The vote by Google Express workers is part of a rising labor movement in Silicon Valley.
Josh HarkinsonJul. 27, 2015 5:08 PM
Labor organizers with the Teamsters union announced Monday that they're holding an election to unionize workers for Google Express, the shopping service that delivers everything from toothpaste to televisions purchased by online consumers. The union is seeking to represent about 140 Google Express warehouse workers employed by Adecco, a temp agency that provides much of the delivery service's Bay Area staff.
"Workers are required to sign short-term employment agreements with Adecco that limit them to two years before the company lets them go," the Teamsters Local Union 853 said in a press release announcing the vote. "Workers have also alleged subjection to constant harassment to work faster in poor conditions that include damaged equipment, cracked floors, and failing electrical systems that have resulted in fires."
A Google spokesperson contacted by Mother Jones declined to comment.
Google Express currently operates in seven US cities, including San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Manhattan. Google started the the service in 2013 to compete with Amazon Prime.
The Google vote is the latest in a string of high-profile efforts to unionize Silicon Valley's low-wage service economy. In recent months, the Teamsters have begun representing shuttle bus drivers that transport workers for Apple, Facebook, and Yahoo. And the Service Employees International Union has convinced Google and Apple to hire their own security guards, rather than working with subcontractors that were criticized for union busting.
Labor organizers see Silicon Valley as perhaps the most glaring example of how the American economy increasingly benefits the wealthy. The success of the tech giants has created a whole new population of millionaires but has failed to create many middle class jobs. Google, with a market cap of $354 billion, has just 53,600 full-time employees. By comparison, General Motors, with a market cap of only $50 billion, has 216,000 full-time employees.
Such disparities are exacerbated by Silicon Valley's reliance on contract labor. Google Express workers make $13 to $17 an hour with no benefits, which is far from a living wage in the Bay Area.
"As subcontractors, we are treated as second class citizens," Gabriel Cardenas, a Google Express worker, said in a statement released by labor organizers. "We get a different type of badge and don’t receive some of the most basic types of compensation like benefits. The majority of us work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. I am standing with my co-workers and community because I believe change for this invisible workforce is possible."
Correction: An earlier version of the story stated that the Teamsters are organizing Google Express drivers. The union vote only applies to warehouse workers.
The practice is gaining popularity in drought-plagued California, but is it safe?
Josh HarkinsonJul. 24, 2015 6:00 AM
Was your California orange irrigated with wastewater from oil wells? Quite possibly yes.
Under a 20-year-old water recycling program, wastewater that is generated as a byproduct from oil extraction is treated and sold to some 90 Southern California landowners—including one with certified organic operations—which use it to grow crops such as citrus, almonds, apples, peaches, grapes, and blueberries sold in major grocery chains around the country.
In a widely expected move, a panel appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recommended today that the state's minimum wage for employees of fast-food chain restaurants be raised to $15 an hour.
The recommendation comes three years after strikes by New York City fast-food workers set off a national labor movement that has led to the passage of a $15 minimum wage in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. But unlike those cities, New York doesn't have the power to set its own minimum wage—it's up to legislators in Albany.
When New York lawmakers balked at raising the minimum wage last year, Gov. Cuomo convened a board to examine wages in the fast food industry, which employs 180,000 people in the state. The state's labor commissioner, a Cuomo appointee, has the power to issue an order putting the proposal into effect. If he approves the wage hike, fast-food workers currently earning the state's minimum wage of $8.75 will get a 70 percent raise, effective by 2018 in New York City and 2021 in the rest of the state.
"It's hard to explain to my children why they can't do things other kids do," Barbara Kelley, a Buffalo mother who works at Dunkin' Donuts and takes home an average of $150 a week, said in a statement released by labor organizers. "With $15 an hour, I will be able to get by and maybe reward my kids in little ways, like ice cream after a long day, and in big ways like being able to save for the future." Labor organizers are optimistic that the $15 wage will be adopted and will spur raises in other industries.
"The Chamber regularly reaches out to governments around the world to urge them to avoid measures that discriminate against particular companies or industries," the Chamber said in a short statement responding to a recent New York Timespiece on its tobacco lobbying. Since 2011, according to the Times, the US Chamber intervened in at least nine countries and the European Union—either directly or through one of its many foreign affiliates—to oppose regulations designed to prevent smoking.
Moreover, according to a report released last week by anti-smoking groups, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Action on Smoking and Health, tobacco companies have joined US Chamber affiliates in 56 countries. Those companies also sit on Chamber affiliates' boards or advisory councils in 14 countries—most of which happen to be places where people smoke a lot: Albania, Armenia, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Kosovo, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malaysia, Morocco, Poland, Serbia, the Slovak Republic, and Taiwan.
The report also highlighted previously unreported cases in which the US Chamber has gone to bat for its tobacco company members:
Burkina Faso: In January 2014, the US Chamber sent a letter to Prime Minister Luc Adolphe Tiao warning that the country's plan to implement graphic warning labels on cigarette packages violated international property rights and trade agreements. The threat of costly trade litigation delayed implementation of the law, according to government officials.
Philippines: In 2012, the US Chamber and its local affiliate fought an effort to raise taxes on cigarettes, claiming it would create a black market. The commissioner of the Filipino Bureau of Internal Revenue recently told the local press that those fears have proved unfounded.
United Kingdom: In 2014, the US Chamber released a joint statement with business groups and sent letters opposing a bill that would create standardized packaging for tobacco products. The bill "sends a negative message to the United Kingdom's trading partners," one letter said, "and undermines its reputation for the rule of law." The bill passed in March 2015.
US Chamber CEO Tom Donohue's most striking innovation has been to allow controversial industries to use the Chamber as a means of anonymously pursuing their political ends. The same politicians who might ignore a complaint from a tobacco company may listen when that complaint comes from a group that claims (albeit disingenuously) to represent 3 million businesses.
The federal Speak Free Act is the first to win bipartisan support.
Josh HarkinsonJul. 20, 2015 6:05 AM
Matthew White was getting nervous. It was the fall of 2013, and White believed he was stuck with a botched hardwood-floor job. Thestairs weren't rebuilt to code, multiple doors would no longer fully open, boot prints were embedded in the varnish—the list went on. Convinced that many problems would never be fixed to his satisfaction, White logged into Yelp and gave his Denver-area contractor, Footprints Floors, the first of two scathing reviews. "Absolutely horrible experience," he wrote. "The quality of the work is absolutely deplorable. Be warned!"