The Other Tech Workers

David Huerta, SEIU United Service Workers West

Portrait of David Huerta, by Gretchen Röehrs David Huerta, by Gretchen Röehrs

Tech workers aren’t just engineers and designers—they’re also the security guards, shuttle drivers, janitors, and cafeteria staff who work on office campuses across Silicon Valley. These workers are typically hired by contractors, rather than the tech companies themselves. They are overwhelmingly people of color, and many are immigrants. Despite working in one of the world’s most profitable industries, they earn very low wages: one in three fall below two hundred percent of the federal poverty level, which was $24,300 for 2016.

We spoke to David Huerta, the president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) United Service Workers West, about the new threats these workers face under Trump, and how they’re organizing to fight back. SEIU United Service Workers West is a statewide local of SEIU, the second-biggest union in the United States, and has been organizing tech service workers across Silicon Valley along with other unions such as UNITE HERE and the Teamsters. David told us about the potential for solidarity between blue-collar and white-collar tech workers, and why he’s optimistic that resistance to Trump will spark a movement that will unite the two groups.

Tell me about SEIU United Service Workers West and who you represent in the tech industry.

We’re a statewide organization stretching from Sacramento to San Diego, active in all the metropolitan areas of California. And we represent 45,000 workers total.

In the tech industry, we have about 5,000 janitors working on tech campuses, and we recently won recognition for about 3,000 security officers. So between those two groups, we’ll represent some 8,000 tech service workers by the end of the year.

What are your workers most concerned about when it comes to the Trump Administration? What’s the biggest immediate danger?

The biggest threat is what he’s going to do to undermine labor standards for working people. That fear is shared by both our janitors and our security officers.

So-called “right-to-work” laws are a threat to all working families. The laws destroy unions and lower standards for everyone. In right-to work states, the average working family makes 12.5% less and is less likely to have health coverage than in non-right-to- work states.

Closely related is the danger he represents to immigrants. And that impacts not only our workers, but their families, their extended families, and their communities. Immigrants across Silicon Valley are living in fear that federal agents may break down their doors and separate parents from children and break up families.

On the other hand, Trump has sparked something in people. It’s often coming from a place of fear and a place of frustration. But people are starting to question what’s happening. You're seeing it in the street. You're seeing it in the conversations that folks are having. It’s a moment where people are defining who they are and what they stand for.

For instance, you’re seeing tech workers coming together with security officers and janitors to resist this Administration. I think that's been the biggest unintended impact of Trump—and I think it's the biggest opportunity.

Do you think there’s potential for solidarity and coordination on anti-Trump organizing by white-collar tech workers like engineers and blue-collar tech workers like janitors?

Absolutely. Because this Administration’s agenda is creating an intersection of shared interests that has the ability to spark movements. Before, you would see agitation and activism being siloed to specific groups. Now, people feel attacked across class and across race. And that’s creating a common interest that we haven’t experienced in the past.

What’s happening right now in Silicon Valley between tech workers and service workers is a great example of that intersection. It serves as an example of what’s possible. What’s going to be challenging is how to continue the momentum, and expand it to other parts of the country.


This has been a free excerpt from Tech Against Trump, a new book by Logic chronicling the rising tide of anti-Trump resistance by tech workers and technologists.

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