Unions Continue Their Organizing Success in Silicon Valley


Perkins Coie

In addition to championing greater employee and workplace protections via ballot measures and city ordinances in Santa Clara County, California, several unions have set their eyes on the employees of the private companies that provide services to Silicon Valley’s high-tech campuses. These include bus drivers, security guards and cafeteria and janitorial workers who provide contract services to Silicon Valley’s largest high-tech companies.

Recently, the Service Employees International Union announced that it had obtained the right to represent some 3,000 private security guards who are employed by those service providers but who work in and around the campuses of major high-tech companies. The Teamsters union already represents many of the drivers who operate the buses and shuttles that serve those companies.  

Although it is not unusual for a nonunion employer to obtain services from union-represented providers, the union activity in Silicon Valley presents a relatively unique situation where union-represented workers physically work inside the high-tech campuses and have daily interaction with the high-tech companies’ own employees. That gives union activists and organizers an inside track to organizing the employees of the high-tech companies themselves. It also gives rise to potential joint employer issues between the service provider and the companies they serve. 

If your service provider recently became unionized, it may make sense to update your understanding of how unions are currently organizing. Moreover, unions may attempt to capitalize on this momentum to organize service providers in other industries. 

If your company has a desire to remain union-free, you should consider a thoughtful and comprehensive union awareness and prevention plan. There are many things that you as an employer may lawfully do in advance of a union organizing campaign to make it less likely that employees will be interested in union representation. A thoughtful approach to this will also place you in a better position to respond to a campaign should one occur.

Many of the preventive steps you can take are only possible before there is any sign of union activity, such as updating personnel policies and supervisor trainings. An added benefit of union awareness and prevention plans is how they promote a healthy employer-employee relationship. 

What you should and should not do as an employer when responding to union activities is complex and, at least in some cases, totally counter-intuitive.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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