Union pushes for better conditions for security guards on Apple campus
By Julia Love
POSTED: 11/26/2014 06:23:06 AM PST5 COMMENTS| UPDATED: ABOUT 2 HOURS AGO
An unidentified security guard stands guard in front of a structure being built by Apple across from the Flint Center on the De Anza College campus in Cupertino, Calif., before the introduction of the Apple Watch on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group) (Gary Reyes)
As organized labor expands its efforts in Silicon Valley, a local union and civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson are pushing for better working conditions for the security guards who work at Apple's campus.
United Service Workers West, a regional arm of the Service Employees International Union, hopes to unionize security guards who work on Apple's campus, and in the short term is asking Apple to use a different security contractor. The campaign comes amid a growing debate about the valley's sweeping use of contract workers, who do everything from driving shuttle buses to cooking in the cafeteria. But as the tech workers they serve are showered with eye-popping perks, service workers often struggle to make ends meet in the pricey Bay Area, advocates say.
Though it hopes to unionize security guards across the valley, United Service Workers West has sharpened its focus on Apple, whose actions the group believes could set a standard for other tech companies to follow. Although unions must ultimately negotiate with contractors, clients such as Apple set the tone, said Samuel Kehinde, a former security guard who is now vice president of United Service Workers West.
"Apple can be the leader," he said. "They can decide how life should be for this class of workers in the valley."
Jackson, whose Rainbow PUSH Coalition helped prompt Apple and other tech companies to share diversity statistics earlier this year, wrote a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook this month raising concerns about how the company's security guards are treated by the contractor, Security Industry Specialists.
Applauding Cook's leadership on issues like the environment and gay rights, Jackson urged him to take a stand for service workers.
"Part of the narrative of their firm is equitable and first-class leadership," Jackson said in an interview. "As they grow at such a rapid pace, they should have world-class working conditions for their workers from the bottom up."
Jackson requested a meeting to discuss the issue with Cook but said he has yet to hear back from Apple.
Organized labor notched an important win in the valley last week as Facebook's shuttle bus drivers, who work for Loop Transportation, voted to join the Teamsters union. Google also made waves in October by announcing that it will create an in-house force of security guards who will be eligible for the same benefits as other Googlers, ending its relationship with SIS after the transition. Kehinde hopes Apple is taking note.
"We are very happy for those officers," he said. "Life will be better for them."
Kehinde said bidding is underway for Apple's security contract. He and Jackson are specifically pushing Apple to move away from SIS, which they say has a poor record of treating workers.
Apple and SIS did not respond to requests for comment. SIS says on its website that it has been the target of a "vicious" campaign by the union. SIS co-President and CFO Tom Seltz wrote in a piece published by the Silicon Valley Business Journal last year that the company pays security guards working in Silicon Valley an average of $19.77 per hour plus benefits, well above the state average.
Alfredo Fletes, a senior communications specialist at United Service Workers West, said the union is still concerned about Apple security guards' ability to get by, given the Bay Area's soaring cost of living. In addition, a survey of SIS's job postings in Silicon Valley last year indicated that a large share of the positions are part-time, Fletes said.
"Even if [SIS] does pay above-average wages, we worry that the instability of the hours and the high turnover rate is really impeding workers from obtaining a better way of life," he said.
Security guard Michael Johnson, who said he makes less than $20 an hour as a supervisor on another tech company's campus, says he is getting squeezed out of the Bay Area. No longer able to afford his own apartment, the 52-year-old San Jose resident rents a room from a friend and tries to help his two sons through college. He carefully plans his meals to take advantage of fast-food specials, eating at Popeyes each Tuesday, when he can get two pieces of chicken for less than $2.
"They see me walk in the door and they automatically take my order," he said, chuckling. "Little tricks like that -- you learn those things."
Johnson works for contractor Universal Protection Service, monitoring the San Jose campus of a technology company that he declined to name, fearing professional repercussions. He insisted that security guards deserve to share in the wealth coursing through the valley.
"We're the first responders in any emergency -- fire, flood or blood," he said. "When their employees want to work late we escort them to their car. We protect their intellectual property. We protect all their assets."
By Mikey Campbell
Tuesday, November 25, 2014, 05:29 pm PT (08:29 pm ET)
An effort to unionize security guards across Silicon Valley has set its sights on Apple, pushing the tech trendsetter to stand up for contract laborers in hopes of catalyzing interest from other companies in the area.
