Tech Industry

Facebook cafeteria workers vote to unionize

The social network's contract cafeteria workers are the latest employee group in Silicon Valley to join a labor union.

Cafeteria workers at Facebook's Menlo Park office have voted to join Unite Here Local 19. 
Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook, like many Silicon Valley companies, offers in-house cafeterias in its offices as one of the many perks to its employees. But those doing the actual food service work are rarely, if ever, compensated to the level of the engineers and marketing gurus who eat in those cafeterias every day.

On Friday, some 500 cafeteria workers at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park voted to join Unite Here Local 19 -- a California-based union representing 4,500 workers that already services other Silicon Valley companies like Intel.

It's been an ongoing trend: Food service workers in tech companies have been fighting to raise wages and bridge Silicon Valley company income inequality by joining these unions and starting campaigns like Silicon Valley Rising.

By increasing the minimum wage to $15 back in 2015, along with other added benefits, Facebook had attempted to get ahead of this problem. But even at that income level, it's hard to make ends meet for anyone living near the company's home campus in San Mateo County, with its tech-fueled cost of living at sky-high levels.

They also fall into an unfortunate middle ground -- many earning too much to qualify for state health care, but too little to afford the health insurance Facebook offers, says a Facebook-employed family who spoke to the Guardian. The family of five is currently living out of a garage in Menlo Park.

Complicating matters is the fact that service employees are often contractors, rather than direct employees of the tech giants. Facebook claims it offers some employee benefits to these workers, like eating meals in the kitchen and using the shuttle, but policies are ultimately left up to their primary employer, which in this case is the facility service company Flagship.

"Our vendor workers are valued members of our community," said a Facebook spokesperson. "We are committed to providing a safe, fair, work environment to everyone who helps Facebook bring the world closer together, including contractors. Our commitment does not change, regardless of union status."

The move to join the union has not been opposed by Facebook nor Flagship, according to Unite Here. 

"We are pleased that Facebook and Flagship have been cooperative partners in this organizing process," said Enrique Fernandez, business manager of Unite Here Local 19. "We look forward to sitting down to negotiate a contract that addresses some of the challenges workers are going through." 

Flagship did not immediately respond for comment. 

Updated at 3:03 p.m. with comment from Unite Here.

Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech's role in providing new kinds of accessibility.

Logging Out: Welcome to the crossroads of online life and the afterlife.