Facebook's Hispanic Workers Finally Begin To Unionize

In the decade or so that I’ve been blogging, I don’t think I ever hyped a union or encouraged anyone to unionize. In fact, in my lifetime, I’ve seen unions do roughly equal parts advocacy for, and betrayal of, their own causes and the dues paying members that sustain them.

That said, Unite Here Local 19 pulled off something very interesting yesterday in California. Menlo Park’s culture of hispanic exclusion is really pretty appalling. Something’s gotta give. Maybe a union is the solution. Maybe not. Unite Here Local 19 could be a big deal. The union’s newest members are 500 workers subcontracted to the cafeteria at the world headquarters of Facebook, Inc.

So many of the workers in Silicon Valley are Hispanic. So few actually work as employees of tech giants like Facebook.

The Sad Truth For Hispanics Workers At Facebook

Many tech giants don’t hire hispanics. They don’t interview hispanics. Every year, some of these companies release remarkable, transparent “diversity reports” showing — in the case of giants Google, Twitter, and Facebook, that hispanics makeup about 2% to 4% of their respective workforces. Promises are made to diversity organizations to do better. Those promises are kicked down the road until the next diversity report a few years down the road breaks them.

It’s a simple-enough formula that works for no one interested in solving a problem. Hispanics remain unicorns on Facebook’s actual workforce, but certainly amongst the workers at their headquarters in Menlo Park, California. Sam Biddle wrote on this dynamic in 2014:

It turns out, there’s not a diversity problem in technology’s heartland: the Googles and Facebooks are full of black and Latino workers. The problem is that they’re doing the jobs nobody wants, for peanuts.

So if you’re an employee of Flagship, the contractor who runs the cafeteria, the situation is shameful. Finally someone is covering the dynamic. Yesterday, Gizmodo reporter Alejandro Alva wrote what I hope will be a sharp, ongoing reporting series about underclass life in Silicon Valley.

Alejandro interviews a married couple who work in Facebook’s cafeteria. Then they go home to the Silicon Valley garage where they live with their three kids. The husband is Victor. The wife is Nicole.

MIT’s Living Wage Calculator estimates that Nicole and Victor each need to earn about $24 an hour to raise three kids in San Mateo County, where Facebook’s headquarters are located.

Geek culture in Silicon Valley has always had a coverage gap when it comes reporting stories like Gizmodo’s coverage of Nicole and Victor. Frankly, I hope other respected tech outlets will start covering their sector’s underclass, too. Here’s why —

Three Painful Ironies For Hispanics in Tech...

  1. Facebook’s Disrespected Power User: The first painful irony is that hispanics have always been the most-reliable and prolific users of social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, but at headquarters, are the help.

  2. California is Super Hispanic: For context — Facebook is headquartered in California, a state where hispanics are the largest ethnic group. Over 40% of the state is latino, more than any other group. Many work for the contractors running the cafeteria at Facebook and other Silicon Valley corporate facilities. Shockingly few hispanics, however, are employed by Facebook, Inc. Why?

  3. Tech’s Blind Hypocrisy: Nicole and Victor’s story in Gizmodo sucks from a corporate PR perspective, especially at Facebook. It makes entire swaths of messaging efforts about income inequality seem flimsy where it needn’t be. Here are three ways Facebook can make their messaging great again —

1. Raise Worker Wages

Per MIT’s math in the Gizmodo piece above, the Unite Here Local 19 in Menlo Park should open the negotiation with Facebook, Inc., with it’s first non-negotiable, a raise of $24 per hour for the 500 cafeteria workers at El Face ... as it’s known in Spanish. Facebook’s corporate team has never heard of El Face, tell them about MIT. Facebook employs many proud MIT grads and many proud MIT dropouts, too, as employees with full benefits. Nicole and Victor should have the MIT crowd at Facebook HQ in Menlo park by their garage for dinner, drinks, and/or Game of Thrones. Everyone watches Game of Thrones. Geeks and Grill Cooks. English and Spanish. Like the Internet, Game of Thrones is bigger than Silicon Valley’s diversity problem. Like the Internet, Game of Thrones can be part of the solution.

2. Guarantee Internet Access

Before Internet can be part of the solution, access must be guaranteed. Tech giants were central to declaring the Internet as a human right during Obama’s presidency. To avoid hypocrisy here, Facebook should make sure everyone of the 500 new members of Unite Here Local 19 who work in their cafeterias has Internet access at home and on the go. For Nicole and Victor, that means access in the garage they share with their three children. It also means smartphones with a data plan. If their smartphone breaks or is stolen, Facebook should replace it at Menlo Park.

3. Make Bilingual Great Again

Employees at Facebook’s Menlo Park HQ should take pride in being able to elevator pitch computer science education in Spanish. Every California geek at Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple, GoPro, Spotify, LinkedIn, Snapchat and so on, should take pride in being able to elevator pitch computer science in several languages — especially in Spanish, given California’s demographics. Facebook’s groundskeeping, housekeeping, maintenance, custodial services contractors that service their California facilities should be the first ones to know about (and benefit from) the latest company initiatives to evangelize computer programming to newbies in English and Spanish. Menlo Park should be a laboratory on the limitless potential of cafeteria worker life in America through the upward mobility of computer science education. Geek elites in Silicon Valley would benefit from a few more Latino friends. To wit — Make Menlo Park bilingual af.