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Silicon Valley's invisible workforce is paid peanuts

The perks of working in Silicon Valley are famously generous -- if you're the right kind of worker. Employees at Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB) and other tech companies get such amenities as free gourmet meals, free childcare on campus, free access to workplace gyms and free shuttles to ease the commute.

But not every worker at these tech companies gets these benefits. A new report says that a small army of mostly Latino, black and immigrant workers are also on campus to clean, guard and cook. Their compensation is close to poverty-level wages.

Those workers are part of the tech industry's invisible workforce, says the report from Working Partnerships USA, a labor advocacy group in Silicon Valley focused on economic issued affecting minority employees. They aren't often counted in the tech industry's diversity rolls because they usually aren't full-time employees of tech companies. Instead, they are hired by service firms that are on a contract with the tech giants.

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The median hourly wages for systems and applications software developers in the region are $63.62 and $61.87, respectively, the report says. The median wages for landscapers, janitors and security guards are $13.82, $11.39 and $14.17, respectively.

To put this in perspective, a janitor working full-time would use that entire monthly income plus overtime pay just to make rent on the average apartment in Santa Clara County. "Although they go to work each day in the same campus as the engineers and coders, their wages are worlds apart," the group said.

The report ignited a fierce online debate Tuesday about whether such low levels of compensation were fair in an industry that has massive hoards of cash and spreads the wealth to its full-time employees. Those same employees have helped drive rental rates to record highs in the region. The average monthly rent for an apartment in Santa Clara County has topped $2,300.

"These people have the option of not working there or learning a useful skill," wrote one commenter on Gawker. "Their level of talent is almost 0. That is why they are paid poorly."

Others disagreed. "These problems all exist in amplified form in the Bay Area due, in large part, to the companies these people are serving," wrote another commenter. "The least these companies could do is offer a few perks or select contractors who offer more favorable employment terms."

Working Partnerships wants tech companies to give contractors a raise. An increase of $5 per hour could lift a security guard to self-sufficiency, the group said, and would cost less than 0.1 percent of the record $103.7 billion in profits that the top 150 tech companies in Silicon Valley earned last year.

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