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How Google and Silicon Valley Screw Their Non-Elite Workers

June 8, 2013 in Blogs

By Jake Blumgart, AlterNet

Silicon Valley’s biggest firms outsource blue-collar and service jobs to subcontractors, who bid low by scrimping on labor standards.

Silicon Valley sparks the imagination. Its wealth of tech jobs, flashy startups and new media goliaths seems to point toward a better future, beyond post-industrial doldrums and slack labor markets. Work on Google’s idyllic Mountain View campus hardly looks like work at all.  

But some Google employees are less equal than others. (Not everyone gets to ride the clown bikes.) Many of Silicon Valley’s blue-collar jobs are outsourced to subcontractors, a practice common with Google, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, and other big tech firms. Usually the lowest bidder gets the contract, and in labor intensive industries such as security, food service, janitorial and landscaping the lower bids tend to come from firms with lower labor standards.

Security Industry Specialists, Inc (SIS) provides hundreds of security contractors to both Google and Apple. (SIS did not respond to interview requests or questions about the exact number of guards the two companies employ.) Tom Seltz, co-president of SIS, claims that the company offers $15 an hour for entry level employees, plus benefits for full-time workers: “We pay 80 percent of the healthcare premium, 100 percent of dental, and these employees have access to a 401k plan in which we match a portion of contributions.”

But according to SIS employees, everyone starts as part-time and must work their way to a full-time position. Part-timers have no health or retirement benefits, no paid sick leave and no vacation. The hours are unpredictable because the company calls them about a day in advance to dispense shifts. Turnover at SIS is high, partly due to draconian disciplinary measures that make it difficult to advance to a full-time position. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is trying to organize the guards, estimates that only 20 percent of SIS’s employees are full-time.

“Supervisors—they didn’t treat us like people,” says Manny Cardenas, the only guard to publicly endorse the unionization drive. “We got fired for small things. Zero tolerance. One guard, he told a janitor what time it was and because he …read more