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Tech Start-Up Fires Engineers Amid Union Organizing Effort (bna.com)
268 points by thinkpad20 on Jan 31, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 339 comments



> Organizational Values

> “We win only when our customers win.”

> Fast, Deliberate, Accountable, With Integrity

> Resourceful, Empathetic, Inclusive and Creatively Frugal

Creatively frugal. Check. Not sure about the others.


> “We win only when our customers win.”

Organisational values focusing on the customer is for me a big red flag for how workers will be treated.


Seems like discussions about unions never get more nuanced than: "unions are good" or "unions are bad". I wish such topics could be more about learning from the pros and cons of different systems and figuring out new solutions.


So here's what I can't seem to get my head around. I keep reading how we - programmers, developers, software people - are in such high demand while observing a world where the perception, at least, is that we're a dime a dozen. On the one hand, I make good money doing something I genuinely enjoy all day - not retire early money, but not "how am I going to pay the water bill this month" either, and I've only been out of work for a month in the past 25 years. On the other hand, I sit in a wide-open bullpen next to people who are shouting into speaker phones all day and inputting timecards at 15-minute granularity. I have to forecast how I'm going to spend my time weeks in advance, and that forecast had better not include anything as mundane as "reading the Bootstrap documentation" because education is my responsibility, not their problem. I've been rejected from four times more jobs than I've been accepted to. Now, you may say that I'm in this relatively low-status position because I suck - and you may be right - but I have decades of experience and a master's degree in CS. Nobody can say that I don't at least look good on paper. We "technology people" ought to have the upper hand here. We shouldn't need a union - we should just be able to say what we need to produce what we're being asked for (time and quiet) but the prevailing atmosphere is more like "you're lucky you even have a job; shut up and stop complaining".


I'm not feeling that atmosphere at all. Here programmers are treated with utmost respect because there's such a high demand for them. That's also the reason why very few are members of a union, even though I live in a country with the strongest unions in the world. Programmers simply dictate their own conditions without the help of unions and the employers have no choice but submit in fear of losing them.


> "you're lucky you even have a job; shut up and stop complaining"

You probably have seen the dotcom crash yourself - there were a lot of developers feeling lucky to even have a job. There probably will be another IT bubble burst, and a lot of people will regret they did not form a union when they had at least some say in the matter.


People who say "unions are good" almost always have a critique of unions (they should be more democratic, member-led, etc.), but our neoliberal environment is SO strongly anti-union that it's not strategic to give ammunition to billionaire-backed union busters.

(Ironically, the intensely anti-union environment actually makes for worse unions. When you're struggling to survive it's hard to be on your A game)


This is what I want. I personally feel like I am (or should be) on the side of "unions are good", but I'm also confused by how much "unions are bad" sentiment there is. But my confusion is almost entirely because of _the lack of anyone talking about the issue_. Honestly, most of what I know about unions is from ~8 years ago when I got the gist of "unions help workers voice needs and desires, but businesses don't like paying more" in my AP US History class. I feel like I'm missing a huge part of the issue, yet I have not actually heard anyone from either side actually getting into the details of _why_ there's an argument.


I think the answer lies in the history of the collapse of the mid-20th century consensus (capitalist economy with strong unions, regulations, welfare state ad broadly shared prosperity) and the rise of neoliberalism starting in the 1970s.

Neoliberalism seeks to roll back the welfare state, deregulate industry, and - above all else - crush unions. It's an ideology created and propagated by and for the billionaire class, who resented the limits imposed on their power in the mid-20th century, and it captured both political parties by the 1980s.

A couple good articles on the subject, looking at it from both a Republican and Democratic perspective: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/15/neoliberalism-... http://theweek.com/articles/725419/decline-fall-neoliberalis...


I, for one, believe that the World needs unions, but there are lots of big problems with lots of unions - eg here in Italy, there is no union I like. One of the biggest problems here is that unions look too much at the short term "good" for their members, instead of the long term; often it's a mix of individual immediate self-interest, tribalism (ie: protect every member of the tribe, even when they do the bad of the tribe), and economic illiteracy/ideology that allows this to happen.

From what I read, unions eg in Germany are more realistic and also get much better results. But they're often accused of being too "business friendly".


The labor struggle has been so propagandized that it's impossible to talk about. Unions are about organizing to allow people to control their economic destiny. They've been violently repressed since the very beginning. The right-wing ideology of Reagan/Thatcher is prevalent, this hate of government and worship of the state subsidized corporate managers that control society. Anyways, I love the music in Dustforce, i'll leave you with a Chomsky quote

"The U.S. is different from Europe and other industrial countries in this respect. The U.S. is, to a very unusual extent, a business-run society. There are all kinds of reasons for that — it has no feudal background, so institutions that remained in place in Europe did not remain in place here. There are a lot of reasons. But the fact of the matter is that the U.S. is run by an unusually class-conscious, dedicated business class that has a very violent labor history, much worse than in Europe. The attack on unions has been far more extreme here, and it has been much more successful. Also, the business propaganda has been far more successful. Anti-union propaganda has been considerably more successful here than in Europe, even among working people who would benefit [from] unions. In fact, a rather striking aspect of business propaganda in the United States is the demonization of government, starting after the Second World War.

The Second World War ended with a radicalization of the population in the United States and everywhere else, and called for all kinds of things like popular takeovers, government intervention, and worker takeovers of factories. Business propagated a tremendous propaganda offensive. The scale surprised me when I read the scholarship — it’s enormous, and it’s been very effective. There were two major targets: one is unions, the other is democracy. Well, [to them] democracy means getting people to regard government as an alien force that’s robbing them and oppressing them, not as their government. In a democracy it would be your government. For example, in a democracy the day when you pay your taxes, April 15, would be a day of celebration, because you’re getting together to provide resources for the programs you decided on. In the United States, it’s a day of mourning because this alien force — the government — is coming to rob you of your hard-earned money. That’s the general attitude, and it’s a tremendous victory for the opponents of democracy, and, of course, any privileged sector is going to hate democracy. You can see it in the healthcare debate.

The majority of the population thinks that if the government runs healthcare, they’re going to take away your freedom. At the same time, the public favors a national healthcare program. The contradiction is somehow unresolved. In the case of the business propaganda, it’s particularly ironic because while business wants the population to hate the government, they want the population to love the government. Namely, they’re in favor of a very powerful state which works in their interest. So you have to love that government, but hate the government that might work in your interest and that you could control. That’s an interesting propaganda task, but it’s been carried out very well. You can see it in the worship of Reagan, which portrays him as somebody who saved us from government. Actually he was an apostle of big government. Government grew under Reagan. He was the strongest opponent of free markets in the post-war history among presidents. But it doesn’t matter what the reality is; they concocted an image that you worship. It’s hard to achieve that, especially in a free society, but it’s been done, and that’s the kind of thing that activists in the IWW have to work against, right on the shop floor. It’s not so simple, but it’s been done before."

https://chomsky.info/20091120/


I hadn't seen that Chomsky quote but he sounds completely delusional. And I'm from Europe.

I'm aware of no country democratic or not where paying taxes is a "day of celebration". I have never seen anyone celebrating paying taxes. To believe that in other countries people love taxes and government, and the USA is uniquely special in this being not the case, makes me wonder to what extent Chomsky really understood the world at all.

Nor does Chomsky appear to understand conservative philosophy. He simply divides the world, Marx-style, into "workers" and "business owners" and then assumes business owners must hate democracy because taxes. The actual divide is between conservative and leftist, and conservatives like their government small and local i.e. the opposite of Federal. Many business owners happen to be conservative but so do many workers, as the number of Trump voters in former rust belt states will attest.

Chomsky can't even stay consistent on what this strawman of "business owners" actually want - he starts out by claiming they hate democracy (=government) and then later claims they both hate and love government at the same time.

Not surprisingly after inventing a non-existent class of people with non-existent beliefs, he then struggles to understand them. And this guy is supposed to be some great intellectual. Sad. Thomas Sowell has far greater understanding of the political philosophies and views that divide the people.


Chomsky considers himself a conservative in the tradition of eisenhower, a classical liberal in the tradition of hume and von humboldt. Most of what is considered "conservative" now is far right, the Democrats like Obama/Clinton are right of center.

You should read his work on Marx and Lenin.

The divide between left and right is a propaganda technique used to limit the acceptable range of discussion anyways (see the propaganda model/Manufacturing Consent)

Yes, government = democracy (except when it's authoritarian, or most of the population is effectively excluded from participation because it's run by an oligopoly, pls give example of a case where government isn't coercive towards a majority of it's population)

I have read a lot of Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman, they are good salesmen. Friedman is actually a liberal, supported a basic income, land value tax, etc. It's just the people in the american libertarian movement are horrible

Have you ever actually read any of the classical economists? Say Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, it was a class analysis

If you're from Europe you should know about the greek debt crisis, but you just blame them for being lazy so we should destroy their GDP by imposing austerity and perpetual loans they can't repay.

Business owners care about profit over people, that is their stated objective, their institutional role. In the US, it would be illegal for them to do otherwise. If the CEO decided to leave, someone else would just take his place


> If you're from Europe you should know about the greek debt crisis, but you just blame them for being lazy so we should destroy their GDP by imposing austerity and perpetual loans they can't repay.

People in Europe don't care about what happens one border away. The events in Greece, Italy, Ireland and Spain generated very little sympathy in the rest of Europe. I sometimes get the impression very few people care about what happens one city away.

That's one thing that always amazes me about America. Every tragedy, or big event generates big reactions across the US. New Yorkers care about San Franciscans, Alaskans care about Texans. We could use some of that in Europe.

I find it incredible that there is no massive protests in Holland about what their Finance Minister is doing to Greek pensioners. There is no real argument made in the press about Greeks being lazy, as far as I can tell. They just don't care, and therefore it can't cost a dime. Even if that means tens of thousands of people's lives are destroyed. Not a peep.

Europe survives because it's providing such a sweet deal for it's politicians, and because it makes a certain kind of economic sense. Normal people, in Holland and elsewhere, are dead against it. And the EU knows this: the EU was already strongly opposed to any election or referendum about the EU (because they lost EVERY election they ever ran about the EU, they are aware of this, that's why you have Macron declare that he must prevent at all costs a referendum about the EU in France). The EU is not democratic, and it can't be : it would be voted out of existence in any fair election almost anywhere in it's borders.

Ironically the EU's leaders, who proclaim themselves democrats, are preventing referenda and elections exactly because they know they'd lose them.

Of course it'll be it's undoing, as exactly that is being used as an excuse for extreme centralization of power (since the parliament, in a fair vote, would get voted out of existence, all the commission has to do to get whatever it wants is to threaten to organize it. And of course, the commissars are exactly the people who have the power to do exactly that. But there needs to be a show for "democracy" so the parliament exists). It's a matter of time until one or the other opposing interest actually gets another referendum through. For instance, Le Pen got as far as she did, further than the extreme right ever got, by promising just that. So did five star, according to the press. Sooner or later the dam will break.


