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Workers form union at Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company

Restaurant workers at self-driving company Waymo form a union, the latest push for support workers to organize at Silicon Valley’s top companies.

Cafeteria workers at the Mountain View-based company cite the Bay Area’s high cost of living and lack of solid benefits while working for one of the world’s most valuable companies. Waymo is owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet.

The workers are employed by Sodexo, which contracts out services for Google and other companies. Organizers say they have a majority of union cards signed by the bargaining unit of about two dozen people.

“We want a voice at the table to have a role in saying how things should work,” said Fernanda Martir, 28, a single mother who works in the kitchen and also serves as a barista in the business. “We want better treatment and benefits.”

Martir currently lives in a mobile home with his mother and son. She said she struggled to cover her family’s expenses: car and phone payments, her son’s daycare and rent.

She would like to afford her own house one day. His interest in unions was informed by Hasan Piker, a left-leaning Twitch streamer and political commentator who has a large following on sites like YouTube and Twitter.

Workers say the $24 an hour they earn from the company isn’t enough to make a decent living in the Bay Area. They also cite the prohibitive cost of the company’s health plan, which has a $5,000 deductible. The living wage in the San Jose-Sunnyvale area is $27.74 for a single adult and $52.74 for a single adult with one child, according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator.

“We are all motivated and we all love to work,” said Cristalyn Barragan, 26, another worker at the settlement. “We just have to push our family through.”

On Friday, a Sodexo employee, Cristalyn Barragan, during a demonstration outside the headquarters of Waymo.unite here

Sodexo, a listed multinational company based in France, said its representatives are in “conversation with the union and are on the verge of what we think is a way forward”.

“Sodexo respects the right of our employees to unionize or not, proven by hundreds of [Collective bargaining agreement’s] we are in good standing with unions across the country,” the company said in a statement. “We are confident that this one will also reach an amicable agreement very soon for the workers, the union and our client. “

The company declined to say definitively whether it would voluntarily recognize the union.

If he does not do so voluntarily, workers will file an election petition with the NLRB.

The the workers are among the ranks of Silicon Valley contractors who support and complement the work of tech companies. Labor campaigns have crisscrossed the industry as tech company profits — and the cost of living in the Bay Area — have risen sharply in recent years.

At Google, more than 4,000 of those workers have joined unions since 2018, including 2,300 cafeteria workers at its headquarters and satellite offices in the Bay Area in 2019, according to Unite Here. Others work in dozens of other Google offices across the country.

“[Workers] see all the money around technology,” said D. Taylor, president of Unite Here. “And that’s great. But they want to have a piece of the American dream.”

Waymo said other suppliers it worked with were unionized, but declined to provide details or comment on the Sodexo campaign.

“We are pleased with the quality of service they provide at our California locations,” spokeswoman Katherine Barna said in a statement. “We respect everyone’s right to organize as they see fit.”

Elsewhere, contract service workers at companies like Facebook, Apple and Yahoo have won high-profile union campaigns in recent years.

These trade union campaigns have has also helped inform a growing activist base within tech companies themselves, as tech white-collar workers have have increasingly demanded more influence in their workplaces, including at Google, where the Alphabet Workers Union formed in 2021 as an outlet for employees.

Nationally, union organizing activity has increased over the past year, with petitions for union representation increasing by 53% between October 2021 and October 2022, according to federal statistics from the National Labor Relations Council.

Jocelyn Arevalos, 33, who works in restaurants at Google, came forward to support a few Sodexo workers protesting outside Waymo on Friday. His team unionized in 2020, and some of them attended meetings with Waymo workers to show them the ropes of organizing and talk about the union.

Arevalos said his wages increased by $6 an hour after the union negotiated his first contract with contractor Compass, allowing him to quit a second job. She and her colleagues also got better health care coverage that allowed them to add their families to their plans for free, as well as other benefits like extra sick days and paid vacations.

“We got better paid and got our voices back,” she said.

Compass and Google did not respond to immediate requests for comment.

Martir, speaking to an NBC News reporter outside Waymo headquarters, said she had come to see unions as a potential response to disparities in the country. She nodded to her car, a small SUV, saying she bought it thinking that if she ever got kicked out, it would be big enough to live in temporarily.

“We look at people like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, there’s just raw accumulation of wealth,” Martir said. “We only get these because other people are being exploited. And I’m one of those people.