Airbnb is in negotiations to cut a deal with one of the nation’s biggest unions that would employ unionized home cleaners who are paid at least $15 per hour, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The agreement between the Services Employees International Union and the home rental start-up takes place amid a national campaign being waged by unions and their allies for a $15 minimum wage. Thousands of low-wage workers across the country went on strike last week in support of it. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have thrown their weight behind the "Fight for $15" movement and have put issues of economic inequality at the center of their campaigns. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill this month to gradually increase the state’s hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2022. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed similar legislation the same day.
Under the terms being discussed, Airbnb, which has previously been at odds with unions, will endorse the union’s Fight for $15 and encourage vendors who provide services to homeowners on the Airbnb platform to pay their staff at least $15 per hour. The platform will also direct Airbnb hosts to cleaners who have been given a seal of approval from SEIU. The cleaners will be trained, certified and provide green home cleaning services to Airbnb hosts, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post.
The initiative is modeled off a pilot program, announced last year, between Airbnb and Cooperative Cleaning, a Brooklyn-based worker-owned cleaning agency. Workers in the pilot have cleaned 1,300 Airbnb listings. They're paid $15 an hour and receive benefits including health care coverage, overtime, disability insurance and leave. They are also members of SEIU.
The deal would give San Francisco-based Airbnb, which has raised $2.3 billion and is privately valued at $25.5 billion by venture capitalists, new ammunition for its myriad political battles. In cities across the country, opponents of Airbnb have argued that the 8-year-old start-up is accelerating gentrification by reducing the supply of available housing units that would otherwise go to locals if they weren’t being rented out on Airbnb.
The agreement with SEIU allows the company to make the claim that it is creating good jobs for local residents. That’s one prong in a wider strategy to endear itself to local governments. The strategy includes offering to pay more local taxes, sharing data with municipalities, and cracking down on landlords who break rules. Earlier this year, the company’s policy chief, a former Bill Clinton aide named Chris Lehane, met with hundreds of mayors at the U.S. Conference of Mayors to make the argument that cities benefit from Airbnb homeowners’ tax contributions.
“As our community continues to grow, we want to find ways to further extend the economic benefits of home sharing to as many people as possible,” Airbnb spokesman Christopher Nulty said in an emailed statement. “To that end, we have been engaged in conversations with organizations and community leaders about how to best help working families find solutions to economic inequality, including creating specific ways we could leverage the Airbnb platform to help create quality union jobs that pay a livable wage."
Added Sahar Wali, an SEIU spokeswoman: "SEIU has and always will support finding new ways to build power for working people to help them improve their lives. As part of this commitment, we actively and regularly engage in conversations with companies who are committed to doing right by their workforce by paying better wages and giving them a voice at work through their union. Airbnb is one such company, however, there is no formal relationship or agreement between SEIU and Airbnb."
Last year, the company spent millions to defeat a San Francisco ballot measure that would have put restrictions on the number of days that homeowners could offer their homes for rent on Airbnb’s platform. One of Airbnb’s loudest opponents wasn’t the hotel industry, as in New York, but United Here Local 2, a union representing San Francisco hotel workers. The union claimed that hotel workers were losing jobs to Airbnb.
Airbnb approached SEIU about the potential for a deal, said one of the individuals familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an arrangement that had not yet been finalized. Airbnb also held discussions with Unite Here, but Peter Ward, who heads up the New York Hotel & Motel Trades Council, AFL-CIO, rejected the proposal, the person said. Unite Here did not immediately respond to a request for comment.