In France there was a referendum about the EU, with the No winning. Then 2-3 years later Sarkozy, the president at the time, said sod it, I'm signing what the people of France has refused back then.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Referendums_related_to_the_Eur...

Note that most referenda, according to the rules, required approval in all member states. Note how there's essentially 3 cases :

* a few member states voted, but much fewer than there actually are

* a few member states vote, and after one defeat, suddenly the votes stop

* a vote fails, and then the vote question is changed, and another vote organised on the same issue (ie. redo elections until desired result is achieved. Note that there is always much lower turnout the second and third time)

In the vast majority of cases the will of voters was overturned and the EU forced on people.

There is one big exception: Switzerland, where generally the results of referenda have been upheld. Needless to say, as a result, Switzerland is not a member state.

If the voters will was respected, France, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Spain would not be member states. Many evolutions in the EU would also not have happened, like the EU constitution.

Recently French president Macron surprised by stating publicly on UK radio that if a referendum on EU membership would be held in France today, he was fairly certain the answer would be that voters would want to leave:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlHfNiZf-9o

I feel like that message understated things. If you listen, you can clearly hear that Macron matter-of-fact stated that the UK will remain despite the vote.


I think you misunderstand his points.

> I have never seen anyone celebrating paying taxes.

He doesn't claim that people do that, he says people should do that (if there is a reason).

> The actual divide is between conservative and leftist

I think you're wrong. There is left/right divide and liberal/conservative divide. The latter deals with the size and definition of the ingroup, the former with the inequalities within the ingroup.

> claiming they hate democracy (=government)

Democracy is not the same thing as government.


Chomsky seems to use the word "democracy" to mean "the kind of government I like". In this passage:

> For example, in a democracy the day when you pay your taxes, April 15, would be a day of celebration, because you’re getting together to provide resources for the programs you decided on. In the United States, it’s a day of mourning

... he claims that people celebrate taxes "in a democracy". So either he thought there are no democracies anywhere or he thought that in other countries which are democracies, people do in fact celebrate their tax day. Neither possibility seems rooted in reality.


> Chomsky seems to use the word "democracy" to mean "the kind of government I like".

Yes, that's kind of correct. In the original meaning of the word, government of the people. That means, for example, because U.S. doesn't have universal healthcare despite some 85% people wanting it, that the U.S. is not really a democracy (in fact there was an interesting paper about that who really decides things in the U.S.). I don't think he thinks that there is a true democracy anywhere.

And again, he is not saying "people celebrate taxes" but rather "people should celebrate taxes". I don't think people will for various reasons, despite the fact that I somewhat agree with him even on this point.

Addendum: Despite the popular idea that people generally hate taxes, there has been several successful referendums in Switzerland (and also I think elsewhere) that actually approved increase in taxes. So you can consider that as a sort of "celebration".


Yes, so he's redefined democracy to refer to some sort of Chomskyian utopia which doesn't exist anywhere.

Switzerland has referendums on everything, so yes they have raised taxes sometimes, but they also have very local government and their canton's have spent years engaged in vicious tax competition that at times got so intense some of the local governments started losing money...


No, he didn't redefine meaning of "democracy". It's literally the original meaning of the word - governance* by people or citizens. (*Better word than "government".) Although today we understand citizenship in a broader sense than ancient Greeks.

And you can easily measure it, you just ask honest questions what people want, and compare it to what the government gives them. Having referendums doesn't completely imply democracy, although it is quite close in free societies like Switzerland.

I think this is sometimes confusing, because people who are really pro-democratic (in the above sense), like Chomsky or me, hold two moral stances at once, and those stances can be contradictory. Kinda like "doublethink" but well-intentioned.

The first stance is the prodemocratic stance, that the society should decide things in democratic manner. The second stance is a personal moral view. So for example, I can be personally for more taxation (2nd stance), but I have to accept the will of the democratic majority, which is for less taxation (1st stance). The reason why these are not really in contradiction is because they operate on different levels.

What people (and that includes, I think, you) find confusing about this, is the fact that sometimes we have to defend democratic will of the majority even if it contradicts our own personal moral stance (in other words, we can hope to convince others to eventually accept our position in majority, but we cannot force our minority opinion on them). For people, who think their moral stance trumps everybody else's, this is irrational nonsense.

So in this interpretation, presumably Chomsky has his own opinion about taxes, but it may differ from the democratic view of the majority of voters, which may well result in tax competition and such.


I think you're getting hung up on "tax day should be happy because we're showing solidarity with our fellow citizens". If you have any resources to link to me about Switzerland's politics/economic history please cough it up. I'm interested.

Democracy isn't a clearly defined concept, there are competing theories. Namely the madisonian and the jeffersonian, more recently the battle between deweyite and the Walter Lippmann variety.

I mean aristotle was basically right, he saw the solution was a social democracy and a welfare state


I do wish more people here read Sowell, at least those interested in understanding issues of economics and race in America. He is very much a needed counter perspective to the predictable drivel that Chomsky quote has.


I have read a bit of Sowell, bought a collection of his work for my boss, whom I argue with all the time. But when it comes down to it people who read Sowell/Free to Choose/Capitalism and Freedom, when trump imposes tariffs on South Korean Washers to protect the corporate managers at Whirlpool they are not classical liberals, they don't even support free trade.

they are just worshippers of the state capitalist system, ideological managers keeping the party line "top of mind"


Strange, it seems like you're implying that if I agree with one person's position, I have to agree with every position that person supports.

Considering how frequently politicians change positions, that would make hypocrites of us all. Instead, I'll support Trump for the things he does well, and I'll disagree with the things he doesn't, same as I would for anyone else.


Violence against unionism is not the only reason, far from it. Labour movements declined also in countries that never had powerful anti-union forces.

Today, in many places, unions have developed into primarily civil servant organizations.


I'm primarily thinking of the US/UK under Reagan/Thatcher. Regan breaking the air traffic controller strike, thatcher and the coal miners. Brutally repressed, unions have no rights in these countries anymore. If you try to organize a union for workers at Walmart, they literally close the store


I feel the need to address the Dustforce comment (I agree). Didn't notice parents name until you blindsided me with the reference!


they're not going to have an actual product in 3-5 months, union or not, if they fire everybody

e: it looks like they're in the salesforce ecosystem, so perhaps they're glomped onto the Benioff philosophy of "No Software". i guess they're ok with the 1.5 nines of uptime and universal agreement that the software is crap that this implies


oh my god, they actually put Webvan as an example of a disruptive company on their site (as of 1940 PST Jan 30 2018)

https://www.lanetix.com/company/#why-lanetix


In all fairness, webvan was addressing something that folks apparently want. IIRC Amazon is actively trying to roll out something very similar to this right now...

Don't confuse "disruptive companies" with "mismanaged companies". The first implies they are on to something, the second implies they don't know how to reach it.


In fact, Webvan's Wikipedia article lists their fate as "Bankrupt, resurrected by Amazon.com in 2009" without going into further detail.


But that's inaccurate bs that someone edited there. There's no real connection between Webvan and Amazon.

Louis Borders founded Webvan (the guy who founded Border bookstores). They went bankrupt in 2001. Mick Mountz and a few other Webvan employees started Kiva Robotics a few years later... In 2007, Amazon launched AmazonFresh, and then in 2012 Amazon purchased Kiva... and those former Webvan employees started work at Amazon (IDK if they still work there).

And if you click on the ref in wikipedia.. you'll see it's an article from 2013 saying Webvan was alive at Amazon because former webvan employees came to work there when amazon bought kiva.

That's not the way acquisitions work... Webvan is long dead.


I'm not sure you can be "disruptive" if you aren't competently managed...


To be fair, they are contrasting themselves from the companies in that category. But the copy could use some work.


Isn't it 'illegal' to fire as retaliation for unionizing?


Not exactly. It's illegal to fire people for engaging in protected concerted activity to improve their working conditions. Unionization is one example of something that could be protected concerted activity, but not all tactics for forming unions would qualify as protected concerted activity, nor is protected concerted activity in any way limited to forming unions. (There are some explicit protections for unionizing, but this is the general principle.)

For example, using your employer's Slack to discuss improving things like healthcare, overtime, wages, etc. would be a textbook example of something that would be protected. You need at least two employees (non-managers) leading the discussion though to qualify as concerted, one person complaining is just a malcontent and doesn't qualify for any protections under the law.


Related to this, one of the most interesting things I took home from my short course in Employment Law was the statement from the lawyer teaching the class: "if you're going to complain about something to your boss that he won't like; make sure there are at least two of you complaining. That way you're covered by the laws pertaining to Collective Bargaining and you can have some recourse if you're fired as a result."


Yep. As weak as union laws are in the US, firing workers for attempting to organize is a surefire way to run afoul of the Wagner Act.

As per the article:

> Outsourcing jobs abroad for the purpose of punishing or discouraging union organizing, as opposed to a valid business reason, would violate the National Labor Relations Act.


IANAL but I suspect their only avenue for recourse would be private arbitration as chosen by the employer. This is pretty standard language in modern employment contracts and from what I understand very few things are capable of invalidating it. (unpaid wages is one example I think can void such a clause)


"Contract of adhesion" pretty well covers it. Ask to strike the arbitration clause, bait the potential employer to say "take it or leave it", get that in writing, and you can sue to your heart's content later.


Can you elaborate on why contract of adhesion could defeat an arbitration clause? Getting the "take it or leave it" in writing establishes your inferior bargaining position, but don't you also have to show that arbitration clauses specifically are "unconscionable"? I certainly think they are, but I haven't heard a lot of that from courts.


The UN considers access to justice a human right. Depriving people of the ability to access the legal system through your overwhelming negotiating position is a pretty easy argument that it's unconscionable.

Realistically, it's enough to likely get past motions to dismiss, which means that the company will negotiate against a BATNA of a lawsuit instead of binding arbitration, which means you get much more money.


Want to know why the Rust Belt is the Rust Belt? Because the manufacturing industry discovered this strategy decades ago: If a union's going to come in and make your life inconvenient, send the jobs overseas to a country where that won't happen.


You want to know why we have a 40 hour work week and kids don't work in factories? Unions.


It's a cycle, workers get abused, push back on the lord, king, CEO. Workers gain power, lord gets pushed away. Workers fail, lord rises and abuses workers.

How many thousands of years has the pattern repeated?


> “We believe one of the most anti-unions things you can do is to let all employees go,” Parks said. “We’re going to fight as hard as we can.”

Isn’t the strength of a union in that everyone stops working collectively? Firing all of them is basically calling their bluff.


Well no, unions also collectively organise to legally represent themselves to lobby and fight for better conditions at work, via legislation or judicial decisions.

Such legislation or judicial decision-making may or may not include making it illegal to do destructive bluff-calling, since an argument can be made that employers shouldn't harm the economy just because they find it offensive that people want to collectively-organise themselves in order to reduce the power imbalance inherent in an employee-employer relationship.


