Google is famous for its cafeterias, which serve everything from vegan poke to gourmet tacos to its legions of programmers and product managers for free.
However, the cooks and servers who prepare those meals are usually contractors who work for other companies and do not receive the generous perks and benefits that Google employees do. As a result, thousands of them have unionized in recent years, securing higher wages, retirement benefits, and free platinum health care coverage.
Since 2018, Unite Here, a 300,000-member union hotel and food service workers, has been working steadily to unionize Silicon Valley cafeteria workers, with the most success at Google. Those unionized are employed by the contract companies Compass and Guckenheimer and now account for approximately 90 percent of total food services workers at Google, according to the union. Workers at 23 Google offices around the country, including Seattle and San Jose, have joined the union.
The union is now expanding into new territory: the South. On Wednesday, Google employees in Atlanta who work for a different cafeteria company, Sodexo, presented their manager with a list of demands and announced their intention to unionize.
Unionizing workers outside of major coastal cities and in the South, where union membership is lowest and labor laws are generally weaker, may be more difficult. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 6% of workers in Georgia are unionized, compared to 18% in California and 24% in New York. Although inflation and housing prices have raised the cost of living across the country, prices in the South remain lower than in large coastal cities.
Sodexo and the union reached an agreement on Friday: If a majority of workers choose to unionize, Sodexo will not try to prevent it.
According to Jane Dollinger, a Sodexo spokeswoman, the company has many unionized workplaces across the country. “We believe there is a way forward through negotiations to address wage and benefit disparities.”
The average unionized Google cafeteria worker earns $24 per hour, pays little to no for health insurance, and has access to a pension plan. Workers at Sodexo-run Google cafeterias earn $15 an hour and pay premiums in the hundreds of dollars, according to Taylor.
According to the real estate platform Zillow, Atlanta housing prices have risen around 18 percent in the last year, though they remain lower than in New York or the San Francisco Bay area.
Contract companies employ tens of thousands of Google employees. Internally, they are referred to as “TVCs” — temporary, vendor, or contractors — and their ranks include cafeteria workers, content moderators, designers, programmers, and security guards. Other tech companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, have similar dynamics.
Tech companies have brought enormous wealth to the cities where they are headquartered, particularly the San Francisco Bay area. Housing prices have risen dramatically over the last decade, driving many people out and forcing security guards, cafeteria workers, and shuttle bus drivers to commute long distances to jobs that serve tech workers.
Other groups have also worked toward this goal. The Alphabet Workers Union was formed in 2021 by a group of full-time Google employees and TVCs to try to make wages and benefits more equitable between the two groups. The AWU is not an official union that has been certified by the government.
Silicon Valley Rising, a coalition of labor and worker advocacy organizations, also advocates for higher wages and more affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay area.
A tight labor market, rising inflation, and pandemic-related safety concerns among front-line workers prompted a surge in filings for workplace union elections this year. According to an analysis, tens of thousands more workers voted to join unions in the first half of this year than in the first six months of 2021. Workers at Chipotle, Trader Joe’s, and the recreation equipment maker REI have also voted to unionize for the first time, citing safety and wage concerns.
Since last year, more than 230 Starbucks locations have voted to unionize, sparking fierce opposition from the company, which was recently accused by the National Labor Relations Board of illegally withholding raises and benefits from union workers. In addition, the first Amazon warehouse and Apple Store voted to unionize this year.