Read

Search form

Protests Over Twitter Tax Breaks As Angers Rise In Inequality Valley, California

Protests Over Twitter Tax Breaks As Angers Rise In Inequality Valley, California
Mon, 2/17/2014 - by Joseph Mayton

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – The city of San Francisco is running a deficit, urging its government workers to put more of their personal earnings into health care costs for themselves and their families. But this deficit, workers argue, could be overcome if major technology companies in the area weren’t given the immense tax breaks they currently receive.

Across the Bay Area, and especially as one heads south from San Francisco, labor activists and others are gearing up for what could become the next hotspot of American activism: making wealthy tech giants pay their share.

Last Wednesday, hundreds of members of SEIU Union 1021 and other supporters marched through downtown San Francisco to Twitter’s headquarters. They picketed for about an hour, calling for an end to the massive tax breaks the company gets in the name of building a larger job base for the city.

Twitter, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, was given some $55 million in tax breaks last year alone, and many economists and observers believe it will receive even more breaks in 2014. For workers and Bay Area residents, the numbers are hard to swallow and anger is brewing.

“What we are seeing is the foundation for inequality and it is because the large companies in this country are getting breaks when the average family is not,” said a former Silicon Valley web designer who, since leaving a Fortune 500 company last fall, has fought vigorously to educate residents on issues around inequality.

Twitter, of course, is not the only tech company receiving big tax breaks. Zynga, the maker of Facebook games like FarmVille, received $6 million in tax breaks in 2011, according to the San Francisco Examiner. Several other companies, such as Microsoft and Spotify, areapplying for their own exemptions.

What is arguably a tipping point in the growing fight against inequality in the Bay Area is the skyrocketing rent: prices have increased across San Francisco and the Peninsula, heading south towards San Jose, by some $1,500 across the board in recent years.

Now, families that have called the area home for decades are being forced to look elsewhere, farther away from their place of work, in order to meet the basic need of a roof over their head.

“We can’t pay the rising rental prices and we know that this is the direct result of these major companies offering higher salaries and housing stipends to their workers,” 48-year-old accountant Jose Manuel told Occupy.com last week.

Manuel, who is married with three children, said he and his family lived for eight years in a three-bedroom house in San Mateo. Then, two months ago, as his lease was running out for the fourth time, Manuel’s landlord informed him that the rent was increasing by $750, based on “the market.”

“We couldn’t do that. My employer has reduced the benefits we receive and this means we are paying more expenses out of pocket. I can’t compete with someone earning thousands more a month than we are and who is willing to pay a lot more for the same house,” he said.

Lately, even Silicon Valley seems to be taking notice of rising inequality, as companies and executives step forward to say all the right things – though many activists believe the tech firms’ PR is a way of deflecting angst away from companies and onto government.

Emmett Carson, chief executive and president of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, said in a recent interview with the Chronicle that housing is, and continues to be, a pressing issue in the Valley.

“If prices continue to rise, the people at the bottom end of the income pile either double up in housing…they move further out, or, they take a larger share of their already limited income to try to find housing,” Carson said.

“And a healthy economy has to have housing, for everyone that lives in that community,” he continued. “For all the jobs in the economy, there needs to be a place for people to live. Just having economic success alone is not going to work out.”

But that type of rhetoric offers little solace to those facing eviction or massive increases in rental prices as a direct result of rising inequality fueled by regional tech giants like Twitter, Google and Facebook – companies which are not even paying their share in taxes.

A residential building owner who holds property throughout the Bay Area told Occupy.com that landlords know the market – and they are willing to boot out families in order to earn more money while rents are soaring. This, he said, “leads to many families and others who have honest jobs and make a decent living on the outside, unable to pay for their current homes.”

“They have to move farther and farther away to maintain the same quality housing. This is because of the tech companies and the much higher salaries and incentives they offer,” he said.

Adding to the rising popular anger is the fact that local governments are pushing initiatives to force workers to pay more out-of-pocket costs, while the tech behemoths get huge tax breaks – evading payment on hundreds of millions of dollars that would easily cover the shortfalls currently faced by workers.

“We are here to protest and make it heard that workers are not going to sit by and allow our housing costs to go up, our health care needs not met, while these big companies get the breaks that the average citizen needs,” said one protester while demonstrating against Twitter last week.

“To give in to this situation would be like committing suicide. This is the next war in America. A war for the people.”