Step 2: bigger union.


Sadly, while the 21% tax law is great for companies, it can suck for those of us who sling code for a living. This administration is hostile to unions, and the last administration was not overly happy to support them but in name only. America is simply not a terribly friendly place for unions. I wish our tech scene looked more like Norway or Sweden, but good luck with that...


Why would you want that? When it comes to working immigrants, the Swedish unions generally have the power to say no [1], which they use – several high-skilled immigrants have been thrown out of Sweden the past two years.

[1] https://www.affarsvarlden.se/juridik_affarer/facken-stoppar-... (Swedish)


If you think unions are strong within the tech scene in Sweden, you're wrong. I don't know anyone working in tech that's a member of a union tbh.


> I wish our tech scene looked more like Norway or Sweden

Why is this?


I've found Americans frequently believe/are told by their media that Norway and Sweden are forms of socialist paradise - basically sort of what Marx wanted but never achieved.

It's not quite clear why anyone thinks that. As far as I know Sweden has a pretty typical welfare state and union laws, comparable to the UK. It's a very politically left society in general with respect to things like identity politics, but economically it's not much different to France or the UK or other countries with publicly funded healthcare.


Well... Nordics have had a generation of good, effective governance. Ie, the hospitals, schools and such are run quite well as are state finances. I think that's the key thing others are jealous of. I would say that is more of a democratic success than a socialist one.

Economically in those countries and much of central Europe (notably Germany), large old companies, their unions and government are merged to some extent or at least highly cooperative. The result is a sort of company based welfarism in exchange for incumbent protection. Good and bad aspects to that, but it takes a lot of stress out of the system. It's very hard to fire people. It's also hard to build new large companies.

I'm not sure if the system is transferable elsewhere or even buildable if it doesn't already exist. You can't just conjure up a Siemens.

It's certainly not Marxist, itd probably be classed as right wing structurally if we go by the terms of the late 19th.


A graph of income share versus union membership:

https://i.redd.it/nhp7e2rzy8d01.jpg

Think also of the insanely high CEO pay.


As much as I see flaws in unions in the US, that graph should be plastered on everyone's eyeballs whenever unions come up. Unions are one of the very few proven ways to address inequality

The others are worse: war and revolution.


There's no doubt that unions in America have had their problems. But the solution was always better (more democratic, less corrupt, etc) unions, not less unions or none at all.


> But the solution was always better (more democratic, less corrupt, etc) unions

The core of a union is having an iron grip on the privilege of working in an industry. A bad union can't be sidestepped or replaced - that's the entire point.


I'm wondering why an alternative solution hasn't been tried: make unions into corporations, selling the service of efficiently managed labor to other corporations who want it. All of the workers could have shares in the corporation, so they would fairly share its profits. And the union/corporation could then negotiate for itself for things like health care, retirement plans, etc., without having to depend on other corporations to do it.


Because all of the problems with unions come from the "closed shop" -- the right to exclude non-members from working freely for companies. No one has a problem with voluntary associations of workers (e.g. ACM or IEEE); the issue is when a group is allowed to force a business to only hire members of that organization, or to force all employees to pay dues to that organization.

Your "labor contracting corporation" would just be one competitor among many. If it tried to increase the price of labor, it would be bypassed.

Right-to-work solves the problems of unions. It also eliminates most of the power of unions, so it is unpopular with trade unionists.

The only unions I really want to see eliminated, though, are public employee unions (prison guards, especially, but also police, fire, teachers, etc.). Those employees have other means to redress grievances. I'd also like to see AMA and ABA (which are effectively unions, but for people making far higher wages) de-fanged as well.


> Unions are one of the very few proven ways to address inequality

Inequality between middle class and upper class, maybe. Inequality between lower class and middle class? It blasts it out of proportion.

Unions create a lot of unemployment, and thus poverty.

Finally but not least, add wealth in that graph and see what happens.


What flaws?


That chart tracks the stock market. It has nothing to do with unionization. It has to do with the massive boom in the stock market after the 1970s and the pay packages that began to be linked to stock performance. The stagnation in the middle perfectly coincides with the stock market stagnation covering nearly two decades. The wage increase toward the end of the chart perfectly coincides with the stock market lift-off that began in the 1980s. The huge drop in the early part of the chart, is the great depression hammering the stock market (ie the capital class and what they earn from such investments, as corporate profits evaporated and the stock market crashed), that also had absolutely nothing to do with unions.


I wonder why there isn't a CEOs union? Maybe the smarter/better someone percieves themselves the less they think collective bargaining would work to their benefit.


Correlation does not equal causation. Funny examples: http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations


That's a graph of the stock market's performance.


If unions are a good idea, and we're all in theory smart, why aren't we unionizing more? Why is it something we allow to be set aside; the organized effort to advocate for our needs?

Are unions anti-startup? are startups anti-union? or is it really just a PG ideology trickling down?

What can we do to bring about unionization efforts to the industry?


Because we are not actually that smart. We are probably too smart to understand that collective bargaining looks at the survival as a group which protects it’s members. Most technologists are young and haven’t experienced hardships that would have been resolved readily by a union. These hardships include disparate health care (less likely to impact the youth), vacation time, involuntary separation, retirement etc...


I knew a friend: pretty smart guy who was working on his masters, hated his field and decided to go to trucking. He's been in a union for decades. He talked about union vs non-union drivers. A lot of companies will tell you all this crap about how union shops pay less, lay off tons of people, etc. etc.

He told me union trucking agencies do tend to lay a lot of people off after the busy seasons, but their contracts allow them to take other loads during those times, and many of them get hired right back on in a month or two. If you really compared union and non-union shops and factor in benefits and healthcare, you come out way ahead in union shops.

He talked about FexEx and all the videos they put out showing they're a better company to work for and how you can go from truck driver to pilot. He told me UPS is a union shop and they spend less money on that bullshit advertising and more giving their workers benefits, better wages and hours. (FedEx is non-union and UPS is union right? I might have this backwards ..was a long time ago.. anyway...).

I watched him debate with a hard core, franchise owning (he owned like 8 Jimmy John's), libertarian, anti-union guy at brunch once and they had a really good rational argument about unions.


I agree. People need to talk to their friends in a union and ask if they regret it. My union friends have great benefits and love it.


Depends if your friends are managers I guess.

My father worked his way up into management in a union shop in the 70s and 80s. The union was completely insane and basically declared war on the company. It was hacking computers, stealing mail, working with the cleaners to rummage through wastebaskets looking for corporate info they could blackmail management with. And of course they kept interrupting service to the customers via strikes.

The solution was simple enough in the end. The company replaced the striking workers with machines. But lots of people's lives were harried and disrupted in the intervening years.


The union was completely insane and basically declared war on the company

This happens when people become full-time employees of the union, rather than doing union stuff while being employees of the company. The only paid staff an honest union needs are maybe some people to do admin. Union bosses always seem to be paid as much as managers or more too, they don’t have anything in common with the Workers anymore, if they even ever did


If unions are a good idea, and we're all in theory smart, why aren't we unionizing more?

Because 'we' all think we're way better than the average coder. There will be winners and losers in any collective bargaining scenario, and we're all convinced that we're the special one that can get a much better deal arguing out own case. 'We' don't want to be dragged down to the median by a bunch of dead weight 'losers'.


And if salaries are going to be dragged down to the median, then 50% of people are right to not want that.


Realistically collective bargaining leads to a dual effect of the median salary rising while at the same time more people will end up earning closer to that new median. So it's hard to put a percentage on how many will 'suffer'. But that fear of not being rewarded for your perceived potential is very real.


Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, collective bargaining is about more than just salary. Non salary aspects like paid vacation days, generous sick leave policy, paid overtime, maternity/paternity leave policy etc. etc. can also positively effect people even if their salary doesn't increase.


I used to own my own business - we were a small software development and consulting shop. It was much cheaper to pay some Ukrainian folks a very good hourly rate. If I commonly had to deal with unionized developers in the US it would likely not ever be worth the time or money.


Because you expect to have a completely different set of coworkers every 11 months and everyone dreams of running their own company.


Because people are pussies who are afraid of risk.

At the moment, I still appreciate the idea of unionizing to improve the voice of non-management in certain decisionmaking, and especially for salaried workers, I think a group mentality making sure people aren't getting abused on hours is great!

But is it worth the risk to talk about it? After all, I've been told you might get fired by management! Oh my, well, I'd have to elect members, and sign papers... let's just keep working.


If you’re not affraid of risk, why not start your own company.


I didn't say I'm not afraid of risk. Yes, I can be self-critical!


Classic unions probably wouldn’t work in tech - you would never get people to accept a seniority system - but if we went for a mediaeval style guild that could work very well


A technology worker earning $85,000 to $250,000 sees almost zero benefit from the inherent restrictions that come with union membership. It's a step down. Technology workers are overwhelmingly served by being free agents that can constantly seek out superior opportunities, as there has been significant competition for their labor going back half a century. If there were a big surplus of technology workers, or if technology workers were being substantially underpaid and seeing a dearth of benefits, then a union would/could be beneficial to that scenario. Where there's substantial labor scarcity, unionization is not only unnecessary but it's harmful (it brings with it plenty of problems and bureacracy).


How would a union harm employees?


Things unions often do, historically:

• Require employees to strike even if they don't want to / can't afford to.

• Prevent employees being fired, for any reason or under any circumstances.

• Harass or even force non-members to join.

• Get involved with extreme-left politics and use union fees to fund the union leader's own political views / ambitions, regardless of the views of the workers themselves.

• Segregate workers into types, and attack the workers themselves if they do the "wrong kind" of work. The attendant removal of any flexibility cripples working speed and causes great frustration. For instance imagine being ticked off or even fined because you wrote a Docker config or created a monitoring dashboard, and that's the job of devops only, not developers.

• Block any kind of labour saving automation. Imagine being told you weren't allowed to deploy a script that checked your dependencies for CVEs because that was Joe's job and he's been doing it by hand for the last six months, so he's going to keep doing it by hand for the next 10 years. Now imagine that any task that anyone ever mentions is immediately given to a human to do instead of waiting for it to be scripted, so effectively nothing can ever be automated.

• Losing interest in advocating for workers rights.

These examples may sound absurd but unions of all types across all industries have engaged in this kind of behaviour in the past. It's a power thing. Because unions use their power to fight the government they can often get laws passed in their favour, granting them even more power, giving them even less incentive to work for the workers instead of themselves, etc.


Everyone expects to change jobs every 2 years. Unions don't help you get a new job, they help you keep your old one. Changing jobs would probably be more difficult.


If a union can work for actors (SAG-AFTRA) who often change jobs many times a year, they can work for people who only change jobs every few years. Unions don't have to be limited to a single company, they can organize across a whole industry. For example, AFL-CIO represents >12 million workers, far more than any individual company employs.


