In-House Union Innovation at SFO

Local 21 members just returned from Sacramento where their IT team received an award for government innovation in ground transport management at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

IT Chapter members Humphrey Loe and David Morales’ received the Best of California Awards 2015 at the Government Technology Forum in on August 13 from e.Republic’s Center for Digital Government for their leadership in developing an in-house app to manage transportation network company (TNC) traffic on airport grounds. The app is a mobile device-based service with a technology for incorporating TNC’s such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar into the airport’s permitting process for commercial transport.

Unlike many government projects, the SFO endeavor was not out-sourced. “We didn’t get a vendor,” said Humphrey Loe, Lead Systems Architect. “We were allowed from beginning to end to utilize internal resources and staff to build the app — and it was done by union members.”

Technical Project Manager David Morales was likewise an integral part of that development team.

“We spent hours and hours, days, weeks and months sitting in a room together with the CIO putting together a web service and application to allow us to receive information from the TNC companies,” he said. “And we thought about what else we can build onto this service.”


Photo: c/o SFO

The technology not only tracks the cars’ location on airport grounds, but collects data which can be used to quantify the cost recovery fees needed to pay for the airport’s initial capital investments and maintenance. SFO has licensed the technology that will create a new national standard for data interchange between airports and TNCs. Instead of using physical transponders to receive the data, as is done with standard taxis, the airport can know use the built-in GPS capability of mobile devices to enable the TNC vehicles to send “pings” via their apps to the airport server whenever they enter and exit the premises.

Apart from using GPS to track whenever Lyft, Uber, and Sidecar companies are picking up or dropping off passengers, the SFO service also features a compliance manager app to allow officers to detect whether the cars are located within the confines of a virtual geo-zone in order to determine whether the cars are operating in compliance with proper loading zone regulations.

“This project opened the doors for us to be more innovative,” Humphrey said.  “I’ve been here 11 years now and we’ve never had the freedom to explore like we do now. We are constantly being challenged to come up with the next best thing in the mobile area especially.”

While the digital industry has up until now been unchartered terrain for traditional unions, the recent wave of successful union drives in online newsrooms, as well as among the tech industry’s support service workers like distribution warehouse employees and the employee shuttle bus drivers, is creating ripple effects throughout Silicon Valley. 

Approximately 3,500 City of San Francisco employees are members of Local 21, and roughly 10% of them work on the City’s information systems. Union IT workers like Loe and Morales are just two of many who have shown leadership in innovative projects ensuring the smooth operation and economic success of our cutting-edge region.