In its fight to unionize Silicon Valley contract workers, a regional division of Service Employees International Union called United Service Workers West is asking Apple to support an initiative seeking better treatment of security guards, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
Apple's campus is currently staffed by a security guard force supplied by contractor Security Industry Specialists, which supposedly treats their employees poorly, according to the SEIU-USWW. Chief among the union's concerns is pay, as these workers have to deal with quickly rising cost of living in and around San Francisco.
"Apple can be the leader," said Samuel Kehinde, vice president of United Service Workers West. "They can decide how life should be for this class of workers in the valley."
Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson lent his voice to the movement in a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook last month, asking the company to take a closer look at SIS operations. Jackson asked for a meeting with Cook to discuss the issue, but has yet to receive a reply, the report said.
"Part of the narrative of their firm is equitable and first-class leadership," Jackson said. "As they grow at such a rapid pace, they should have world-class working conditions for their workers from the bottom up."
For its part, SIS CFO Tom Seltz last year claimed Silicon Valley security guards contracted by his company made an average of $19.77 per hour, not including benefits. While higher than the state average, advocates and unions argue SIS salaries are not enough to account for ballooning living expenses seen in the Bay Area.
The push for unionization is linked to a wider issue concerning a supposed gentrification of the Bay Area, where longtime residents are being displaced by an influx of affluent tech industry workers.
Employees holding skill positions at tech companies like Apple are widely considered to garner lopsided salaries compared to contract workers who perform menial duties, such as security guards. Economic discord has manifested in outrage famously directed at tech company shuttle buses that ferry passengers from their homes in San Francisco to jobs outside the city. The shuttles, which make stops at city bus stops, have become a symbol for activists' struggle for normalization.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson has written to Apple CEO Tim Cook to urge the company to create “world-class working conditions” for low-paid contractors like security guards, requesting a meeting with Cook to discuss the issue, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
The paper reports a growing debate about the widespread use of contract workers by tech companies for low-paid roles, contract staff having none of the protections or perks afforded to direct employees …
The contrast with often highly-paid tech employees is, says the paper, stark.
Contract workers […] do everything from driving shuttle buses to cooking in the cafeteria. But as the tech workers they serve are showered with eye-popping perks, service workers often struggle to make ends meet in the pricey Bay Area, advocates say.
Rev. Jackson has expressed concerns about the way in which Apple’s security guards are treated by contractors Security Industry Specialists. While SIS pays above-average wages for the work, guards say that unstable hours and high staff turnover make for a poor working environment.
Jackson praised Apple’s leadership on issues like gay rights and the environment, and said that ensuring equitable treatment of service workers was another issue where the company could set a high standard.
Part of the narrative of their firm is equitable and first-class leadership. As they grow at such a rapid pace, they should have world-class working conditions for their workers from the bottom up.
Google, which previously used the same contractors for its security guards, last month announced that it will in future employ its guards directly, giving them the same benefits as other Google employees.
Tim Cook tweeted earlier this month that Apple had achieved a 100% score on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index for the 13th year in a row. Apple issues an annual Supplier Responsibility Progress Report on working conditions among its supply-chain partners, but this focuses on contractors outside the US.
USWW looks to unionize guards at Cupertino campus
With the backing of activist Rev. Jesse Jackson, United Service Workers West is hoping to unionize the security guards working at Apple's Cupertino headquarters, and in the short term is urging the company to use a different security contractor, says the San Jose Mercury News. USWW is ultimately aiming to unionize guards across Silicon Valley, but beginning with Apple in the belief that it could set a standard for other tech companies. While the union would likely stand to benefit from dues, it notes that service workers in the Bay Area are often just scraping by financially, since the cost of living has been inflated by the salaries of high-tech workers.
Jackson is said to have written a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook earlier this month, raising the issue of how the company's security guards are treated by contractor Security Industry Specialists. He also asked for a meeting with Cook, but says he has yet to hear back from Apple.
USWW vice president Samuel Kehinde says that bidding is underway for Apple's security contract, hence the current move to get Apple to switch to a new firm. SIS has defended itself by claiming that it's the target of a "vicious" campaign by the union, and arguing that it pays Silicon Valley guards an average of $19.77 per hour plus benefits, well over state average. The USWW says this may still not be enough, and that many of the jobs SIS offers are part-time. "Even if [SIS] does pay above-average wages, we worry that the instability of the hours and the high turnover rate is really impeding workers from obtaining a better way of life," says a senior communications specialist at USWW, Alfredo Fletes.