But with no evidence pointing toward a decline in – or even a healthy debate over – the tax breaks companies are currently receiving, anti-gentrification action by Bay Area residents, workers and activists who demand more affordable housing are gathering momentum.

What may have begun small, with isolated protests against Google buses that shuttle workers from San Francisco to Silicon Valley each day, escalated last week with the demonstration at Twitter – and according to angry residents, the protests are just a beginning if their voices are not heard.

“We have the support of a vast majority of concerned citizens in the Bay Area and across the country,” said Manuel. “If we have to take matters into our own hands, we will and we will fight against the injustices that are causing families to struggle.”

Add new comment

Sign Up

Article Tabs

climate chaos, carbon emissions, climate movement, Break Free from Fossil Fuels, worldwide climate protests, disrupting dirty power, Climate Mobilization, 350.org, keep it in the ground, renewable energy transition

Starting next week, a global wave of mass actions will target the world’s most dangerous fossil fuel projects.

protest movements, social mobilizations, movement of the squares, Occupy Wall Street, Podemos Party, Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, protest demands, horizontal democracy, Arab Spring, Nuit Debout

The movements of the squares were a watershed moment that profoundly changed grassroots and institutional politics – they have enthused in equal measure as they have disappointed, both under-delivering and over-delivering on their promises.

Bay Bucks, alternative currencies, barter economy, alternative economic systems, Chong Kee Tan, community resilience, sharing economy, Swiss WIR

The Bay Area currency operates a commercial barter system – where businesses with unused inventory or excess capacity "deposit" their excess into an exchange, and “withdraw” other businesses’ excess goods and services instead of money.

climate crisis, climate information, Climate Feedback, accurate climate coverage

Climate Feedback brings together a global network of scientists who use a new web-annotation platform to provide feedback on climate change reporting.

Black Lives Matter, ACLU of Oregon, state surveillance, surveillance programs

Monitoring the social media use of BLM activists is an example of "how the level of trust between law enforcement and communities of color has been so damaged," the civil rights group says.

migrant crisis, East African migrants, migrant smugglers, organ trafficking

A week ago, on April 17, 400 East Africans drowned in the Mediterranean Sea after their boat capsized on the way to Italy – and when the numbers get this big, we forget that they are individual lives being lost, like this, every day.

Posted 4 days 13 hours ago
Panama Papers, tax avoidance, tax shelters, corporate tax evasion, Oxfam

The names on the list of "Broken At the Top" are like a who’s who of big business – and some of the headline figures are simply staggering.

Posted 2 days 7 hours ago
British academies, privatized education, lower teaching standards, low teacher pay, National Union of Teachers, Anti-Academies Alliance

“It is a complete bonfire of pay and conditions," said David Gilchrist of the Anti-Academies Alliance, who claims the government has "no evidence to back up the claim that academies improve educational standards – in fact the opposite is true."

Posted 3 days 8 hours ago

In recent weeks, thousands of people marched and were arrested on the steps of the Capitol demanding that the people’s voice be heard: that we the people, not money, be the driving force of our government.

Posted 4 days 13 hours ago
solar energy, rooftop solar, California clean energy policies, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, carbon emissions, San Francisco solar policy

Starting Jan. 1 of next year, new commercial and residential buildings here up to 10 stories high must install rooftop solar systems for heat or electricity – making San Francisco the first major U.S. city to enact such legislation.

Posted 4 days 14 hours ago

In recent weeks, thousands of people marched and were arrested on the steps of the Capitol demanding that the people’s voice be heard: that we the people, not money, be the driving force of our government.

Bay Bucks, alternative currencies, barter economy, alternative economic systems, Chong Kee Tan, community resilience, sharing economy, Swiss WIR

The Bay Area currency operates a commercial barter system – where businesses with unused inventory or excess capacity "deposit" their excess into an exchange, and “withdraw” other businesses’ excess goods and services instead of money.

migrant crisis, East African migrants, migrant smugglers, organ trafficking

A week ago, on April 17, 400 East Africans drowned in the Mediterranean Sea after their boat capsized on the way to Italy – and when the numbers get this big, we forget that they are individual lives being lost, like this, every day.

climate crisis, climate information, Climate Feedback, accurate climate coverage

Climate Feedback brings together a global network of scientists who use a new web-annotation platform to provide feedback on climate change reporting.

Civil Rights movement, environmental movement, green-black alliance, Black Lives Matter, Moral Mondays, Martin Luther King Jr, movement of movements

A beautiful thing is happening: Advocates for racial justice and for environmental protection are coming together in a new way.