• Shuttle drivers for Google, Apple, Facebook and more are being paid to stay home, but as contractors don’t get a direct line to these tech companies, they’re now relying on their employers and unions to fight for their wages.
  • ‘Sometimes we don’t get a straight answer from our company’: Drivers are worried that payments might stop if they’re made to work from home into May and beyond.
  • Tesla has flat-out refused to pay for its contracted drivers. For smaller tech companies, the future is even less certain.
  • Are you a contract worker for a tech company? Contact this reporter using encrypted messaging app Signal (+1 628-228-1836) or email (hlangley@businessinsider.com).
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

When Silicon Valley’s army of techies work from home, so must the bus drivers who ferry them to their offices each day. But unlike the employees they transport, these drivers face a bumpy and uncertain road ahead.

In more normal times the famous, and controversial, tech shuttles – a common sighting on the roads of the San Francisco Bay Area – play a vital role in keeping the Silicon Valley machine whirring. According to the most recent data from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, there are just over 1,000 shuttle buses criss-crossing the Bay Area every day.

But right now the shuttles are nowhere to be seen. Instead they sit idly in depots and will likely do so for weeks, if not months, to come. As for the people who usually drive them, the future is a big unknown.

Tech companies usually contract their drivers through companies such as WeDriveU and Hallcon – two popular bus services in the San Francisco Bay Area. As of right now, most of the tech companies have agreed to cover 100% of the compensation these drivers would normally be making through April. Tesla is the notable exception, having flat-out refused to cover any drivers’ compensation.

But after April, things become less clear, and drivers say the anxiety is compounded by the fact they don’t have a direct line to the tech companies they drive for. Instead, they have to wait and hope their contractors can negotiate a continued income while they’re made to stay home.

“We all know these tech companies have money to pay us if they want to, but who knows how long this will last?” said one driver who regularly ferries Facebook employees to its Menlo Park, Calif. campus, and asked not to be identified. 

“Sometimes we don’t get a straight answer from our company because it seems they are at the will of Facebook’s needs and wants. Any issues we have, we try to bring up with the union.”

Teamsters Union represents many tech shuttle drivers in the Bay Area including Apple, Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook. Google is the only major exception. The union says that the average wage for a tech company shuttle driver in the Bay Area is $30 an hour, and in many cases a smaller percentage is also paid for the hours in the day between commutes when drivers aren’t on the road. This amount is still being covered during the pandemic, but the union says it’s a detail that must be negotiated as the weeks go on and isn’t guaranteed.

“The company we’ve had the most trouble with is Apple,” Stacy Murphy, business representative for the Teamsters 853 division, told Business Insider. The union says that Apple, which contracts its drivers in the Bay Area through Hallcon, agreed to pay drivers but was much slower than other companies to iron out the details, leading some of ther drivers to file for unemployment in the meantime for fear their wages wouldn’t be covered. The union says that last Friday Apple agreed to expedite payments for the time drivers had spent at home so far, and that it had agreed to pay drivers through at least May 4.

“We’re working with all of our suppliers to ensure hourly workers such as janitorial staff are being paid during this difficult time,” an Apple spokesperson told Business Insider.

Google has agreed to pay its contracted workforce, including drivers, and will continue to do so through April, it told Business Insider. Meanwhile Amazon said its drivers will be paid for as long as they are made to work from home. “We continue to pay all hourly employees that support our offices around the world – from administrative functions to shuttle bus drivers to janitorial staff – during the time our employees who are able to work from home do so,” said a spokesperson.

“The outlook is very sad”

As the biggest tech companies have continued to expand, so has their desire to use contractors and vendors. But these workers don’t enjoy the same benefits and privileges of full-time employees. The bus drivers of Silicon Valley have spent more time in the spotlight than most tech contract workers, notably in 2013 and 2014 when they were the subject of protests against the continued gentrification of the San Francisco Bay Area. As a result, the city brought in more regulation of the shuttles.

google bus protest




Flickr/cjmartin



But this pandemic poses a much greater threat to job security, and if it keeps people working from home for much longer, drivers are concerned that they may lose their jobs. As a result they’re relying on the unions to keep fighting for them.

“I’ve wondered about my subcontracting company that works with Google,” said one driver for Google who also spoke to Business Insider on the condition of anonymity. For these drivers, it’s imperative that tech companies keep paying them – if the tech companies decided to stop paying, the bus companies that employ them are unlikely to cough up.

“They have offered nothing to their drivers,” the Google driver said of his subcontracting company.

Some of the WeDriveU shuttle drivers said they were being given safety and procedural online training courses to complete at home, with deadlines, assigned by the company. Some higher-ranking employees such as supervisors are also still being paid to “get the basics in operation” ready for work to resume after the pandemic, as one described.

“The outlook is very sad,” said one driver who usually runs the Apple campus route to Cupertino. “We are getting training courses online, and I am getting to spend more time with my kids. But they are getting bored … I can only hope for the best.”

These drivers are relying on Silicon Valley to keep supporting them. As soon as it stops, they will have to look for work elsewhere, or file for unemployment.

“The future feels unpredictable, but for now my feet are flat on the ground,” said another driver who usually transports Google employees on their 80-minute drive to the Mountain View campus in Calfornia. “It’s a strange adjustment.”

More concerning still are the smaller tech companies, which unions are worried may not pay beyond the middle of April, potentially leaving many drivers unemployed.

“Every day something changes,” said Teamsters’ Stacy Murphy. “We know the money’s there but we’re not taking it for granted. We’re appreciative of any client that has stepped up.”

Are you a contract worker for a tech company? Contact this reporter using encrypted messaging app Signal (+1 628-228-1836) or email (hlangley@businessinsider.com).

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