Facebook drivers unionize
The drivers of a shuttle bus service for Facebook employees have voted to unionize. It comes as an increasing gulf emerges between high-earning tech workers in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the low-paid workers who provide services to them. Getty Images

Bus drivers who transport the staff of social networking giant Facebook voted to unionize Wednesday, citing concerns about a punishing schedule and low pay. The drivers, who are employed by Loop Transportation, a contractor for Facebook, voted 42-28 to join the Teamsters Local 853, according to the New York Times.

The drivers were angered in particular by the split-shift schedule that they are required to work, which requires part of their shift to be completed in the morning and part in the evening, with a few hours off in the middle of the day. The free time, however, they claim is not enough for drivers to either get another part-time job or commute back home. One driver told Business Insider that he in effect worked from 5:30 a.m. to 8:45 p.m., and slept in his bus between shifts.

A Teamsters representative told USA Today that he hoped the vote would be the first of many in Silicon Valley.

“I hope going forward this will set a trend with other drivers... and the tech industry so we can set a pattern to make the companies pay these drivers decent wages and benefits so they can live a decent life," Rome Aloise, international vice president and secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 853, said.

In addition to the split shifts, drivers are also hoping to secure higher pay and better health insurance.

According to reports, Facebook has repeatedly declined to comment on the issue. A report from tech blog ValleyWag suggests that while the company has not fought unionization in an overt fashion, it had sought to undermine union talking points, and even agreed to subsidize a pay increase for the drivers as the threat of unionization reared its head.

The vote highlights the vast gulf in the San Francisco Bay Area, between tech sector workers who earn huge salaries and the low-paid service workers who perform comparatively menial jobs for companies including Google, Apple and Facebook.

“A lot of my passengers are young enough to be my kids and are making a lot more than I do," Cliff Doi, a 55-year-old Facebook driver, told the Contra Costa Times. "I'm not saying I should be paid what they are, but a little bit higher wage that's more appropriate for this market where the cost of living is so high would help a lot."

Drivers quoted by USA Today said that they earned between $18 - $20 per hour, while a statement from Loop, cited by the paper, said that drivers earned between $17 - $25.

The influx of high-tech sector workers into the Bay Area has driven up the cost of renting accommodation, causing tensions to erupt in the past. In December 2013, a private shuttle bus operated by Google was attacked by protesters angered at tenants being displaced by well paid tech workers.