Late last month, US Labor Secretary Tom Perez travelled to Silicon Valley to hear from the working people and community leaders who are using their ingenuity to tackle the extreme inequality that is now facing the area.
Silicon Valley boasts the fastest growing economy in America and is home to some of the most powerful tech firms in the world. Yet, the Valley is plagued with serious issues of inequality and a growing crisis of housing affordability. At the same time, campaigns like Silicon Valley Rising (co-founded by Partnership for Working Families local affiliate, Working Partnerships USA) are providing salient examples of how to address the unintended challenges that accompanied the tech boom.
Silicon Valley Rising is pioneering new methods of holistically addressing inequality. It seeks to inspire the tech sector to help address the unintended consequences of the tech boom, including the housing crisis, occupational segregation and dramatic income inequality. Since its launch, protections and benefits for contract workers in tech firms have expanded, numerous Silicon Valley cities have raised their minimum wage, Facebook has raised wages to $15 an hour and started offering parental leave, Apple has provided benefits for the majority of its security officers and Microsoft began offering paid sick leave. Secretary Perez met with workers and coalition leaders to learn more about the growing movement for economic and racial justice in the Valley in hopes of expanding its success at the national level.
"Silicon Valley is an economic driver and hub for innovation, but despite the region's success, too many workers are not sharing in the prosperity they are helping create,” said Secretary Perez. “As our economy continues to grow and new technologies take hold, we must ensure that everyone gets a fair shot at opportunity and economic security. That is why I'm pleased to see community organizations, like Silicon Valley Rising, harness the creativity of Silicon Valley to create innovative organizing campaigns that allow workers to fight for a meaningful voice in the workplace and policies to raise the minimum wage, expand paid leave, and create more affordable housing. Our country is stronger when we have inclusive growth and an economy that works for everyone.”
During his meeting with Silicon Valley Rising, the Secretary heard from the employees who work beside professional tech sector employees each day, yet are forced to scrape by on a fraction of their salary. On-demand workers and the contract workers who protect, drive and serve tech sector employees shared their stories and told of the hardship of being considered a second-class employee in their own community where they increasingly struggle just to pay rent.
“It’s hard to spend time with your kids if you have to work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet,” one worker told the secretary. Another Google shuttle bus driver told of how he had worked seven days a week at minimum wage until he and his co-workers won a raise. Now he’s able to spend more time with his grandchildren.
Silicon Valley Rising and its members were encouraged by the Secretary’s visit and his recognition of the important movement they are building. Going forward, Secretary Perez committed to continuing a dialogue on how to improve the lives of working people in Silicon Valley.