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MONEY | Summer 2015

Facebook Leans In

The tech giant gave contracted workers a huge boost


By MARTHA BURK

ARE  YOU  A PERSON WHO CAN’T go  a  whole  day,  or  even  a whole hour,  without checking Facebook?  Or  do you belong  in the opposite camp with folks who declare it a colossal waste of time? Either  way, you should   be  paying  attention  to some recent developments at this behemoth of  online  business,  especially if you’re a woman.

No,  it’s not  the  rollout  of a nifty new feature aimed mostly at women. It’s much more important than that. In a short and to-the-point post in May, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg announced a new policy that could  be a game  changer  in Silicon Valley and far beyond.  A number  of Facebook contractors in the U.S. are now required  to pay a $15 minimum wage, provide  a  minimum 15  paid days off for holidays and sick time, and give a $4,000  bonus  to new parents who don’t receive paid parental leave.

The policy applies immediately  to larger contractors with employees working on-site at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters and will be expanded  to  a  larger  number   of  vendors within a year. That broader group will include U.S.-based companies with more  than  25 employees  doing  substantial  work on behalf of Facebook. Though not explicitly spelled out, it’s clear that the new policy is a requirement—not a suggestion—for companies that want to continue  contracting with Facebook.

This is a huge  step  forward  for lower-wage workers, particularly women,   since  they  make  up  two- thirds of minimum-wage workers nationally and so stand to gain the most when minimums and benefits are boosted. And Facebook’s actions could have a ripple  effect, putting  pressure on other companies to follow suit. Indeed, some of Facebook’s policies to increase workforce diversity are already sought after by other businesses. Responding to numerous requests, Facebook recently made available the training   materials  it  provides  to  its own  staff  to  correct   “unconscious bias” toward  women  and  people  of color in the workplace.

Facebook   does  not   publish   pay scales for any workers  employed  directly with the company. But according   to   a  report  on  Forbes.com, full-time Facebook staff get health insurance, four months  of paid parental leave, $4,000 for a new baby and subsidized day care, as well as free meals and services such as on-site  laundry and dry cleaning.

The new rules may have been helped  along by activism from some of Facebook’s existing contract  workers. Shuttle-bus drivers for Facebook (employed  by the  contractor Loop) had already joined the Teamster’s union  before  Sandberg’s announcement, and had been agitating for a better  deal. Their actions culminated last February in a contract  with Loop, which was approved by Facebook. Far stronger than  the  requirements on other contractors Facebook announced  in May, it includes  11 paid holidays, up to five weeks paid vacation, paid bereavement leave, fully paid health  care for workers and the families of full-time workers, and base wages up to $28.50 per hour  within the first three years of employment.

Another factor leading to Facebook’s announcement could have been a desire to get ahead of the curve on minimum  wage and other  labor- law changes in California.  Next year California  will start  publishing  not only the names of employers that have more than 100 workers on Medicaid, but also how much those companies are costing the taxpayers in public aid.

Facebook’s decision also comes on the heels of changes at Google. Earlier this year, some of the tech giant's contracted service workers—including bus drivers,  cafe workers,  valets and bike technicians—began receiving a minimum  wage of $15 an hour and subsidized health insurance.

Raising the bar on contract  labor is a  good  move  for  Facebook   and  a great boost for the lowest-wage workers. Whether we love Facebook or hate it, we can all give it a great big “like” for this one.

MARTHA BURK, the Ms. Money editor, is author of Your Voice, Your Vote: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Power, Politics and the Change We Need.

Reprinted from the Summer issue of Ms. Photo via Shutterstock. To have this issue delivered straight to your door, Apple, or Android device, join the Ms. Community.

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