of split shifts and increasing the hourly wages.”

This month, Apple also said it planned to raise hourly wages for drivers by about 25 percent and offer a split-shift premium. (The Teamsters must sign off on the increase for Apple's unionized shuttle bus drivers.)

“It is obvious that by Facebook drivers standing up for themselves and all the other drivers that a wave of improvements is happening,” said Rome Aloise, international vice president and secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 853.

But a wage increase is not all that’s needed, he said.

“While wages are significant, there are still many other factors that do not replace a union contract and protections.” Aloise wants drivers to receive 100 percent paid health care for drivers and their families, sick leave, paid vacations and bereavement.

Google became the first tech company to provide shuttle service for employees who live in San Francisco in 2004 — one reason the controversial tech shuttles are often referred to as Google buses, though many other companies use them.

The first buses made just two stops in the city and carried 155 passengers. Now, more than a third of Google’s Mountain View employees catch a shuttle to work. According to the city of San Francisco, tech companies have obtained 500 permits for buses participating in a pilot program allowing shuttles to use Muni bus stops.

Aloise said Google’s announcement would not stop the Teamsters from trying to unionize its drivers. But Maerina is worried it gives drivers for Google less incentive to organize — and might even encourage some drivers to leave their union-organized companies to go drive for Google, where they will receive similar wages without paying union dues of about $70 a month.

The raise, he said, might really be a bad thing disguised as a good one.

Kristen V. Brown is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @kristenvbrown