|More than 100 union supporters gathered next to Google's headquarters last Thursday evening to demand that the Internet giant address efforts to organize a union at the company's proposed hotel.
Late last year Google received exclusive rights to negotiate with the city for a planned 200-room hotel with a 30,000-square-foot conference center. As part of the agreement, the city would allow use of nine acres of its "Charleston East" site, while Google would build the hotel and hire an operator.
In anticipation of the deal going through, the local chapter of UNITE HERE, a hotel service workers' union, wants Google to enter negotiations for a "labor peace agreement," and held a rally Thursday to get the company's attention. City manager Kevin Duggan says the union issue is part of ongoing discussions with Google.
At the rally, local activist group Raging Grannies sang "High ho, high ho, we workers need more dough," and union supporters held signs reading "Google + service workers rights = no matches found."
Hotel workers also talked about having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. According to UNITE HERE, non-union hotel workers in the south bay average $7 to $8 per hour, without health benefits. By contrast, union workers in Local 19 make $11 per hour, with health benefits, and wages are expected to increase this year.
The issue hit close to home for Stanford students Theresa Zhen and PaHua Cha, whose mothers were both hotel housekeepers.
"I can't help but think of my mom," Cha said. The mentality of "'Better them than us' is not going to get anyone anywhere," she said.
Sandy Perry, outreach minister for First Christian Church in San Jose, said situations of such low pay were a shame in Silicon Valley, a place with "all this wealth, and these multi-billion dollar companies."
"We've all heard the buzz about how well Google treats its employees," said Enrique Fernandez, UNITE HERE business manager, in a press release. "We want Google to treat these future dishwashers, housekeepers and banquet servers with as much fairness as computer programmers. We remain hopeful that Google will live up to its reputation."
A Google employee at the rally who wished to remain anonymous said he couldn't imagine Google standing in the way of the union's efforts to organize. He said the hotel was of particular interest to Google employees, many of whom asked Google executives to talk about the project at a recent forum. At the forum it was the second most popular topic, after Microsoft's bid to acquire Yahoo, he said.
But that interest does not seem to extend to service workers, according to UNITE HERE organizer Owen Li. The rally, Li said, "is the result of not getting anywhere with Google when we tried to meet with them."
Union supporters tried to meet with Google in November "but were denied a meeting and eventually escorted off campus by company security," Li said. Google has pushed back scheduled meetings with the union several times, he said.
The Voice sent Google an e-mail containing several questions on the issue, and received this response from Google spokesperson Andrew Pedersen: "We fully support any group's exercise of their First Amendment right to make their views known. We will discuss labor issues when and if we reach agreement with the city of Mountain View to develop any property."
"If they were to guarantee that workers would be able to choose representation without any fear of intimidation, then we would agree not to picket the opening of the hotel or take any other kind of economic action," Li said.
As to the labor agreement the union is demanding, "The primary purpose of the agreement is to allow a fair process for workers to decide whether they want representation while their employer agrees to remain neutral," Li said. "The first contract would happen through a neutral arbitrator which both parties would agree on. I think the neutral arbitrator would look at a variety of factors to determine what a fair contract looks like. They would have the power to tell Google and the union what the contract would be. It would bind the hotel and the union for several years. There would be no labor disputes."
"We're always hopeful they will meet with us," Li added. "Right now we have no idea when."
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