How can tech companies treat their contractors better?

When it comes to the technology industry, “the reality is the money is there and it’s not trickling down,” said Derecka Mehrens, who helped form Silicon Valley Rising, an organization dedicated to raising wages and building affordable housing. At the TechCrunch Sessions: Justice event held in San Francisco today, she said her organization is “looking at how we can push back on this narrative that the Silicon Valley economy is working for everyone, because it’s not.”

They are helping low-wage employees improve their working conditions. “Working people do not have a resourced and organized way to get to the table with these companies,” said Mehrens.

Y-Vonne Hutchinson, a former international labor rights lawyer and founder of Readyset, spoke of some of the challenges in helping minorities succeed in contractor roles.  “We shouldn’t treat the hiring of subcontractors like it’s a foregone conclusion,” said Hutchinson, suggesting that organizations do a better job of ensuring that the people in these roles are treated with respect after they get hired.

“Companies are choosing to structure their workforces in ways that are fundamentally untenable” and makes it harder for them to keep tabs on what’s going on with contractors. Hutchinson’s organization consults with startups and helps them improve diversity strategy, training and recruiting.

Also on stage was Jenny Morales, a subcontractor for the Aramark food and facilities team at Cisco. She discussed some of the hardships she and her colleagues previously faced, but said that reform at Cisco helped things get better.

She said that at times subcontractors are marginalized and it “doesn’t even feel like we exist anymore.” We were “not being paid enough” and “health insurance was extremely expensive.”

But she said that Cisco was likely inspired by political pressure at Intel and that it resulted in significant improvements for her team. It was “amazing to see the change in management,” she said.

Hutchinson said one of the best ways to bring about change is to hit companies where it hurts, their bottom line. She cited Uber and Nike boycotts and how it put pressures on the organizations to make changes.

“If you don’t use these companies’ services, that’s a great way to get them to listen to you,” she said. They “care about their images and their brands.”