Silicon Valley's burgeoning labor movement

Could Silicon Valley soon be the center of mass labor mobilization?

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published September 4, 2017 6:00AM (EDT)


Since the late 20th century, Silicon Valley has been so closely associated with the concept of innovation that the very notion of unionization has seemed almost anachronistic. We embody the new economy, you could practically hear the region's defenders proclaim. Unionization is so passe!

Apparently not.

In July, more than 500 cafeteria workers employed at Facebook decided to unionize so that they could receive higher wages, better benefits and fairer hours. After talking with the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), factory workers at Tesla also sent a strongly worded letter to management, one that primarily addressed what they claim are abnormally high injury rates.

"We urge you to make our safety your priority as board members, to demand information from management about health and safety issues in the factory, and to hold management accountable to best practices," the letter declared.

So is this a rising trend?

"Absolutely!" said Maria Noel Fernandez, campaign director at Silicon Valley Rising, in an email to Salon. "Since we launched Silicon Valley Rising three years ago, around 5,000 service workers for tech giants like Facebook, Intel, and Apple have organized for better wages, decent working conditions, and a voice on the job."

Fernandez added, "That includes the workers who operate the cafeterias at Facebook, Intel and Cisco; bus drivers serving Apple, LinkedIn, and Twitter; security officers for Facebook, Adobe, and Genentech; and janitors at firms across the tech industry."

David A. Judd, a volunteer at Tech Workers Coalition (TWC), pointed out that the unionization trend will ultimately have a positive impact on the lives of men and women who suffer from income inequality within Silicon Valley's tech industries.

"On behalf of TWC, I can at least say that we support the right of workers to organize, and believe that self-organized workers can better advocate for all working people as well as bringing themselves improved wages and working conditions," Judd told Salon by email, adding that "an advance by any kind of worker organization, formal union or otherwise, is good news for people who are concerned with the severe inequality in Silicon Valley."
Judd was cautious about predicting the extent to which unionization will spread through the region.
"I'm reluctant to speculate about the future, but I'm glad that TWC has been part of mobilizing hundreds of white-collar tech workers, among others, to support their fellow workers' organizing and to stand up for justice," Judd said.
Indeed, there have been recent reports about engineers and product managers unionizing in Silicon Valley. Considering that engineers and product managers make much more than cafeteria and factory workers, the fact that they too have caught the labor bug indicates that, if nothing else, the desire to unionize is spreading.
Perhaps Silicon Valley isn't as teflon when it comes to labor issues as its image once suggested.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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