Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Silicon Valley buses...and the Teamsters

Louis Gray wrote a post about his health - and yes, the post was tech related. Not only did Gray discuss two tools that he uses to measure various aspects of his health, but he also discusses one of the reasons that he' doing more walking than driving.

But even as I've been on something of a Fitbit kick since early 2012, I've reached even higher highs in the last month-plus, and increased my daily goal to 15,000 steps (from 12,000), thanks to one simple change - opting to leave my car at home each workday and benefit from one of Google's most visible perks, taking the company shuttle.

Rather than walking to his garage or driveway, getting in a car, and driving off to work, Gray now walks to a bus stop. The bus stop is not in front of his house. Hence, better health.

It is important to note that Gray does not live in the city of San Francisco - he lives out in San Mateo County or Santa Clara County or somewhere out that way.

Why is this important?

Because when people mention words such as "Google bus" - especially in connection with the city of San Francisco - a class war is in danger of erupting. For example, if you perform a (Google) search for "Google bus," this article from a few months ago appears near the top.

Tech industry shuttles have become a symbol of economic inequality and gentrification in San Francisco, sparking a variety of protests since late last year. Now, activists are trying to hold city leaders accountable for letting those shuttles use public bus stops, and allowing them to operate without regard for their environmental impact on the city and its residents. A coalition of activist groups is suing the city, county, board of supervisors, the local transit agency, the shuttle companies, and Mayor Ed Lee himself, for creating a pilot program that charges bus companies just $1 per stop and granting it a special exemption from California's environmental review law.

To be fair, not all activists are anti-Google; Mother Jones praises the environmental features of the buses. But there continues to be concern about the whole thing in some circles - especially since the bus drivers are not Google employees, and often have to sit around, unpaid, waiting to pick up the next set of commuters.

However, it is also important to note that Google is not the only company that sponsors employee shuttles. Facebook has its own set of shuttles, and, like Google, Facebook contracts with a third party to provide the shuttle service.

Enter the Teamsters Union:

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:

Please be advised that I am writing on behalf of a majority of the bus drivers who pick up Facebook employees from San Francisco, Palo Alto, and a number of other destinations, and deliver them to the Facebook campus. This is the second time that they have come to Teamsters Local 853 seeking representation in order to improve their livelihoods for themselves and their families.

And yes, there's a little bit of class warfare talk here also.

This is reminiscent of a time when noblemen were driven around in their coaches by their servants. Frankly, little has changed; except the noblemen are your employees, and the servants are the bus drivers who carry them back and forth each day.

Now I don't know how comfortable the "occupy" folks will be in aligning with the Teamsters - the Teamsters just want the bus drivers to get better pay, while the occupiers want the buses to stop altogether - well, except for their own buses.

However, the Teamsters are clearly poised to take action. Take Walmart, admittedly not a friend of unions. A Southern California Teamsters local is boycotting Walmart, and I have a relative whose family does the same. While I may not agree with this relative's stand, I certainly respect him for putting (or not putting) his money where his mouth is. From the Teamsters perspective, it makes perfect sense to boycott Walmart, or any retailer that does not use union truckers.

But will my relative eventually be asked to participate in a boycott of Facebook?
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