Facebook’s underclass: as staffers enjoy lavish perks, contractors barely get by

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Facebook’s underclass: as staffers enjoy lavish perks, contractors barely get by
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The social network has an army of behind-the-scenes employees who cant afford to live in an area with out-of-control housing costs

As one of the most desirable employers in Silicon Valley, Facebook has built a small town square for staff at its headquarters in Menlo Park. After leaving the car with a valet attendant, employees can work out at the gym, take their bikes for a tune-up, drop off their dry cleaning, pop by the company dentist or doctors office, play video games in the arcade, or even sit down for a trim at the barbers shop.

But keeping all of those amenities running requires an army of subcontracted contingent workers, including bicycle mechanics, security guards and janitors.

Maria Gonzalez, a janitor at Facebook, is part of that battalion. She said she liked working at Facebook and didnt resent the engineers and product managers she cleans up after. I know that they are the ones that are making the money, she said in Spanish. They are the ones doing the hard job and getting fair pay.

But it does strike her as ironic that the most highly paid workers at Facebook are also the ones who get all the free amenities.

They have free laundry, haircuts, free food at any time, free gym, all the regular things that you have to pay for, but they have it for free, said Gonzalez, who with her husband spends more than half their combined income on rent in nearby San Jose. Its not the same for janitors. We just leave with the check.

The $500bn company has been conscientious about ensuring that its subcontracted workers are relatively well paid. In May 2015, amid a nationwide movement to raise the minimum wage, the company established a $15 an hour minimum for its contractors, as well as benefits like paid sick leave, vacation and a $4,000 new-child benefit.

But those wages only go so far in a region with out-of-control housing costs. San Francisco and San Jose ranked first and third in the nation a recent analysis of rents, with one-bedroom apartments in San Jose going for $2,378. The extreme cost of housing is why California has the highest poverty rate in the country, according to a US Census figure that takes into account a regions cost of living.

Maria
Maria Gonzalez is a janitor at Facebook. Photograph: Julia Carrie Wong for the Guardian

You work for a company that makes so much money, and the pay that they give you is not affordable to live out here, said Jiovanny Martinez, a security guard at Facebooks main campus. You still have to have a second job. Youll probably never be able to afford a home. Its a struggle.

Martinez, 30, actually works three jobs to support himself and his family. His Facebook shift goes from 1.15pm to 10.00pm, so he drives for Lyft in the mornings. On weekends, he picks up shifts as a park ranger. All that work affords him a three-room house that is home to four adults and four children: his wife, their two daughters, his mother-in-law, his wifes sister, and her two children. The sister and her children sleep in the garage.

Facebook is taking some steps to address the housing crisis. The companys planned expansion to a new campus includes the construction of 1,500 units of housing, of which 225 will be below market rate.

In the meantime, Unique Parsha will continue driving her home to work.

In July, a Facebook employee alerted security that there was a dog in a car in the parking lot on a hot day. The employee was concerned for the dogs welfare, but for Parsha, explaining why her miniature poodle was left in the car while she worked her shift as a contractor at Facebook required a very personal disclosure: shes homeless. Since April, when she left an abusive relationship, the 47-year-old has been sleeping in the parking lot of a 24 Hour Fitness gym when she gets off work at midnight.

When I get dressed at the gym, Ill be laughing, Parsha said. I look all cute and stuff, and Im homeless. Thats hecka funny. No one would ever know.

Parsha is keenly aware of the incongruity of going to work each day at one of the richest companies in the world after sleeping in the back seat of her car. Sometimes people ask me, Where do you live? What city do you live in? she said. I just feel ashamed.

Parsha earns well above Facebooks minimum wage she is a content specialist, moderating live videos and other content but she still hasnt been able to find an apartment or room that she can afford alongside her student loans and other bills. Shes set up a GoFundMe page, and shared it on Facebook.

Its not enough pay to survive based on the rent thats out there. How can people survive? A one-bedroom is at least $1800, she said, underestimating what she would likely have to shell out for an apartment of her own.

Thats my whole check right there.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/26/facebook-workers-housing-janitors-unique-parsha

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