by Michelle Chen
On Wednesday, scores of cafeteria workers marched outside Intel headquarters and disrupted Silicon Valley with a proletarian manifesto, calling for a union and “a Tech Economy that Works for Everyone.”
This innovation hub isn’t as modern as it looks. Beneath its hardware and software, the capital of the digital economy runs on human muscle. Facing retrograde labor conditions in local brick-and-mortar workplaces, advocates want to enact a law to keep the South Bay’s Big Tech from crushing its flesh-and-blood workforce.
Silicon Valley Rising (SVR), a grassroots coalition supported by Working Partnerships USA and local community and labor groups, has proposed a local ballot initiative that would, if implemented, bring thousands of low-wage workers opportunities for full-time, stable employment, particularly in low-wage service sectors like cafeteria, custodial, and security contractor jobs.
The “Opportunity to Work” measure would direct companies to give part-time workers an opportunity to work more hours before they hire new part-timers. This would, ideally, ensure that incumbent workers are prioritized in hiring for full-time positions, rather than falling into part-time gig work. With labor distributed evenly across a somewhat smaller but higher quality workforce, SVR argues that the measure would spur a virtuous cycle of improving overall job quality across the bottom of the tech-labor market.
Fast-food worker Sara Delete spoke at the launch of the initiative about the hardships that separate her from the lavish lifestyles of tech professionals: “Every week the number of hours I get changes, so I am never sure what my paycheck will be…. I am constantly worried about being able to provide for my son, cover my rent and pay the bills.”
The initiative, which requires about 19,000 petition signatures to get on November’s ballot, would impose a mild daily penalty on businesses that fail to comply (with exemptions for small firms and economic “hardship”). Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Matthew Mahood told The Mercury-Newsthe measure would “create a big obstacle to managing a flexible, part-time workforce.” But that’s the point: Representing the public’s growing disillusionment with the South Bay’s Brave New World, SVR wants tech firms to play by the same rules as other bosses.