Last April, protestors at MacArthur BART Station in Oakland, California blocked a tech bus shuttle by barfing on the windshield.
The tension had been building for months as protests ranged from breaking windows on Google buses to labelling the tech shuttles with “die techie scum” stickers.
A lot has changed, though, since last April.
The tech shuttles entered a pilot program with the city of San Francisco to start paying to use the city bus stops. The tech bus drivers entered formal unions.
And while the tech bus protests have dwindled in the past year, Bay Area residents continue to turn to blocking the tech worker transportation to show their displeasure with gentrification.
On Friday in Oakland, California, another tech bus protest is scheduled at MacArthur BART station for MayDay.
For the tech bus drivers, this isn’t a valid form of protest against tech anymore. It’s just a safety hazard.
“Most of the drivers are sympathetic to the protestors, but at the same time, we wish it wouldn’t affect what we’re trying to accomplish to get our passengers from point A to point B safely,” said one bus driver who drives employees for a major tech company. “It’s kind of backfired.”
After the announcement of Friday’s upcoming protest, the Teamsters 853 Union put out a statement to try to counteract the protest and remind the protestors that the drivers are workers trying to hold high tech accountable too by joining unions.
“It’s something we think they should turn their focus someplace else,” said Rome Aloise, International Vice President for Teamsters. “Stopping buses, one, it’s dangerous. Two, it’s misguided.”
Safety is a concern for drivers, who not only have to worry about their own safety, but also their passengers. It’s about making decisions like opening the door to let someone on when you can’t tell if they are protesting against you or an employee seeking shelter.
“They have trained us not to engage,” the driver said.
One major tech shuttle company has company-wide safety meeting once a month, and they have focused on how to behave in a protest situation in the past. It’s about keeping doors closed, only letting on passengers who have the correct ID badgers, and if protestors do get past, practicing non-resistance.
While some previous tech shuttle protests have been unexpected, the May Day protest has been announced for at least a week. Shuttle drivers, though, won’t get their orders on whether to avoid locations or re-route until the morning.
The Oakland Police Department has been in conversation with the tech companies, but hasn’t taken any action to adjust shuttle routes as of 5 p.m. Thursday.
“It’s a fluid situation,” said Public Information Officer Johnna Watson. “We’re going to look at it tomorrow.”
Apple, Google, and Facebook did not return a request for comment. A Genentech spokesperson confirmed the company does not have a shuttle stop at the protest site.
Oakland police department has increased staffing, canceled all days off and brought in other agencies like the California Highway Patrol to help handle the May Day protests scheduled throughout the city, Watson said. BART has also increased staffing, said spokesman Jim Allison.
While the driver said they weren’t concerned because they trusted someone to make the appropriate calls in the morning, there is still the chance anyone can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that’s the hard part for being on the front lines on the wrong side of the picket line.
“There is an element of fear. I’m sure my associates will have a plan,” the shuttle driver said. “But it’s the fear of the unknown.”