About 250 unionized janitors from Meta Platforms Inc.’s buildings in the Bay Area went on strike this week, imploring the parent company of Facebook and Instagram to “honor the commitment they made to their working people” and urging their direct employer to bargain in good faith.
They picketed Friday in front of the Meta
buildings in Burlingame, Calif., protesting layoffs and what they say are unfair labor practices by their direct employer, SBM Management Services — including allegedly bringing in non-union temporary workers to clean Meta’s buildings. They have also been picketing at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., and offices in San Francisco this week.
Meta uses vendors to employ janitors, security guards and other service workers. SBM took over as Meta’s janitorial vendor this summer, and last month laid off about 40% of the workforce. The previous vendor had employed 368 janitors.
The layoffs have increased workloads and resulted in changes in work shifts and conditions for the remaining janitors, the janitors and their unions say.
On Tuesday, about 60 San Francisco-based janitors started their strike, according to SEIU Local 87, the union that represents them. On Wednesday, about 200 janitors who work in Menlo Park and Burlingame joined them in solidarity, according to the SEIU-United Service Workers West, which represents them.
The labor strife among Meta’s service workers comes as the company is reportedly considering cutting employees it directly employs as it looks to slash costs. Meta Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said earlier this year that the company is entering “one of the worst downturns” in its history.
“‘The truth is, you know that we live from paycheck to paycheck.’”
— Meta janitor
One Meta janitor, who requested anonymity, was laid off last month, but was called back to work less than 10 days later. Almost immediately, he said, he noticed several non-union temp workers working with him — echoing other janitors who have told MarketWatch the same.
He was walking the picket line Friday in Burlingame. He said he is willing to strike for as long as it takes, even though it will be tough because striking workers are not getting paid. “Hopefully it will be resolved quickly,” he said.
Another Meta janitor on the picket line, who also requested that her name be withheld, said she doesn’t want a prolonged strike. “The truth is, you know that we live from paycheck to paycheck,” she told MarketWatch.
But the parties involved are accusing one another of not engaging in good faith, and of various other violations, including violence. In San Francisco, Local 87 late last month filed an unfair-labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against SBM, and SBM has filed an unfair-labor practice charge against the union. Luis Fuentes, division director for SEIU-USWW, said his union has just filed a grievance against SBM as well as an unfair-labor practice charge.
SBM, meanwhile, is claiming that the unions are refusing to set meeting dates to resolve the issue, an allegation the unions deny.
Meta spokesman Tracy Clayton said SBM has assured the tech giant that “all impacted janitors had comparable jobs with no disruption to pay or benefits.”
SBM spokeswoman Jennifer Kerns said the company “is not using non-union temp workers to replace laid-off union employees.”
But several janitors who have spoken with MarketWatch since the layoffs in September, and their unions, dispute that. Fuentes said, “We have several dozen janitors who are not working because they were laid off, while they have non-union janitors doing work inside the buildings.” He added: “At this point, between Meta and SBM, they’re playing hot potato with who’s doing what.”
In San Francisco, SEIU Local 87 alleges, replacement workers assaulted several striking janitors on the picket line on Tuesday.
Kerns, the SBM spokeswoman, said: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms any type of abuse or harassment of anyone on the job, especially any member of the SBM team. Allegations that SBM has allowed or caused employees to be harmed or put at risk physically are emphatically and indisputably false.”
Janitors who have spoken to MarketWatch say they have also experienced other changes since the layoffs, including being asked to work different shifts and losing their healthcare benefits. One woman, who asked not to be named, said when she tried to schedule a procedure, her medical provider told her she did not have coverage.
Kerns said two individuals lost their healthcare benefits because of an administrative error, and that the issue has been resolved.
But Fuentes, of the SEIU-USWW, said the union knows of more than two janitors whose healthcare benefits were disrupted, and that the union is still trying to determine whether all the janitors have gotten their benefits restored.
The SEIU-USWW’s Facebook page was also unavailable for 36 hours earlier this week. The union said Wednesday it believed this was “an outrageous and unethical reaction by Meta” to the labor dispute between SEIU-USWW and SBM. Meta spokesman Clayton said, “It looks like we made a mistake and removed content they posted that did not go against our Community Standards. Upon discovery, we apologized and restored the content and removed any blocks related to this incorrect action.”
On Thursday, the union was still unable to post anything on its page. After MarketWatch contacted Facebook, the company restored the SEIU-USWW’s ability to post on its page, according to the union.