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Facebook Bikeshare Workers Organize Against Anti-Union Campaign

At Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California, workers for a bikeshare company, Bikes Make Life Better, face an anti-union campaign from their employers as they try to form a union with the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

“We have serious concerns about how a union such as the TWU could affect the work environment we have all worked hard to build and are continuing to build with your help,” declared a company flyer sent to workers.

The flyer addressed a direct relationship with management over a union and suggested workers would have to pay union dues throughout negotiations.

In interviews with Bikes Make Life Better employees, they said management has conducted captive audience meetings with the nearly 50 mechanics, bike ambassadors, and rebalancers who work for the contractor at Facebook. (These are meetings during union campaigns that employers typically require workers to attend so management can share their views on unionization.)

All workers who were interviewed for the purpose of this report were granted anonymity to help them avoid workplace retaliation.

According to the workers, around 90 percent of the contractor’s business is the Facebook headquarters contract. A California law enacted in 2015 established shared liability between labor contractors and employers for certain state labor law violations.

“They started holding captive audience meetings with every department individually, and those were mandatory. They are fighting us fairly openly,” said one Bikes Make Life Better employee. “They directly said if it comes to the vote and you’re undecided, we suggest you vote no.”

Workers confirmed the meetings with each department were mandatory and included misinformation about unions.

According to the workers, a union election date was set for June 20, 2019, by the National Labor Relations Board after the board declined a hearing on the eligibility of a few workers, who Bikes Make Life Better tried to argue were supervisors and ineligible to vote.

“They tried to create uncertainty, ‘we don’t know what’s going to happen,’ specific misinformation about shop stewards and that unions will make it impossible to talk to managers and managers won’t have anything to do because they will have their hands tied and won’t be able to do their jobs,” the same employee added “There was a lot of misinformation and miscommunicating with trying to create doubt and fear based on that doubt.”

The employees said they are seeking to unionize to improve wages, benefits, and fight back against understaffing issues that force workers to perform duties beyond their job scope.

“They would have us do the work of mechanics while they were overworking mechanics. We were hoping with their next budget cycle things would get better, but we found out through hearsay the budget was worse this year and a lot of us who were promised raises this year are not going to get them,” said a Bikes Make Life Better rebalancer. (Rebalancers distribute bikes around the Facebook campus.)

The rebalancer claimed about 70 percent of the workers signed union authorization cards, but rather than recognize the union, management pushed to hold a union election and launched an internal campaign to push back against workers.

“They’ve told us a lot of misinformation that we could lose our benefits and contract. But other contractors who have unionized at Facebook haven’t lost their benefits,” added the worker.

Workers are also trying to improve their healthcare benefits, especially as injuries riding bikes in a high traffic area such as the Facebook headquarters campus are common.

“I’m still paying $200 to $500 for a doctor visit for knee injuries. Injuries are pretty common just because some of the work conditions we work around, especially when it’s raining. Sometimes it gets pretty dangerous,” added another worker, who was also granted anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Workers often have to perform a task called “ghosting” in which rebalancers must hold onto one or two bikes in addition to the one they’re riding to reload bike pads on the Facebook campus.

Bikes Make Life Better denied the allegations of intimidation toward union organizing.

“We respect our employees’ rights under the law to organize, if they so choose. We have encouraged our employees to learn about the union so they can come to their own decisions. We held lawful meetings to share information on the process and to answer questions,” said Bikes Make Life Better director Amy Harcourt in an email.

“We are cooperating with the National Labor Relations Board process, including the proper scope of the bargaining unit. If the NLRB decides an election is warranted, we will respect the decision made by our employees whether or not to unionize,” Harcourt added.

Michael Sainato

Michael Sainato

Michael Sainato is a Freelance Journalist based in Gainesville, Florida. His writing has appeared in The Intercept, The Hill, The Guardian, Denver Post, Truth-Out, and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @MSainat1