A few months ago, Meta’s main campus in Menlo Park, California, started to buzz again as more people began returning to the office. But for Geoff, a contracted security officer at Meta, the closures of on-campus Philz Coffees is a concerning indicator of what’s to come now that the company has laid off 11,000 employees.
“Now everyone’s worried again,” said Geoff, who has worked at Meta for four years. “With the massive layoffs, that means the footprint gets smaller and everybody is wondering: Am I next?” (Forbes agreed to withhold his last name for his concerns of reprisal.)
Geoff is one of a fleet of contract workers that are waiting to see if they’ll still keep their jobs due to Meta’s economic pullback. These contractors, who support the highly paid tech workers by providing janitorial services, transportation and food on Meta’s sprawling campus, are in a much more economically precarious position than full-time employees, say union activists and labor experts. Many worry that if Meta is now cutting contracts with service providers, then that could be a signal of what is to come.
“It sends shockwaves and the reality is you have such drastic work reductions [in the white-collar workforce,] and it will have a negative impact on the service workers who clean offices and provide food,” Kent Wong, the director of the UCLA Labor Center, told Forbes.
Recent filings in California submitted by WeDriveU show that nearly 100 people are set to lose their jobs this month. Nearly all of them are drivers for employees buses or smaller shuttles that offer intercampus transportation. Similarly, another group of over 60 drivers employed by Hallcon, another Meta transportation contractor, are also set to end their employment this month. Of those, approximately two-thirds were quickly able to be placed in other driving jobs elsewhere, with the remaining people now out of work.
Starting pay for a union driver for a bus begins around $36 per hour, while drivers for smaller vehicles, including vans, begins at just over $29 per hour — less than half of a typical starting tech engineer’s salary. If a driver loses their job, their union, Teamsters Local 853, does its best to place them to find other work elsewhere, but they have no set severance pay or insurance benefits. In contrast, the 11,000 laid-off Meta employees will receive 16 weeks of base pay plus two additional weeks per every year of service, and health care coverage for six months.
“The recessions that one will see among the top people will become a depression among the lower down people because we are supporting them,” said Debra Chaplan, a spokesperson for Teamsters Local 853.
Similarly, in June, Meta contractor ABM cut 368 janitorial and related jobs, some of which were union-protected. Not long after, workers went on strike and ultimately the union was able to save many of its members’ jobs.
“I think what’s impacting our members and leadership is that for a lot of these major companies, it’s the first time that they’ve had to go through something like this,” said Sebastian Silva, a spokesperson for SEIU United Service Workers West, the union that represents Meta’s janitors. “I think that we’re waiting to see how some of the chips fall.”
Of those cleaning staff still working at Meta is Teresa, someone who has been working there for a decade — and commutes from Modesto, over 90 miles away. She’s well-aware of the layoffs underway across Silicon Valley. (Forbes also agreed to withhold her last name for his concerns of reprisal.)
“We do worry that any day that we go into work that [Meta] might announce another round of layoffs and my coworkers and I might not have a job the next day,” she said in Spanish. “This is the most uncertainty I and my colleagues have faced.”
In an emailed statement, Meta spokesperson Tessa Giammona said that the company has “adjusted on-site services” — meaning cutting transportation for mainline Meta employees, adding that the company is an “industry leader” for contract workers.
Meta, and Silicon Valley as a whole, are retrenching in the face of an economic recession. According to Layoffs.fyi, a website that tracks job losses, over 120,000 people across the industry are now out of work. The whiplash has yet to fully hit contractors, Wong told Forbes.
Going back decades, many companies across Silicon Valley have used outside firms like WeDriveU and ABM to provide drivers, maintenance workers, groundskeepers and security guards, among others.
Pre-pandemic, for instance, these drivers served as the backbone of what once amounted to a vast privately run transit system to bring workers from across the greater Bay Area to Meta’s headquarters in Menlo Park, and similar large tech campuses nearby. Over the last decade, these “tech buses” grew to be such an icon of the Bay Area, that they drew protests in 2013, 2014 and 2018.
“This is the shadow workforce of Silicon Valley,” Margaret O’Mara, a history professor at the University of Washington, and an expert on Silicon Valley, told Forbes.
“It’s really not something that the companies publicize, that they’re not considered real workers. There’s been this giant submerged iceberg of blue collar workers that makes the entire thing go.”
As UCLA’s Kent Wong points out, as long as Meta and other tech giants continue to maintain their conventional offices, at least some contracted workers will have to stay.
“Regardless of whether there’s 200 people or 400 people in the building, they still need the building to be serviced, the grounds still need to be kept,” Wong said.