The vote marks a rare victory for dozens of Silicon Valley service workers who have missed out on a boom that has brought dramatic wealth to most tech workers.
SAN FRANCISCO — Bus drivers for major companies like Yahoo, Genentech and eBay approved a three-year contract Sunday that gives them higher pay, better benefits and, for the first time, paid holidays, a milestone for some workers who until recently were struggling financially or homeless.
The vote marks a rare victory for dozens of Silicon Valley service workers who have missed out on a boom that has brought dramatic wealth to most tech workers. As the Bay Area transforms into a region increasingly only the rich can afford, with rental prices far outpacing inflation, blue-collar workers have struggled to make ends meet, moving as far away as Stockton or deciding, as in the case of some bus drivers, to live in their vehicles.
The vote is also good news for hundreds of tech workers who use the buses to get to work. If the drivers had not voted in favor of the new contract Sunday, they would have gone on strike.
The increased wages for drivers means the ratification of a new pay scale that ramped up the hourly pay of Tracy Kelley, a bus driver who hauls Yahoo employees from San Francisco to Sunnyvale. His pay rose from $18 an hour to $25 an hour plus a bonus for working both a morning and evening shift.
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“It’s been an overall improvement in the lives of the drivers,’‘ said Kelley, who served on the union’s negotiations committee.
The vote Sunday, approved by 89 out of 94 drivers at a union meeting in San Leandro, caps three months of negotiation between vendor Compass Transportation and 180 drivers organized under the Teamsters. It also comes after a Chronicle investigation found that drivers under Compass Transportation were struggling to find affordable places to live. The story reported on the plight of Scott Peebles, who decided in August to move into his 1997 Dodge Caravan because he couldn’t find housing in San Jose, where one-bedroom apartments went for an average of $2,186 a month in the second quarter of this year, according to research firm Real Answers.
Peebles, who transports Apple employees, said he was thrilled that he and his fellow drivers have voted in favor of the contract.
“This is a big step,’‘ Peebles said, after cheers erupted in the room when voting results were announced.
Under the contract, drivers will get paid holidays — a significant safety net. In the past, when Apple went on break for Thanksgiving or Christmas, drivers like Peebles didn’t get paid.
Apple was the first company to raise salaries of bus drivers after they joined the Teamsters earlier this year. After The Chronicle detailed the lives of homeless and financially struggling bus drivers, several other companies, including Genentech, Yahoo, eBay and PayPal also agreed to higher salaries. In some cases, the raises were as much as $9.50 an hour.
The new contract essentially locks those pay raises in place. The contract will begin on Monday, and runs through Oct. 23, 2018. Drivers will get overtime pay, grievance and arbitration procedure and improved health care benefits. Under Compass’ Value Plan for healthcare, Compass would pay for 90 percent of the cost or 70 percent for employees with dependents on their plan. In the past, Compass used to pay just 35 percent of the health care costs for employees that had their whole family on the plan, the Teamsters said.
Drivers would also be able to sign up for a health care plan through Kaiser Permanente.
Rome Aloise, Teamsters international vice president, told a group of Compass bus drivers on Sunday that they should be proud of the contract and said the Teamsters will be encouraging other tech bus drivers to unionize.
“The extraordinary money we got here was life changing,’‘ Aloise said. “You have changed the face of this industry and that’s the important thing about what you’ve done.’‘
Experts believe the contract indicates large gains for the labor movement, especially for service workers in the tech industry.
The contract will be “attractive to other employees who don’t enjoy union representation now,’‘ said Bill Gould, a Stanford University law professor and a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board.
Shuttle drivers that transport Facebook employees approved their contract with Loop Transportation in February, and warehouse and shipping workers for Google Express employed by vendor Adecco voted to join the Teamsters in August. Part of that push could be due to greater focus on the pay inequality and compensation between engineers and the service workers that work for large tech companies, experts said.
In the case of Compass, the drivers benefited from the threat of a strike and the relationship between Compass and the tech companies, Gould said.
“Those (tech) companies didn’t want a strike and didn’t want some of the bad publicity that would inevitably be there,’‘ Gould said.
Compass did not immediately return a request for comment.