In San Francisco and Bangalore, street-vendor unions and nonprofits are helping informal food workers eke out a living — but their future is still uncertain. From a report: Bangalore and the Bay Area have a lot in common. They are the tech centers of the world’s second- and third-most-populous countries, respectively, and they both sometimes feel like they’re bursting at the seams. Some economists argue that when tech companies move to cities with rigid housing markets, the value of real wages goes down as the cost of living jumps. […] In both places, many street vendors are migrants — Bangalore’s come from other parts of India, while in the Bay Area many hail from Latin America. They and their livelihoods offer a warning about the fate of immigrant service labor in the tech economy: When space is at a premium, the high-profile, high-margin industries tend to take it up, while the low-paid, already precarious jobs that keep them humming are threatened.

Bangalore is full of food vendors like Sukumar N. T. According to Aditi Surie, a sociologist at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements who specializes in the gig economy, Bangalore has limited licensed areas for people to ply food, so “across income groups” in the city, “informal food vending is valuable to all.” But near the International Tech Park Bangalore in Whitefield, you won’t see street vendors. Plenty are stationed immediately outside the ITPB’s gates, however, which has led to some tension. Earlier this year, The Times of India called the street vendors near the office park “a huge menace” because they impede ITPB employees’ passage in and out of the complex. Whitefield “is really illogically planned,” Vinay Sreenivasa told me from his dusty office. Sreenivasa is a member of both the Alternative Law Forum, a legal-advocacy organization, and Bengaluru Jilla Beedhi Vyaapari Sanghatanegala Okkuta, a street-vendor union. “They planned only for tech parks and hotels,” he explained. “In a way, those [informal] livelihoods are created by the poor planning.” That generally doesn’t bother rank-and-file IT workers — they need to eat, too — but according to Sreenivasa, some managers and officials think that the informal businesses undermine the area’s air of modern enterprise.

Back in California, some of the Bay Area’s massive tech campuses have become mini cities, complete with their own closed food systems. This is an understandable move for companies in remote suburban enclaves, perhaps, but less so for urban headquarters, where abundant free or subsidized food can allow tech employees to avoid engaging with local restaurants or vendors. Some tech offices do hire small catering businesses. And companies such as Zendesk choose not to offer free food, to encourage their employees to frequent local businesses. But many technology headquarters isolate themselves from the local food culture, and the people whose livelihoods depend on it.

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