Thousands of security officers in Silicon Valley just ratified their first union contract. The guards, numbering at about 3000, work at tech giants such as Facebook and Google and have been organising and negotiating for more than five years.
The news was announced on Monday in a press release from SEIU United Service Workers West, a labour union representing over 40,000 property service workers throughout California. As part of the agreement, security guards will see an hourly wage increase of up to $US1.20 ($1.65) by January, an improved healthcare and leave plan, and paid holidays.
Most Silicon Valley security guards do not work directly for companies such as Facebook and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, where the median salaries are estimated at just over $US240,000 ($329,713) and $US197,000 ($270,640) a year, respectively. (Apple does directly employ a security force.) Instead, they are contract workers employed by physical security firms.
This wage disparity has made it difficult for many security guards to pay the bills. Some security guards are, in fact, homeless. Many take advantage of the free food available on tech giants’ campuses to survive in one of the most expensive places to live in the United States.
SEIU United Service Workers West notes in its press release that, prior to the union contract agreement, many of the security officers were making between $US12 ($16) and $US14 ($19) an hour — about $US25,000 ($34,345) to $US30,000 ($41,214) a year, and just over California’s state minimum wage, though that differs for local minimum wages.
Both Google and Facebook told Gizmodo last month that they support the security guards’ unionisation efforts and that they will continue to work with companies that employ unionised security guards. Several other large companies also contract with security guard firms whose employees are now covered by the ratified union contract.
“We began this organising effort because officers in Silicon Valley were really struggling, some of us were homeless and many of us were living on the edge, and we were working more than 40 hours a week,” Elizabeth, a Silicon Valley security officer and bargaining committee member, said in a statement.
“We have made great strides for officers, but there is still a lot of work to do. Silicon Valley is one of the wealthiest places in the world, and the most expensive. We need to keep fighting to improve our situation so that we can live life with some safety and dignity.”
The four major contracting firms employing these security officers — Allied Universal, G4S, Cypress and Securitas — recognised the workers’ union in January of 2017, but negotiations over the contract have been drawn out for well over a year.
“Tech companies should already be at the table negotiating with us, in a sane world,” Eric Murphy, a security officer who works at Facebook, told Gizmodo last month. “Their intentional denial of the responsibility they have for their own employees is the root of the problem. They outsource the delay tactics and workplace issues so it doesn’t look bad for them.”
It’s a heartening win for the security guards — many of whom worked overtime or took second jobs while struggling to pay rent or buy groceries in an increasingly unaffordable city. And it’s an inspiriting achievement for service workers, signalling that it isn’t just the incredibly rich that deserve rights, protections, and having their voices heard.