It would force the organization to its knees in my opinion. Unions for work in showbiz are ridiculous in that they restrict people to members of a specific union; e.g. All adjustments to an actor'a appearance must be done by the appropriate member of the cast, insofar as a sound guy couldn't brush a hair off of the shoulder of an actor.

Imagine the same craziness applied to which kinds of code you would be able to work on. I don't see the need for crippling the actions that enable our employers from innovating quickly for what amounts to more beaurecracy.


Imagine ... is not an argument. It is fabricating a non-existent scenario. I can imagine a whole lot of things non of which factor into whether labor should collectively bargain for better conditions.

This whole thread is made from 93.4% paper tigers and straw men.


It is an argument and it is not a straw man, because that argument is based on historical precedent. It's simply observing what has happened repeatedly in the past and pointing out it'd likely happen again. There are no logical fallacies there - if you believe the future would be different to the past, despite implementing the same policies, it's on you to argue why.


I am not going to argue on the merits of unions based another union and industries separation of duties taken out of context. It is an argument killing trope, "look at the ridiculous separation of job responsibilities in the film unions!" OMG, What would happen if we took this to the extreme in tech? Imagine, in a world where one person types statements and another enters semicolons. If you can't solve this problem, unions are bad.

It has no bearing on the validity of labor collectively bargaining for better conditions.


I am curious what your ideal software engineering union would look like.

I'm personally quite opposed to unions since they all seem to abuse their power in the long run, but I am curious what you would want a union to do for you.


To be fair, companies are well capable of adding extremely crippling bureaucracy to development processes without union help.


There are actually unions in technology (particularly, but not exclusively, in the public sector) so while that might be a valid argument as to why adapting a particular element of showbusiness union policies in a particular way would be a bad idea for a tech union, it's not actually an argument against unions in tech.


Public sector unions are public sector unions, not technology unions. AFSCME does not represent the interests of technical workers. And since when are public sector tech workers (truthfully the bottom of the barrel in terms of technical skill) something to aspire to?


People don't always act in their own long-term self-interest. Also, unions have a lot of flaws that can blind people to their benefits.


I’ll never unionise simply because I think it’s immoral to strong-arm your employer when they’re the one to take the burden, and risk of running a company, while offering me the benefits of a stable job. If you don’t like your situation, you can always leave, and find something better, or start your own business.


Congrats to all the engineers who are about to get a year plus salary without having to do any work.


The person overseeing the NLRB was the lawyer on the side of the government breaking the air traffic controllers union under Reagan and generally sides against unions.


This is assuming they have the money to pursue the back pay in court and the NLRB ends up agreeing with them.


oh for sure man, NLRB in the age of trump is a guaranteed win. Not to mention the pain and struggle of being unemployed in the meantime. Quality addition to the discussion here.


But I thought they were unsuccessful in joining the union.


it's illegal to fire someone for joining a union, attempting to join a union, or forming a union.

Alex is probably referring to their settlement offers if they prove their case to the NLRB. But the truth is the penalty will probably be far less... they'll likely just be required to rehire the employee and back pay wages from the date they were fired to the day they're rehired (if they win).


I think that was a dry joke about "lazy union workers".


I think OP is referring to a potential settlement. The engineers' case alleges the startup violated the National Labor Relations Act.


The attitude towards unionisation on this site is sickening.

I live in a country with a very strong union movement and the only reason I'm able to sit here typing this message is because my parents and grandparents unionised rather than live off of slavery wages. That may mean nothing to Americans where it's every man for themselves, but don't think yourselves so lucky that you got to the position you're in without workers uniting with one another and ensuring they get a fair share against the greed of the few.

It might not have affected many of you with the silver spoon you have in your mouths but the only damn reason that kids still aren't working in sweat shops and you get to go home at 5pm is because of workers organising and having each other's backs when abuses and overreach occur, and a little bit of solidarity for each other is necessary when you see such flagrant abuses like this.


> I live in a country with a very strong union movement and the only reason I'm able to sit here typing this message is because my parents and grandparents unionised rather than live off of slavery wages. That may mean nothing to Americans where it's every man for themselves, but don't think yourselves so lucky that you got to the position you're in without workers uniting with one another and ensuring they get a fair share against the greed of the few.

There is another side of this coin too. I just finished reading The Box, a book on the advent of containerization, and it's appalling how unions fiercely fought any sort of mechanization. A job that required only 1-2 longshoremen mandatorily needed many more because unions said so. Days, and sometimes weeks, were wasted on strikes when a consensus couldn't be reached. Jobs that weren't needed anymore were still forced to be kept because any labor-saving innovation was undesirable. In the end, it was more cost-effective to compulsorily retire the longshoremen with a guaranteed income than to fight them.

I don't deny that the unions serve a purpose but the exploitation of their dominance can surely set back innovation by years. I wouldn't want to part of an organization that mandates that I can't touch PHP code because I am a Frontend Engineer.


Unions in the UK and US are antagonistic to the point that they will gladly destroy a company or even an entire industry rather than give an inch (union bosses don’t care, they are very well looked after, strangely). But unions in France and Germany are far cleverer, they would never kill the goose that laid the golden eggs. That’s why Germany is strong in manufacturing AND has superb working conditions... and the UK has a service economy and zero-hours contracts


Smart unions everywhere do that, but because of that they also regularly sell the workers.

In argentina, unions are constitutionally protected. Union leaders are defacto politicians, as they cannot be arrested for many crimes without congress approval. What is unique about argentina is that unions are right-wing and shut the left-wing parties out. And the left parties (socialist, communist) always denounce that the unions are constantly selling off the workers.

Today, the strongest union leader is getting indicted because it used union's funds to sustain his own soccer club.


That’s why Germany is strong in manufacturing AND has superb working conditions... and the UK has a service economy and zero-hours contracts

Bravo, well said. Solid working conditions, meaningful employee input to company decision making processes, and excellent remuneration for all doesn't really impact the bottom line but significantly improves quality and productivity in most cases.


In my experience Unions in Poland will sooner let the company close than give an inch, to a point where the government is bailing out private companies just so they wouldn't get a massive strike by the unions.


Unions in the US and UK are antagonistic because businesses have been trying to destroy them for over a century. Many companies actually had striking workers murdered in an attempt to control unions.

German unions are less antagonistic because they are required by law to get representation on the boards of all companies with more than 500 employees.


And France has...?


High productivity, great worker protections, and high unemployment. Seems to be a mixed bag but the workers who have jobs wouldn't trade it.


France is a very interesting country. I would really like to know details about labor conditions there before making the default judgement that I used to when I was younger, that unionization and over-regulation had basically killed the French economy, causing the high levels of unemployment. They seem to have a system of protecting their workers, now if there was a way to also increase innovation/employment so more people could benefit from this system ...


At the moment it seems to be a choice in the developed world for high unemployment or high ratio of poor part-time workers , there's not enough work for everybody anyway so I'm not sure which one is the worst.


"The only way a union can effectively increase the wages of its workers is by reducing the amount of workers" - Milton Friedman


I like Friedman but this manifestly isn’t true: it’s about the ratio of capital (and management) to labour. Any profitable company can set this ratio to whatever they want.


A decent way of life and some semblance of culture.


> There is another side of this coin too. I just finished reading The Box, a book on the advent of containerization, and it's appalling how unions fiercely fought any sort of mechanization. A job that required only 1-2 longshoremen mandatorily needed many more because unions said so. Days, and sometimes weeks, were wasted on strikes when a consensus couldn't be reached. Jobs that weren't needed anymore were still forced to be kept because any labor-saving innovation was undesirable. In the end, it was more cost-effective to compulsorily retire the longshoremen with a guaranteed income than to fight them.

To be fair, that's a failing with those unions, and in a sense part of the systemic problems with US unions; plenty of unions elsewhere saw automation as inevitable and got training for their members to find jobs in other areas.


> To be fair, that's a failing with those unions, and in a sense part of the systemic problems with US unions; plenty of unions elsewhere saw automation as inevitable and got training for their members to find jobs in other areas.

Do you think this is because the Unions are different, or perhaps maybe the people/culture are different?


> Do you think this is because the Unions are different, or perhaps maybe the people/culture are different?

What is a union if not a collective of its members? i.e., is there a difference between unions being different and people/culture being different?


Which unions? I grew up in the UK and unions there were antagonistic in the same way. French farming unions regularly pull stunts like dumping cow shit on the roads:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2822120/French-farme...

The only country I've ever seen held up as an example of productive unionisation is Germany, and unions there don't seem to bear much resemblence to unions anywhere else. Possibly because of its unique history with respect to socialism.


> The only country I've ever seen held up as an example of productive unionisation is Germany, and unions there don't seem to bear much resemblence to unions anywhere else. Possibly because of its unique history with respect to socialism.

There's several other Germanic examples, including Sweden/Norway (and I'd be surprised if Denmark wasn't the same here) and Austria, and I believe Switzerland.


What I think is interesting is the different standards applied by people like you -- and even whether you realize you're doing it!

Concentrated power in the hands of capital has had utterly devastating effects on millions if not billions of people. It has easily cost 7-digit numbers of lives. Yet in general, capitalism is taken for granted as a good, discussions of problems always get tons and tons of "yeah, but even if it did that bad thing here's a bunch of good that outweighs it", and at best people suggest only very moderate restraints as a remedy.

Putting even small amounts of power in the hands of labor... does not get that kind of pass. Instead, the focus is almost exclusively on harms, flipping the story to "I guess they did some good, but..." and then bringing up criticism after criticism, either implying or outright saying that unless labor unions manage to somehow be perfect angels at all times it won't be worth allowing them to exist.

What's even more ironic is that a labor union is just a legal form that pools a resource, for the benefit of those who provide that resource, in ways that wield more power than any of them could individually. The only difference between a labor union and a for-profit corporation is the resource being pooled.


Actually I think that you're just looking at the situation from a different angle than many of us. The reason I have some distrust of unions is that they sometimes seem to promote inefficiency as a policy. The distribution of money problem is actually orthogonal to the problem of "how do you do task X most efficiently". If a machine can do the work of 10 men, then to have those 10 men doing the work of the machine is literally wasting their lives.

I wish that unions pursued more contracts of the form "we get X percent of revenue/profits" and then distributed those profits amongst their membership the way they saw fit. This way decreasing the amount of work per person does not decrease the amount of money per person and business and union interests are aligned. I'm sure there are practical reasons why that's difficult though.


I can think of a thousand examples of capitalists pursuing inefficiency as a policy. First thing that came to mind is when food companies change packaging to hide the fact that they reduced the amount being sold.


No, I really think there is a double standard for corporations versus unions.

Witness the complaint about unions pushing back on automation -- yet how many companies and corporate cartels have attempted to quash, or even outlaw, new technology they saw as a threat to their revenue streams? Why do we not simply say that we live in a greed-driven system, and this is the consequence, and try to address the root of it? Instead we get endless "well unions do some bad things" comments, imposing a far higher standard of perfection than we'd ever apply to a corporation.


