Last week we reported on the fact that Teamsters Local 853 and Loop Transportation had completed negotiations for a first collective bargaining agreement covering a unit of shuttle bus drivers who provide transport for employees of Facebook.  We pointed out that employers in technology, media and telecommunications were facing union organizing targeting employees of their vendors and suppliers for transportation, maintenance, food service and the like, that threatened to enmesh such employers as a consequence of unions gaining recognition of their vendors’ and suppliers’ employees. We also noted that with the NLRB’s expected broadening of its standards for finding joint-employer relationships to exist, that the risks were increasing that they would be held to be joint-employers of the suppliers’ personnel. 

Who Are the Employers Impacted and At Risk? 

Now, Silicon Beat, the “tech blog” of the San Jose Mercury News,  The Los Angeles Times, USA Today and other publications are all reporting  that while apparently not a direct party to the negotiations between Loop and the union, Facebook has now “approved” the collective bargaining agreement, which it had to do before the contract could go into effect.  In fact, Loop and Local 853 announced in their joint press release, that “The contract, which workers overwhelmingly voted to ratify went to Facebook for its agreement as Loop’s paying client before implementation.” Such economic realities are the type of consideration that the NLRB’s General Counsel has been urging the Board to look at in deciding whether a joint employer relationship exists

Is Silicon Valley Rising ? 

The Teamsters success with Loop and the Facebook drivers is not an isolated event.  Rather it is a part of an ongoing, well financed effort by a coalition of unions including the Teamsters  the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), The Communication Workers of America, UNITE-HERE, The South Bay Labor Council, the NAACP and other community organizations known as Silicon Valley Rising.  The group’s agenda is to address what it sees as a two tiered economic system in which, in its view, direct employees of the technology and media companies in the industry are paid well and receive good benefits, while those who support the industry as employees of contractors and suppliers are not. 

While time will tell whether the movement is successful in organizing and unionizing, the successes to date such as those with the Loop Transport drivers,  reports of well known companies taking formerly contracted services such as security in house, and large wage increases for unrepresented drivers at others, suggests that the campaign is having an impact already. 

What does This Mean For Employers? 

Targeted, industry specific organizing that brings together unions and community and advocacy groups are increasingly working to make their case on arguments of “income inequality” and the differences in pay and benefits for those who are benefiting from the economy and those who are not.  The treatment and status of those employed by contractors and vendors versus the companies who rely upon their services is one of the forces giving rise to the redefining of employer-employee relationships in general and joint employer standards in particular. 

As with the SEIU’s earlier Justice for Janitors and Stand For Security campaigns, a key tactic is likely to be the application of pressure on corporations that rely on contractors to provide essential services will be to target and pressure the user to have its contractors increase pay, benefits and working conditions and, perhaps more importantly, not to resist union organizing among the contractors’ employees. 

As a first step, it is critical that employers be aware of and consider these forces in structuring business relationships and deciding which services to perform in-house and which to contract out.  How agreements with contractors are structured and implemented will also remain critical: 

  • Are contracts likely to result in findings of joint employer status?
  • Who will direct and control the performance of the contracted for services?
  • What degree of control or influence will the ultimate client exercise when a union organizes or represents the contractors’ employees?