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Food Service Workers at Airbnb Have Unionized

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Workers in the tech industry are often split into two categories—the engineers who create a company’s products, and the staff of cafeteria workers, shuttle drivers, and security guards who help keep tech campuses running. Members of the latter group are often categorized as contractors rather than employees and miss out on the cushy salaries and benefits doled out to their coworkers.

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That’s led to a wave of unionization in Silicon Valley over the last several years. Today, 150 workers who staff the cafeterias at Airbnb’s offices in San Francisco and Portland are the latest to join a union, ratifying their first contract with the United Automobile Workers (UAW).

Like other food service workers in the tech industry, Airbnb’s cafe staff is employed by a contract company, Bon Appetit. Yahoo’s food service workers, who are also employed through Bon Appetit, voted to unionize in December, and Facebook’s cafeteria workers unionized last summer.

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Workers at Airbnb pushed for higher wages and more substantial benefits, UAW said in a statement.

“The contract raises the bar for working people up and down the West Coast,” said UAW Western regional director Gary Jones. “We believe the dishwashers, servers and chefs working for Bon Appetit and serving Airbnb employees are now among the highest paid food service workers in California.” Their contract will guarantee a five percent wage increase this year, UAW said.

Airbnb said it supported the union push by asking Bon Appetit to remain neutral on whether its employees unionized. The startup is also working to guarantee living wages for contractors who are hired to clean Airbnb units.

“Every worker should be treated with dignity and justice,” Airbnb’s head of policy Chris Lehane said in a statement. “We want our platform to be a force for economic equality, including partnering with union-friendly contractors at our headquarters in San Francisco and working with our host community to pledge a living wage for cleaning services on our platform. Airbnb has great respect for the labor movement and we are glad to have UAW represent workers who provide services to our employees.”

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Kate Conger is a senior reporter at Gizmodo.

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DISCUSSION

Great! They deserve dignity, respect, and a living wage. But was that the message of this article?

“Members of the latter group are often categorized as contractors rather than employees and miss out on the cushy salaries and benefits doled out to their coworkers.”

This line seems to suggest that they DESERVE the same “cushy” salaries and benefits of their co-workers. This is absurd. Their coworkers are highly skilled software engineers who are the best in the world at what they do. They are highly sought after with dozens of other tech companies trying to lure them away every single day. The work they do is critical to the success of the company as it is the core of the product. The food service workers on the other hand are low skilled, not in high demand, and easily replaceable. Is this a free rider issue? Should those low skilled workers get high salaries and top benefits just because they happen to work at a world class tech company and the engineers get those benefits? Is there any particular reason they should expect pay and benefits any higher that the person down the street working at McDonalds doing the same work?