How is this "the other side of the coin"? This story makes it sound like the union did its job (= protecting the interests of individual workers over the interests of the company) exactly as intended, and technological progress went on forward unimpeded, as we can attest to today.

Sure, some executives would have rather not paid for the retirement of the longshoremen. Without unions, they would have fired all of the longshoremen in one fell swoop, and made a few millions more in the short term (for the exact same results in the long term). But what happens to the longshoremen in that universe? Do they tend to commit suicide more than the average? Develop an opioid addiction? etc.

I don't think a fair society is one where it is acceptable to fuck over an entire subsegment of the population for the profit of "investors", "the market", "technological progress", or whatever you want to call it.


In other words, both unions and capital owners will abuse their power if they have too much of it...


Who is automation for? What end does the technology serve? If the economy doesn’t serve humanity then to hell with it. Offer people decent lives, or at least don’t act surprised when the luddites come to smash your precious “labor-saving”.


> Who is automation for?

All of us.

I, for one, am glad that I'm not sending this message via pigeon by the light of a candle, because I wouldn't be sending it - I'd probably be spending my days plowing some field somewhere were it not for "job killing" technological innovation.

50% of the United States used to be farmers, now it's 2%. We sure as hell don't have 48% unemployment, and I'd guess that nearly every American has it better now than they would have in the same social strata then.

Tesla saw the promise of electricity and automation as a magical force that would free men from toiling away doing things they actually needn't do. And I think he was largely right! Think of where we would be if Tesla, Edison and Westinghouse refused to work on electricity, lightbulbs, and electric motors because it would put the people that stoke fires for a living out of a job.

What happened when tractors came and took all of the farming jobs away? Food became much less expensive, and we all ended up doing different things - the vast majority of which are much better than farming. And the luddites would have smashed the tractors?! What a counterproductive way to try and help people.

It's not always beautiful in the short-run, but the economy cures itself relatively quickly, and the people that fill the gaps are handsomely rewarded. To fight innovation for the sake of jobs, so far as I can tell, is almost always short-sighted.


> What happened when tractors came and took all of the farming jobs away?

Have you heard of “The Grapes of Wrath”?

No one is talking about fighting “innovation” for the sake of jobs. I questioned to point to the central conflict of who benefits from all of this. The old socialists were the most technologically hopeful, because they believed new technologies would spare workers from drudgery. Yet if you look at the vast interior of the United States, almost every community is worse off now than it was 25 years ago. Old, bad jobs at least gave people dignity and a sense of place.

Your naïve faith in high school economics fails to address a key question of our times: as technology races ahead of social ability to adapt and integrate it, how will people manage? Leave behind Ayn Rand and look to history: this same crisis has played out in the 1st century BCE in Rome and the 18th century in France just to name two famous examples. Depriving common people a decent living leads to disaster.

People need to make a living. Immigration alone has provoked widespread resentment. When self-driving cars and the like displace more workers at an unprecedented pace the outcome will be violent. Rhetoric and greed will not stem the high tides of blood.


> Your naïve faith in high school economics fails to address a key question of our times: as technology races ahead of social ability to adapt and integrate it, how will people manage? Leave behind Ayn Rand and look to history.

We don’t need to look to Rome for that. It’s happened a dozen times in the United States. This isn’t a new scenario. Though it certainly is simple to call anything that disagrees with your understanding of the world “high school economics.”

And you can quit it with the Ayn Rand strawman. Just because someone is discussing economics doesn’t mean they’re Randian any more than it makes you a Marxist.


> We don’t need to look to Rome for that. It’s happened a dozen times in the United States. This isn’t a new scenario.

I think you're being too optimistic. The only time I can think of where the US made the switch successfully was when creating entirely new job sectors. e.g. from Agriculture to Industry meant there were similar numbers of jobs in Industry, and then to the Services. But Automation seems to be a dead end: one worker is so productive he/she can manage an entire fleet of autonomous trucks (e.g.)! So there will most certainly be a lot of people losing their jobs and the kind of jobs opening up for them... don't seem to be many.


A few decades ago the most common job title in the USA was secretary. It certainly isn't anymore. Now it's truck driver.

Secretary went away (and wasn't simply replaced with a new title like admin assistant) because of IT. We don't have a secretary shaped hold in the economy. They mostly got other jobs, or retired.



Secretary didn't go away. Hot-type printing is a better example. Look at how healthy and well-performing the economy is doing. Real wages stagnating for almost fifty years, speculation enriching the gamblers. Millions of people have already given up finding work. Whole communities have become drug-infested hellholes. America is falling apart. Visit these towns where industry is obsolete or shipped abroad. Look at that, and then say "yep, accelerating this process will be wonderful".


> America is falling apart. Visit these towns where industry is obsolete or shipped abroad. Look at that, and then say "yep, accelerating this process will be wonderful".

Genuine question (not trying to flamebait): why are these failing communities "America" any more than the metro regions are booming like crazy and creating prosperity for so many Americans? Again, I'm not blaming them for their predicament, but I've met many Americans who grew up in rural areas but migrated to other places to seek work. Why should the rest of us be heavily taxed and regulated just to preserve these anachronistic, unproductive communities?


> why are these failing communities "America" any more than the metro regions are

They aren't. They do represent more of the population and land area. Also many cities, probably most, are awful. Memphis, TN or Dayton, OH are much more representative of the nation then New York or San Francisco.

> Why should the rest of us be heavily taxed and regulated just to preserve these anachronistic, unproductive communities?

That really hasn't been a question in this discussion. The international order is built on nation-states. Whether you like it or not, the nation implies collective responsibility. This was the "fraternité" part of the French revolution, for example. Your remarks reflect the prevailing liberal sentiments that we are all just individuals. If we are these atomic subjects, why should we be obligated to help some random other atoms? This is one of the reasons why liberal democracies are failing. The left and establishment have no good response to this. The alt-right has pushed people to revive ethnic (Richard Spencer) or civic (Steve Bannon) nationalism.


Perhaps I didn't phrase my question correctly. I wasn't advocating abandoning middle and rural America; my concern is that we shouldn't be pouring money (in the form of tax incentives and debt that hides the true cost of rural living) into sustaining rural America as it is now. I am certainly all for investing in retraining programs; hell perhaps even having a rural specific health insurance system.

But increasing tariffs to protect coal miners? Killing solar and renewables for the sake of those communities? That is not a tradeoff I want to make.

You do make a good point about why liberal democracies seem to be in crisis though. I'm kind of embarrassed to say that I too was influenced very strongly by libertarian beliefs (specifically Rand's system of less Government) in most of my youth and only recently have started understanding how poisonous and selfish that can be when taken to its extremes.


> I am certainly all for investing in retraining programs; hell perhaps even having a rural specific health insurance system.

> But increasing tariffs to protect coal miners? Killing solar and renewables for the sake of those communities? That is not a tradeoff I want to make.

What you've said in general makes sense. I'm only responding to point out that the question isn't just rural people and coal miners. Cities, suburbs, and towns are also affected. A few economic centers are doing well while _everywhere else_ is not.

Automation and the changing economy threaten the vast majority of Americans. Technical jobs will increasingly become critical, and tech workers can organize together to gain significant influence. If we don't, it will be up to the "masters of the universe" – Zuckerberg, et al. This industry is transforming politics, society, and culture. My hope is that we technicians take our role seriously.


That was literally the argument people made about electricity, tractors, steam engines, etc.


What I referred to as high school economics are sentimental rhetoric like:

> Who is automation for? All of us

Your arguments have largely been innocent either by design or accident from the terrifying reality of daily life under our glorious economic system. I meant no personal insult to you of course. Your words reflect a broader notion that questions like automation are problems to be solved – a fine mindset from a technical perspective. But these are not just technical questions, they are grave conflicts where millions of lives hang in the balance. Slate Star Codex has a better exposition of this difference[0].

> Think of where we would be if Tesla, Edison and Westinghouse refused to work on electricity, lightbulbs, and electric motors because it would put the people that stoke fires for a living out of a job.

This is nearly identical to the plot from Ayn Rand's book "Anthem"[1].

[0]: http://slatestarcodex.com/2018/01/24/conflict-vs-mistake/ [1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthem_(novella)

> The next day he presents his work to the World Council of Scholars. Horrified that he has done unauthorized research, they assail him as a "wretch" and a "gutter cleaner" and say he must be punished. They want to destroy his discovery so it will not disrupt the plans of the World Council and the Department of Candles.


The Luddites smashed machinery because the ownership was using it to drop their cottage industries off the map without a moments notice. No negotiations, no winding down, retooling, retraining or nothing, just pack your shit and go starve out of sight. Can’t see how that wouldn’t happen again


Political economy, considered as a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator, proposes two distinct objects: first, to provide a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or more properly to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and secondly, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public services. It proposes to enrich both the people and the sovereign.

-- Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, introduction to Book IV.

https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/smith-adam/works/...


Depends if you work to live or if you live to work.

If the latter then fake busy work is good for society, regardless of why it’s being done.


Why should anybody support "innovation" in a system that subjects you to brutal poverty when you lose your job?

"I might lose my job and watch my children starve, but at least my bosses will be making more money and I might get marginally cheaper consumer goods in a few years time?"


Who owns the 'innovation', and who benefits from that ownership? Did the advent of containerization mean the longshoremen could now only work 2 days a week and explore the fine arts with the 3 days they now gained ?


No, 3/5 of them simply became milkmen. Wait.


There needs to be a balance. They do become powerful but also are major forces for raising the standard living overall.


If you are a frontend engineer perhaps you should leave the php code to the backend developers who understand it. If you are a full stack living in a frontend world that's different. A union could help enforce that. Now your company is forced to hire a backend developer or relabel you full stack with addional pay.

There is a reason why developers need to leave a place ever few years.


1) Unions in America don’t have the same culture as unions wherever you are. There isn’t the same amount of trust here, and that means each side is just trying to take as much as they can, even if that eventually leads to each other’s destruction.

2) Do you not see the flaw in the logic of “something worked before, so we should keep doing it regardless of changing circumstances.”

3) American tech workers make much more than tech workers everywhere else (except Switzerland I think). Most companies know its better to give us great benefits and perks, give us autonomy and control over our work, not overwork us, etc. some startups are run by people who don’t know what they’re doing. Employees there should leave if they can.


The amount of money a tech worker makes shouldn't really factor in. A personal example: Non-competes are banned in California. They're banned in Illinois .. if you make $13/hr or less. Why does your income change your rights?

I've never signed a non-compete and refuse to. In the past most companies that had them would just take them out. "Oh they're not enforceable anyway, so if it makes you uncomfortable we'll remove it for you." I still sign NDAs, waver of patent rights, waver of copyright, anti-poaching, agree to all IP transfers, etc. etc. I just refuse to sign things that say "For 6 months after your employment with x .. you have to ask us if you can work for y" (I've never even worked for a direct competitor of a previous company).

Lately it's been getting more and more difficult to fight for this right. It's getting to the point where I've considered moving back to California just because I know this right is protected by law.

