Silicon Valley bus drivers OK $27.50 hourly wage

A group of bus drivers in the San Francisco area has voted for a contract that would boost their wages to as high as $27.50 an hour.

The bus drivers, who unionized earlier this year, voted unanimously to approve the contract, Teamsters Local 853 international vice president Rome Aloise told CBS MoneyWatch. The contract will lift the wages for about 180 drivers who ferry highly paid workers at some of Silicon Valley's most high-profile companies, including Apple (AAPL) and Yahoo (YHOO).

The pay hike is a significant boost from their current hourly rate, which stands between $17 to $21 an hour. While the contract negotiations between the drivers and Compass Transportation, which employs the drivers, are finished, the tech companies still have to approve the rates, Aloise said. He expressed optimism that they'll greenlight the pay hike.

"It's an extraordinary increase -- I'm not going to downplay that," he said. "It shouldn't be a big leap for Apple, since they are the biggest corporation in the world." He added, "Apple probably spends this amount on ping-pong balls in a year."

Compass didn't immediately return a request for comment, although the company told The Wall Street Journal it hoped the contract would be "well-received and ultimately supported by our clients and employees." Genentech, one of the clients, told CNNMoney that it supports the higher wage. Apple and Yahoo didn't immediately return requests for comment.

Even at $17 to $21 an hour, the Silicon Valley bus drivers are making far above the average national rate. Bus drivers average $14.21 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That includes transit-system drivers, as well as drivers of chartered buses or sightseeing tours.

Almost all tech companies offer these shuttles to bring workers from San Francisco to their Silicon Valley headquarters, the Los Angeles Times noted last year. Part of the reason is that it helps them compete for talent, while some may have turned to the buses as a way to meet traffic-reduction goals set by local communities.

These commuter shuttles, which can include Wi-Fi and plush seats, hired by the likes of Apple and Facebook (FB) have become a symbol of the divide between the haves and the have-nots in San Francisco.

While the highly paid tech workers can afford to live in that city -- now America's most expensive rental market -- the bus drivers themselves live as far as 70 miles outside San Francisco, Aloise said. Tech companies hire the buses,

The pay hike "will give them a shot of living closer to work," Aloise said. "In Northern California, middle-class wages aren't high by any means."

Aloise credited a deal reached earlier this year between Facebook and its shuttle drivers for helping to pave the way for additional drivers to negotiate for higher pay. In February, drivers for the social-media giant voted for a contract that would provide better pay, as well as contributions to a retirement plan.

"With Facebook increasing wages [for drivers], it's caused all wages to go up significantly," he said. "We used to say the tide rises all boats. Now it's the tide rises all buses."