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Blacks, Latinos Dominate Silicon Valley’s ‘Invisible Workforce’

The racial makeup of janitors in Santa Clara County reflects the divide between tech workers and service workers.
Working Partnerships USA

Blacks and Latinos make up a sizable share of low-wage workers cleaning and guarding Silicon Valley tech companies, where the technical workforces are overwhelmingly white and Asian, according to a report scheduled to be released Tuesday.

The report, from the labor-affiliated Working Partnerships USA, comes after months of disclosures by tech companies about the ethnic and racial composition of workforces at Google Inc., Apple Inc. and other large tech companies.

The report notes that most of the janitors, landscapers and security guards on corporate campuses are employed by contractors, and not by the tech firms themselves.

“These contracted service workers – not counted on tech companies’ official employment rolls and rarely mentioned in the public discourse – constitute the Silicon Valley tech industry’s ‘invisible workforce,’ ” the report says.

According to the report, blacks and Latinos account for 76% of landscape workers, 72% of janitors and 41% of private security guards in Santa Clara County – home to Google, Apple, Intel Corp. and scores of other tech companies.

Google this year said its U.S. workforce is 3% Latino and 2% black, and Intel said its U.S. workforce is 8% Latino and 4% black. Apple, which operates retail stores, said its U.S. workforce is 11% Latino and 7% black.

According to the report, the median hourly wage in the county for janitors is roughly $11 an hour, and $14 an hour for landscapers and security guards. By contrast, the median wage for software developers is roughly $63 an hour.

Because they work for contractors, the low-wage workers also are not eligible for many of the benefits and amenities for which tech firms are famous, such as free food and exercise facilities.

The report is based on government data for the county as a whole and offers no details on the ethnic and racial makeup of the workforce at specific companies.

In releasing their diversity reports in recent months, several tech companies vowed to take steps to boost the representation of blacks and Latinos in their workforces.

“As CEO, I’m not satisfied with the numbers on this page,” Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook wrote in a letter accompanying his company’s figures.

“Talk is cheap,” said Michael Johnson, a 52-year-old black man who worked 15 years in tech, primarily as a systems engineer in telecommunications. After being laid off, Mr. Johnson has worked as a security guard in Silicon Valley for the past decade.

“They are two different worlds,” said Mr. Johnson, who holds degrees in information technology and business management, but says he has had a tough time getting back into tech.

Instead he ends up chatting with tech workers about systems analysis and database management while working as a security guard on Silicon Valley campuses. Mr. Johnson said he rents a room in a friend’s San Jose house so that he can afford to live in the expensive Bay Area.

Spokespeople for Apple and Google did not respond to requests for comment.

“There is a huge status differential,” said Margaret Ann Neale, a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business who has researched workforce diversity. She said Silicon Valley companies must move beyond the expectations that a tech workforce is predominantly young, white, Asian and male.

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