Tech workers don't have unions. We don't collectively bargain. But a lot of us also don't fully read contracts and hold to certain labor standards.

And as a side note, if we had unions and they drove down wages a bit so everyone gets paid more fairly, wouldn't that help a lot in cities were rising wages drive a wedge into income inequality? People in Seattle and The Valley who run restaurants and Starbucks have to live pretty far away and commute 1 ~ 2 hours on a train/bus/car to be able to afford to live in cities where only a few decades ago, they could live and work easily within less than an hour bus commute.

If unions could drive wages more equal (even if they'd go down a bit with everyone getting paid more equal), wouldn't that be beneficial? Wouldn't it be nice if everyone's wage wasn't a secret? If you're a Junior or Senior or SA-I or SA-II, everyone with that tile gets paid the same so everyone knows what everyone makes and you make that same amount no matter if you're black, white, male, female or other?


Housing is largely a positional good, so for that Starbucks employee to live close by, someone else has to commute. Building more housing makes it less accute, but there will always be people willing to deal with long commutes, so that is the behaviour you see. I mean, I work at a company that pays very well in NYC and I have co-workers with 1hr+ commutes because they traded off commute time for a nicer home.


First mover problem - nobody wants to take a pay cut when the carrot of homeownership is close but still so out of reach.


I think your point 1) is just a fantastic illustration of how effective companies have been at villianizing and attacking unions.

For example, Walmart could stomach some unionized workers, but they straight up close down stores in retaliation, and I bet it's not just Walmart.

Those stories then get played as "unions destroy jobs" when it's really companies are so beholden to stock holders they wont let workers get any standing to bargain.

That's just one example, union busting and breaking is a business at this point and companies pay for advice and strategies.

I get you're probably not trying to seem biased, but it just shows how deeply the US culture has turned against what seems like such a reasonable thing, workers being able to lobby together for fair treatment. Otherwise it's really just letting companies set the rules and workers being forced to play by them.


>2) Do you not see the flaw in the logic of “something worked before, so we should keep doing it regardless of changing circumstances.”

Do you not see the flaw in the logic "Something is imperfect, therefore discard it"?

I work at one of the most rewarding (financially) Information Security employers in the country, I believe, and I enjoy most parts of my job. Does that mean I should not be allowed to coordinate with my coworkers on fair pay and overtime conditions? At what point should I "suck it up" and who gets to say?


>Does that mean I should not be allowed to coordinate with my coworkers

Companies aren’t allowed to coordinate together to get what they consider to be “fair” prices. I think it’s crazy that you actually are, because it’s everyone else that loses out because of your collusion.


A company already coordinates the salary of all their workers. It is only fair that workers also be allowed to look out for their collective interests.


See my response to stickfigure. The relationship is not balanced.


You're somebody I pay for a job done. You could leave me at any time if somebody else offers you more money, and, statistically, you're probably going to in about 2 years. You don't even have to give me 2 week's notice; that's just a courtesy.

Employment is a voluntary relationship between two people. Sounds like you're trying to make it voluntary for you but not me.


Just like we have a progressive tax structure, I believe most regulations regarding corporate obligations should be progressive.

Your decision to callously let one employee go, when your pre-tax income is $1,000,000,000, is negligible. The impact to that person is the security of their family and future.

Maybe if your PTI is $100,000, and you're a local startup or a bar, or a small MSP, it's more reasonable that you need flexibility in staffing and can't support any "slack" in employee output.

But yes, it is absolutely asymmetrical, to the benefit of the party that has the power to withstand ending the relationship more. Which one is that?


> Your decision to callously let one employee go, when your pre-tax income is $1,000,000,000, is negligible. The impact to that person is the security of their family and future.

This is such a spurious comparison. First, it compares the workers wealth to the employer's wealth in an attempt to make a redistributive argument.

Making it hard to fire people is not the way to tax the wealthy to help the less wealthy. There are much better measures for that.

The second is that it conflates what you think is right as a narrator of the argument but with other people's money. It's always so easy to make other people pay for things you believe in!


You know, I agree with you to an extent, and for certain people who work certain jobs, I think this logic makes sense. If you are a person with the skills in a field that is highly competitive, you can probably get a new job as soon as you decide to leave the previous one.

But for most people, this is not true; it might take anywhere from months to years to find a new job. Now, you can easily argue that this is the same for employers, and I would agree that you are correct; it can take months to years for an employer to find someone capable of doing a job.

So, it might logically seem like both parties are making an even trade, with equal risk for both. Either side can walk away from the deal at any time, and both sides have the risk of taking a while to find a replacement for the other.

However, if you think about it more, you see why the employer has a huge advantage over the employee, and why I think it is a bit simplistic to just say 'both sides enter and leave the agreement voluntarily, so we don't need any protections for anyone'

When a person loses their job, they are losing 100% of their earning power. That has a HUGE effect on the quality of life for that person. On the other hand, a company is only losing 1/n of their productive capacity. Even if you assume the person is worth 10 other people, any decently sized company is going to be able to absorb the loss pretty easily.

Now, I am not saying that we need super strict worker protections, but I don't think we can just wave away the concerns about the power imbalance between workers and employers.

Personally, I think good unemployment benefits is probably the best mitigation that maintains everyone's freedom while still mitigating the power imbalance somewhat.


Personally, I am massively in favor of providing things like unemployment benefits through the state, rather than unions.


From another perspective, it sounds like you're trying to stop other workers from telling you to get bent if you treat their colleagues improperly! :)


You're aware that firms voluntarily sign contracts with unions, correct?

You are also misrepresenting the power imbalance a single worker who needs to eat has against a multibillion dollar company or industry.

Unions try to correct the power imbalance between labor and capital.

Edit: was beaten by a more elegant response 15min ago.


Most of the so-called abuses of unions happen only because employers don't want to negotiate fair conditions. They prefer to drive conditions to a dead-end instead of working with union leaders to promote shared interests. This way, they can demonize unions and increase their power over workers.


That's usually not true. The strongest unions happen to be in the strongest jobs. This happens so because the strongest unions need to have the biggest funds, and the biggest funds come from the better paid workers.

Cause and effect mix the other way around in public opinion. This is why the weakest and most populous workers actually dont have strong unions, because there's not enough money to build one.


> not overwork us,

This stuck out to me. More than a few companies require developers to put in a lot of unpaid overtime in order to finish a project close to the original schedule. There's even a lovely name for it.... crunch time. It is endemic in the game industry, and pretty common in regular IT organizations.

And don't a lot of startups, especially in the very early founding days, expect devs to put in long hours without additional compensation?

And I worry that this has knock on effects such that some folks are locked out of employment opportunities. Got a young family or starting a family? No need to apply. Older and wiser and not willing to trade quality of life so the company can meet a busted schedule? No need to apply.

At its core, unpaid overtime, is caused by management mistakes (unrealistic project schedule). And not often enough will managers face up to the consequences of their mistakes.


Ever read or read about "Atlas Shrugged"? There's a strong strain of "I'm John Galt" in software development. "Everyone" thinks they're smarter, better negotiators, etc. and that a union would only hold them back.


I think this is in part because software is such a 100x type of profession. There are lots and lots of single person software companies. And there are startups doing with a handful of excellent programmers more than giant corporations.

Since the work isn’t rote and the talent is super creative, this means it’s frequently better for the individual to not need a union.

I’m sure there are other professions, but I’ve seen more copies of Atlas Shrugged on programmer bookshelves than other professions.


ironically many programmers ARE doing fairly rote jobs. And getting paid more than ever for it!


That’s true, but I think the rote programmers are making much less than the awesome folks. I’ve done a bit of hiring and it’s pretty common to have 50-75k salary bands for positions based on performance. That’s a huge swing. You the different between being a cog at AT&T or something making $75k and a profit center developer could be 150-200.

This isn’t even accounting for all the entry positions at $40k and all the google stories of $500k after stock.

I’m always surprised that BLS shows the average national salary to be like $80k.


This is a pretty HN-bubble view of the software industry. I'm not surprised at all at a low (compared to SV wages) salary. The Bay Area (and similar metro areas) is an extreme anomaly in terms of developer compensation.


> That’s true, but I think the rote programmers are making much less than the awesome folks.

What do you define as rote programming? The interview process seems pretty rote to me. Literally the same questions recycled over and over again.


I call this phenomenon “adolescent” libertarianism.


In most cases, they’re not wrong...


They're not wrong in the sense that they're not even wrong (similar to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_even_wrong, except in this context).


The problem with our unions is that they have not modernized, often the union is more interested in the union itself than the worker. Some are known for graft ad corruption, and they also on occasion tell their membership how to vote politically.

If they want people to sympathize with them they have to modernize and address modern issues. They can't live off their 1920s laurels.


A union, the act of unionisation is inherently political, of course they'll say vote for "x". You have different interests to your boss and your boss has different interests to you, of course you will vote and engage politically differently.

Could you explain specifically what you mean by "modernise"? Or how they are not addressing modern issues? I could point to hundreds of examples in Australia of very successful industrial action that addresses "modern" issues, so you'll really need to be more specific.


Modernize:

1. Base promotions on skill, not seniority.

2. Address problem members properly -fire transgressors.

3. Allow cross-industry move (people change jobs)

4. Eliminate corruption

5. Think of workers + company (not union for the sake of the union, etc)

6. Don't politicize (cozy up to one candidate or another) fight for beliefs not political parties.

7. Don't promote luddism.

8. Don't get in the way of work (only union members from local 783 can turn that screw and we won't have one in the shop till Monday next week)

9. (almost forgot) Stem outsourcing.


> Base promotions on skill, not seniority.

I have always been curious about the long term efficacy of that policy. At its face, it seems good, but I wonder if it disincentivizes expirenced people from training promising young talent.


You can apply every one of those to companies as well. If companies 'modernise' the need for unions will go away.


A few, but not most. I guess the presumption is we need unions otherwise the whole discussion is moot.


Well, you'll get US-centric answers.

The longshoremen union is a great example of a union that stops technology.

The auto workers and steel workers unions didn't help the Midwest stay afloat either.


you think the auto worker unions killed the midwest?

The industry is still afloat despite foreign car companies eating US car company's lunch (because of poor quality on the US side, and that's not on the linepeople), and many people in those industries are getting proper paychecks.

The only difference I see in a non-unionized auto industry is even lower wages and less time off. Unions didn't cause bad car design.


I don't know about that. It's pretty old history now, but you might want to learn about what happened at NUMMI versus most other American manufacturing plants at the time (early 80's). Plenty of blame to go around, with management, union rules, and workers, but there are vivid tales of workers doing things resulted in very bad quality. [1]

Today, it seems pretty clear that police unions in some cities are a big blocker when it comes to meaningful reforms.

Which is not to say I'm anti-union, but there are some cautionary tales. It's mixed. Scorched-earth tactics (on either side) are not the answer.

