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: ‘Mass layoffs’ of Meta bus drivers lead to pleas for Facebook to bring workers back to the office

Protesters on Thursday urged Meta Platforms Inc. to call its Silicon Valley-based engineers and other employees back to the office, after Facebook’s parent company continued to dismiss service workers with “mass layoffs” of shuttle-bus drivers.

Drivers and their union supporters rallied in front of Meta’s
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headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on Thursday, after more than 160 shuttle drivers and their supervisors lost their jobs. The layoffs amount to about a third of the driver workforce at Meta, according to the drivers’ union.

“This is mass layoffs across the board for Meta,” said Stacy Murphy of Teamsters Local 853. She added that other companies have made some cuts, “but nothing like what we are seeing at Meta.”

“These hybrid shifts are hurting good union jobs,” she said.

Asked what percentage of its employees are regularly going into the office, a Meta spokeswoman said this week that “75% of teams are working across multiple locations,” though she wouldn’t share more specific information by location or number of days in the office.

The spokeswoman added: “Since returning to office, we’ve adjusted on-site services and amenities, including transportation, to better reflect the needs of our hybrid workforce.”

If three-fourths of the Meta workforce is going into the office, the many empty spaces in the parking lot of the main campus of the company’s headquarters did not reflect that Thursday. And that number would be much higher than what appears to be happening in the region as a whole.

According to the Bay Area Council, which has been surveying about 200 employers in the region monthly about their return-to-office plans since last year, about 37% of employees were going into the office two or three days a week as of September. That is roughly in line with the latest data from Kastle Access Control Systems, the card key-entry company, which says that about 40% of office workers are going into the office in the San Francisco and San Jose metro areas.

“What appears to be happening [with the tech shuttle system] is not different from what’s happening with our mass transit systems, where ridership is still down,” said Rufus Jeffris, spokesman for the Bay Area Council, which counts Meta among its members. “It’s tough. The ripple effects continue to hit us from the massive shift to remote work.”

See: Downtown San Francisco became the epicenter of Silicon Valley’s boom, but now it must be reinvented

The fate of tech shuttles — once ubiquitous in the Bay Area — is now in question as new coronavirus pandemic norms include remote and flexible work. Prepandemic, tech shuttles proliferated in the Bay Area. According to a Joint Venture Silicon Valley survey of eight large tech companies in 2019, Facebook, Genentech, Google
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Intuit Inc.
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Microsoft Corp.’s
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LinkedIn, Palantir Technologies Inc.
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Salesforce Inc.
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and Tesla Inc.
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had a combined shuttle fleet of 1,600, which brought in employees from all over the Bay Area and beyond.

Jessica Cruz, who has driven for Meta for five years, told MarketWatch that the shuttle bus she drives from Menlo Park to San Francisco and back used to be full, with about 60 passengers. Nowadays, she can have as few as seven or eight passengers to a maximum of about 25 passengers.

While Cruz said she is grateful she has so far survived the layoffs, she said “I don’t like not knowing that my job is stable.” After her mom died last year, she said she has to support her 17-year-old brother.

At the rally, Cruz and other drivers and supporters carried signs that read “We can’t work in the Metaverse. We need jobs in real life!” and “Remote working is not working for everybody.”

“I’m hoping that [Meta Chief Executive] Mark Zuckerberg will see this and encourage more of his workers to go into the office,” Murphy said.

From 2020: How long will the Silicon Valley employees who can’t work from home keep getting paid?

The looming driver layoffs at Meta follow about 40 inter-campus driver job cuts earlier this year at the company, and janitorial staff cuts last month. But some janitors got their jobs back after a Bay Area-wide janitors’ strike earlier this month, so the drivers and their union are looking to that for hope. The cuts come as Meta reportedly is considering thousands of layoffs as revenue growth slows, so service workers aren’t the only ones fearing for their jobs.

Unlike its engineers and other full-time tech workers, Meta does not employ its service workers directly. It brings on vendors and contractors that in turn hire shuttle drivers, janitors, security guards, cafeteria workers and more.

According to letters that two shuttle-driver vendors sent to the California Employment Development Department, a total of 166 drivers and other workers associated with the shuttle services at Meta campuses in Menlo Park, San Francisco and Newark, Calif., are being laid off between Nov. 7 and Nov. 26. WeDriveU Inc. is laying off 51 drivers in Newark, Calif., 46 in Menlo Park and six dispatchers, supervisors and managers. Hallcon Corp. is laying off 57 drivers in San Francisco and six members of the operational staff.

In their letters to the EDD, the two companies cited similar reasons for the layoffs: their client’s reduction of transportation services. The numbers affected could change as WeDriveU tries to place some drivers at other locations, and Hallcon said some drivers could be maintained or recalled, according to the letters.

See also: Remote employees are working less, sleeping and playing more, Fed study finds

Sean Hinman, who has driven for Meta for nine years, told the small crowd of Teamsters supporters Thursday that “uncertainty is scary,” but he thanked the union for trying to place the laid-off drivers in other jobs.

Hinman told MarketWatch that although he has kept his job so far, he worries that the cuts will eventually affect him.

“I’m not here to throw stones, but it’s unfortunate,” he said. “My brothers and sisters need work. It’s a great hardship on everybody.”

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