[1] https://www.thisamericanlife.org/561/nummi-2015


No possible effort by a steel workers union is going to stop globalization from hollowing out US manufacturing. That's a problem that has to be tackled at a higher level.


In that particular case, I think you're right.

Old technology meant steel coming out of PA was expensive. Steel should have presented a united front (labor and employers) demanding Carter and Reagan address dumping and drive for modernization --even if that meant fewer workers in the future --but at least the industry would remain.

After US announced 30% tariffs on imported solar panels, a Chinese company said they'd build a factory in the US [1].

We should demand fair reciprocal trade. None of this WTO, promises we put up with.

[1]http://money.cnn.com/2018/01/30/news/economy/jinko-solar-us-...


The panel tariffs are a problem because it's possible the negative impact on non-manufacturing (solar installations, etc) will cancel out the benefits from the tariffs :( But yes, there are definitely things the government could have done to protect local manufacturing. I'm still not sure the steel industry could've been saved. At this point I think the real failure is that the government didn't do enough to help people trapped in dying rust belt cities. Unions can't bear the blame for that.


Not saying that unions are perfect, but the US auto industry problems are much deeper than unions. These unions are just navigating on a difficult situation that was not caused by workers. Viewing them as the cause for the troubles of the auto and steel industry is just stupid, plainly coming from anti-labor mindset.


> You have different interests to your boss and your boss has different interests to you, of course you will vote and engage politically differently.

Nope. At my employer, anyway, engineers and the managers they report to are pretty similarly compensated and pretty similarly motivated to achieve the team's goals. Somewhere between Manager II and Senior Director you start to be meaningfully distinct from the engineers, but "your boss" as a software engineer is a (sometimes, not always) slightly more senior version of you who made a lateral move to management which you may or may not be planning soon.


The problem with our corporations is that they have not modernized, often the corporation is more interested in the corporation itself than the profit. Some are known for graft and corruption, and they also on occasion tell their employees how to vote politically.

If they want people to sympathize with them they have to modernize and address modern issues. They can't live off their 1950s laurels.


My mother was in IBEW for ~40 years, and went on strike a couple of times. Grandfather was a union organizer. I was in IBEW very briefly as a teenager working for GTE.

My father went from being a union steward to having grievances filed against him as a member of management during his ~40 years at GE.

I've seen both sides.

imo, unions are best suited for workers who have no leverage: at jobs where the worker is an interchangeable part, or is unspecialized, or where the labor market is flooded, or when they want to minimize changing employers - software development is none of the above.

Personally, I think software developers should be paid 2-4x what they are now - I say that as a developer, and as an employer who cut their checks at a company I helped start. Their value-add is just way higher than the current pay rate reflects.

How to achieve that? Maybe a professional organization is needed - similar to doctors - but a union and all its trappings? Meh.


I find it so weird that so many software developers think they're being paid fairly in the face of Google having massive reserves of cash just lying around.


Additionally there is lots of software written 5-10 years ago making tons of money today where the original authors get none of it.


There’s probably an order of magnitude more software that was written 5-10 years ago that lost money but the software devs were still paid for.


Yes but the loss is linear while the gains are often exponents. I bet the integral of each would make the 'lost money' nearly insignificant.


Well, yeah. Otherwise there’d be little incentive to risk that money. And you wouldn’t call those losses insignificant if it was your money :)


not to mention all the anti-poaching stuff that was revealed.

Why would they need to have those agreements if people were being paid a fair price?


When you realize you can retire early, it's quite easy to forgive them. Not realizing you're very fortunate would make you kind of a jerk, no?


So if you can retire early, complaining about your employer makes you a jerk?


No, just complaining about being underpaid when anyone looking at things objectively would say you're well off and have been treated well.


Why do you feel like you can correctly discern what the objective view is?


Well, maybe "objective" was the wrong word. But you can try to see things from other people's point of view. This is something humans can do.


Well, perhaps you can see that saying people who are "fortunate" are "jerks" for complaining when something isn't fair is quite baffling, then? And perhaps you can see that using the phrase "this is something humans can do" can come across as quite condescending? And perhaps you could see that the same argument could be used against any company with cash reserves, whether they employ engineers or minimum-wage line cooks, then?


I'm an ex-Googler. I'm speaking primarily for myself. The idea that I couldn't possibly have been "paid fairly" (which the comment I was originally replying to) is nonsense.

Note that I'm not saying that every software engineer (let alone line cooks) at Google has been paid fairly. But some of us have been fortunate, and I don't think I'm all that atypical.

Your claim that people working at a company with enormous cash reserves cannot possibly have been paid fairly is wrong, and it's condescending to tell people that they are "weird" for understanding their own situation.


I didn't call anyone weird, I said I found it weird.

I didn't say that it wasn't possible for someone working for a company with huge cash reserves to have been paid fairly.


>Google having massive reserves of cash just lying around.

What does that have to do with anything?


Clearly, employees generated that money and don't have it.


In the face of all of the companies that illegally colluded to suppress developer wages sitting on massive reserves of cash...

It’s the same thing as poor whites clinging to racism because they think it elevates their class position. False consciousness abounds.


Doctors in the US are unionized, for the economical sense of the word, and it is one of the reasons of high cost of health care and under-supply.

Software and the internet, thankfully, is generally libertarian because thats how the internet generally behaves. Otherwise, the U.S. would bar foreigners from practicing software engineering, and limit the amount of people that can have a software license.


> Doctors in the US are unionized, for the economical sense of the word,

No they are not, for any sense of the word.

> and it is one of the reasons of high cost of health care and under-supply.

No, they are not. Aside from the fact that doctors collectively have about zero control over the total supply, physician earnings account for about 7% of healthcare expenditures. That's a drop in the bucket, even if you reduced that to zero.

> Otherwise, the U.S. would bar foreigners from practicing software engineering, and limit the amount of people that can have a software license.

This much is completely true, and you can look to the incredibly long and xenophobic history of labor unions for evidence of that.


> Personally, I think software developers should be paid 2-4x what they are now - I say that as a developer, and as an employer who cut their checks at a company I helped start. Their value-add is just way higher than the current pay rate reflects.

It’s an issue with the tool startups use to run their businesses: either C or S corps.

What if a startup used a DAO instead of a corporation? I’d suspect you’d see the rate paid out by the smart contract would be proportional to an engineer’s contribution.

Measuring the engineer’s contribution is non-obvious though; it’s not a simple metric like LoC, bug reports closed, feature requests completed, etc.


Guilds


I have a parent that was wholly failed by the CWA after 24 years of service at C&W, South Central Bell, and BellSouth. I’m glad that you have an anecdote to share, but please don’t think they’re the norm.


This is the second time CWA has been used as an argument against all unions in this comments section. Perhaps CWA is just a piss poor union?


It seems pretty appropriate to use CWA's past as an argument against CWA, since the article is about CWA.


Well they haven't actually used their past actions, they've just said that they've been "failed". Seems like if you're on an anti-union bend you could give specifics rather than vague complaints?


> Seems like if you're on an anti-union bend you could give specifics rather than vague complaints?

I'm not the person complaining about CWA. That's the user "packetized."


You don't get to make a "bad apples" argument against unions. It's 100% of the point of unionization that all workers in an industry are bound by its decisions with no recourse. If you find your industry's union to be piss poor, you can suck it up or find a different line of work.

That would be much worse than the current situation for software engineers, where if you find your boss's decisions to be piss poor, you can go get a better offer down the street.


Can you provide some specifics?

We were represented by IBEW at GTE, and when my mother's job was moved to Florida, they got a pretty decent severance deal. Curious to hear how things were handled elsewhere.


This is probably because most American's exposure to unions is the teacher's union, and the teacher's union promotes based on tenure, not merit.


Tenure is actually valuable at the University level .. or at least it was when professors weren't afraid of controversial research. People like Churchill, post 9/11, kept their jobs and promoted ideas that, although not everyone agreed with, at least promoted discussion and made people think.

Today, let's take an controversial issue like say: climate change. There are actually quite a few secular scientists that don't agree with a lot of the man-made climate change ideas. Al Gore would have you believe differently. Many of them even get their ideas published, but they're often criticized heavily and often pushed out of Universities, even though they have tenure.

There are also documentaries like Waiting for Superman that place every fault of child development on bad teachers and teachers unions. It's a pretty bias film and doesn't even consider other factors like bad neighborhoods, bad parents or poverty and tries to squarely place all the blame on teachers unions.


There are actually quite a few secular scientists that don't agree with a lot of the man-made climate change ideas

Quite a few credible experts in relevant fields of study?

I recognize that if there’s genuinely an academy-wide bias that pushes these people out or discredits them it might be hard to give examples, but could you try?

I’d really like the see the other side of an intelligent climate debate.


Dr. Judith Curry is one of them. She's a Georgia Tech professor wrote the book Climate Models for the Layman.

Here's also a somewhat more editorialized report about the recent adjustments/recalibrations to the Remote Sensing Lower Troposphere Data:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlnwhcO5NC0

I don't like some of the political/Orwellian stuff he goes into in the beginning, but the remote sensing data is interesting to me as I'm currently working on a project to get soil moisture data in Ethiopia to use it to re-calibrate satellite (remote sensing) data.

I've also talked to some farming/loan startups that talk about data variability in remote sensing data and accuracy problems. There's a lot of current climate change work that directly depends on RSS data.


She seems very credible but also in agreement with consensus in many ways, but a bit less alarmingly so.

So good example but that just sounds like someone who is generally in agreement but a bit of an outlier. Doesn’t strike me as “quite a few”, but I’m not asking you to list them all. Just hoping there was a half dozen examples or a list somewhere :)


Tenure in this case refers to "time in job" - teacher pay is based on how long they've been working. Raises aren't subject to performance, only the passage of time.


Teachers don't get promoted.


the only damn reason that...

Doesn't labor productivity increases and spending some of that new found wealth on leisure time also have something to do with these things?


What new found wealth do you think people would have without workers pushing for their rights? Without collective action and group bargaining, we would still be working 16 hour days. Progress doesn't just happen it requires people pushing and fighting for their rights, and our slice of the pie would not have magically gotten bigger just because the pie got bigger.


Should we have a law to have a 0 hour work day ?


What new found wealth do you think people would have without workers pushing for their rights?

The wealth created by productivity improvements due to new technology.

Programmers make a lot more money now than they did 20 years ago. Not because of unions (which are extremely rare for programmers), but because of productivity improvements. A single programmer can accomplish vastly more now than was possible in the past.

The same is generally true for all professions though the rate of improvement is obviously generally much much slower.

You're certainly right to claim that unionization can somewhat move the needle when it comes to the distribution of earnings between capital and labor, but overall this effect tends to be pretty small when compared to improvements due to productivity gains as long as we're looking at things on the scale of decades and not just the short term.


> Programmers make a lot more money now than they did 20 years ago. Not because of unions (which are extremely rare for programmers), but because of productivity improvements. A single programmer can accomplish vastly more now than was possible in the past.

That is complete nonsense. If your hypothesized productivity increase were true, it would be reflected in a decreased demand for programming labor (just like the advent of combines and tractors made farm workers more productive and decreased the demand for farm labor). The only reason programmers are paid more now than 20 years ago is because of an increase in demand for their labor.

The productivity improvements come from the product of this labor: software. This explains the growth in demand for programmers - telecommunications infrastructure improvements and ubiquitous computers mean that companies now have many more opportunities for automating processes with software than they did 20 years ago, and are trying to take advantage of these opportunities to increase profits.


Programmers make more money because their work is profitable AND demand far outstripped supply. Walmart is also highly profitable but labor supply exceeds demand so low wages.


Google has a profit margin of 20% while Walmart has a profit margin of 2.3%, according to Yahoo! Finance. Labor supply for Walmart probably does exceed demand, but that is only because Walmart uses unskilled labor. Walmart can't pay much more than it does without raising prices, but it also can't raise prices much and maintain its market segment as lowest cost provider.



Labor Unions were obviously a big factor and that link does a great job documenting that. But why did unions at that time choose to bargain for a decrease in hours worked instead of pay increases?

Because wages had risen sufficiently that workers valued an increase in leisure time more than they valued an increase in income. It required productivity rising to get to this point.


Unions bargained for defined-length days because longer days were killing people through both physical grind and the inevitable failures of (non-negligent) attention that happen when one is worked to the bone.


Instead of speculating about the reasons why workers wanted defined work hours and work weeks, why don't you use the many free resources at your disposal to either read primary sources or a summary someone wrote up?


I have.

That's how I know that the labor protections brought up by OP are not solely the creation of organized labor but also part of a long term trend of increased wealth and productivity due to technological advancement.


I agree with you that historically unions were (and still are) critical in making the world a better place, by being the only force representing the exploited. I don't dispute that at all. But there can be a dark side too.

I grew up in the Detroit area, through the '70s and the '80s, which was a time of great decline for the city and for the American auto industry, which neither the city nor the industry ever recovered from. I was a kid, I didn't really understand the details of what was going on, so I would appreciate opposing views of what was going on if anyone's more informed than me. But what I absorbed from the adults around me was a sense that the UAW (United Auto Workers) had a stranglehold on the American auto industry, and it eventually killed the golden goose. It helped raise wages and benefits over the years, but in the same way that monopolies in business can be detrimental to the consumer, monopolies in labor can be detrimental to an industry as a whole.

Which is not to say that unions are bad- I think they are a net good. I'm just providing an example of why many Americans have negative associations with labor unions, even on the left sometimes. America may have soured on unions because of a black swan; I don't know how true that narrative is, but that narrative is the basis of how many Americans see unions.


In America, if you open a business and advertise for workers and offer slave wages, nobody is going to apply.


not true - we have a historically stagnant minimum wage artificially deflating salaries; they are surprisingly not market or economy based in many fields, simply '2usd more than minimum wage, y our doing great!'

.. when minimum wage should be ~50% higher at least. Yay for market distortions.


Why only ~50% higher? The minimum wage should be at least $100k a year. That would do wonders at fighting income inequality.


I wouldn't complain about a $100k/yr minimum if it was actually sustainable (I doubt it) but the 50% is mostly intended as a response to the fact that the current minimum wage is dramatically below the poverty line, in some cases to the point that you need more than 80 hrs of work a week just to pay rent and buy food.

It wasn't always this way. The federal minimum wage used to be livable.


What would you think about have a base income or "mincome" where every citizen essentially gets a base level to provide for necessities, and then anything else you make through employment is bonus?

I've been thinking about that a lot lately due to the mass robotization of jobs. Not sure how I feel about it, but it seems like an important conversation to have.


guaranteed minimum income. Honestly; that's the future (and dream?) the closer we get to a post-scarcity economy.

Are we there yet? I'm not sure; but... maybe in some areas of the US...? Lots of issues with abuse though until post-scarcity is widespread. Lots to think about, we live in an interesting time.


Honestly; engineers '100k/year' salaries are also distorted by the false floor on the job market. I'm honestly not sure if actually for the higher or lower, though I do know goods/services tied to minimum wage are too cheap currently by far. The min wage has allowed employers to utilize business models relying on arbitrarily-cheap labor as, 'that's what everyone pays' functionally keeps all entry level work low through collusion. The biggest flaw with the Big Mac Index IMO; it's too cheap in the US.


At least it might help people buy an economics book and realize why that could not happen!


I hear your waiters have slave wages, that's why they depend that much on tips.


> I hear your waiters have slave wages, that's why they depend that much on tips.

Waiters make quite a lot of money off of tips. They actually have been upset with the changes in places like California that "raise" their base salary to minimum wage, because it results in a lower take-home pay overall.


The minimum wage in US is a slave wage.


> The minimum wage in US is a slave wage.

Talking about $15/hour as a "slave wage" is honestly insulting to people who, you know, lived under actual chattel slavery.

You may not like that threshold, but lumping the two together undermines your own point. This sort of racial insensitivity is one of the biggest reasons that leftist movements have such difficulty gaining traction with minority voters, and black voters in particular.


> > The minimum wage in US is a slave wage.

> Talking about $15/hour as a "slave wage"

Isn't happening, because that's not the US minimum wage.

> is honestly insulting to people who, you know, lived under actual chattel slavery.

I'm pretty sure they are the ones who actually coined the phrase in reference to crushingly inadequate post-formal-emancipation wages.

> This sort of racial insensitivity is one of the biggest reasons that leftist movements have such difficulty gaining traction with minority voters, and black voters in particular.

Being (partially) black, left-leaning, and actually having studied American political history more than a little bit, I tend to think racial distrust and the absence of as critical mass of visible black leftist leaders is more of a factor; as is a kind of existential despair in the wake of the civil rights movement and nominal victories that have still left blacks far behind.

Obsessing over details of wording is more an issue of concern among a narrow group of elite intellectuls than the broader community, and I'm not even sure most of them would be concerned in the direction you suggest.


I'm not going to necessarily get into a discussion about what constitutes a "slave wage" but most states have minimum wages far below $15/hour, in fact no state mandates that much, only a few cities.

https://www.minimum-wage.org/wage-by-state


And yet, Amazon fulfillment centers are fully staffed.

Side note: The minimum wage is a slave wage, as it’s not indexed to inflation.


That sounds like an improvement. Slaves used to be paid nothing.


They were paid room and board, obviously.


The wear and tear of a slave, it has been said, is at the expense of his master; but that of a free servant is at his own expense. The wear and tear of the latter, however, is, in reality, as much at the expense of his master as that of the former. The wages paid to journeymen and servants of every kind must be such as may enable them, one with another, to continue the race of journeymen and servants, according as the increasing, diminishing, or stationary demand of the society may happen to require. But though the wear and tear of a free servant be equally at the expense of his master, it generally costs him much less than that of a slave. The fund destined for replacing or repairing, if I may say so, the wear and tear of the slave, is commonly managed by a negligent master or careless overseer. That destined for performing the same office with regard to the free man, is managed by the free man himself. The disorders which generally prevail in the economy of the rich, naturally introduce themselves into the management of the former: the strict frugality and parsimonious attention of the poor as naturally establish themselves in that of the latter. Under such different management, the same purpose must require very different degrees of expense to execute it. It appears, accordingly, from the experience of all ages and nations, I believe, that the work done by freemen comes cheaper in the end than that performed by slaves. It is found to do so even at Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, where the wages of common labour are so very high.

-- Adam Smith

https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/smith-adam/works/...


Agree with some points. The state I live in has a strong union culture. There is a tendency in which unionized places think about only "Rights", but not "Responsibilities". This in turn affects productivity. I guess when the balance tilts to their side, the union leaders try to take advantage of it; shows us human nature. The trick is to achieve correct balance. That can happen if both sides are willing to discuss and understand the aims and problems associated with it.


It’s great that unions got us weekends off and ended child labor. Thanks unions!

But that was a century ago. What have they done for us lately besides bankrupt state pension systems?


Please don't post snarkily on divisive topics. It degrades discussion and leads to worse.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


The states bankrupted their own pension systems by borrowing against them. That money was there, it was promised early on and it was funded by bonds. If the city starts to run out of money, borrowing from a pension is not the fault of the worker. It's the fault of the god damn fucking state. The money was there.

If you fell short because the market shrunk and you told your workers it was privately vested in mutual funds, that's fine and just pay out everyone less. But most cities and states backed them by bonds and then borrowed against pensions when they started running out of money thinking they could make it up later. What the actual fuck?! No. You're not going to be able to do that. You're an idiot mayor/governor for even thinking that. Leave money that isn't yours alone.


" That money was there, it was promised early on and it was funded by bonds."

This is not factually accurate, in the sense that nothing could have stopped this in a bunch of states. The rate of pension payout growth in a bunch of states is far above what they could ever pay back, no matter what the investment and how well funded. It was only a matter of time.

(and the union response in most cases was .... not great) It's certainly not the case everywhere, but definitely the case in some places. You are basically arguing that the problem with a ponzi scheme is that they did invest enough up front and leave it alone.


[flagged]


Please don't respond to a bad comment with a worse one, such as a personal attack. That takes the site in just the wrong direction. That's why the HN guidelines explicitly ask you not to do this, but instead to flag egregious comments: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html.


So you want to go back to child labor on weekends?


Weird how the pension system is the responsibility of the state to operate, but somehow when the state doesn't put enough money in it, it's the union's fault.


You act as if this is one sided. States need to fund them for sure. But you can't have a liability that grows faster than it can be funded. When states push on larger contributions, unions need to not essentially blackmail states into bankruptcy. We'll stop working now if you don't kick the can down the road.

I have never seen a state that funded them properly but i have never seen a union that acted like they understood (i'm sure they understand, they just look out for their members) that if you are paying out pensions at a unsustainably growing rate, everyone loses.


Same argument could be applied to corporations and pollution. They understand it's destroying the environment but they are looking out for their profits and everyone loses.

As many comments like this in this thread have shown, the arguments for and against unions can be applied wholesale for corporations. Why is it that everyone gets something stuck in their craw when it's labor that's pooling it's power and not capital? Hell if you were super laissez faire capitalism like some libertarians you shouldn't care at all as it's consenting adults joining a contract together


What makes you think i think the state of corporations running things is great? :)

I just don't think unions actually solve any problem in that realm, and any problem they could solve, i believe there are more effective, less risky, less problematic ways of doing.


Whether a pension is sustainable into the future is something you should factor in before committing to operate and provide pensions. It's obscene to make that commitment and then back out later and expect everyone to be OK with their retirement fund evaporating.

If you hadn't lied and set up the pension, they would have had advance notice that their retirement is entirely up to them. Instead, they get screwed out of their retirement and somehow the unions are the villains for fighting that.


"Whether a pension is sustainable into the future is something you should factor in before committing to operate and provide pensions."

Again, you act as if this is simply black and white.

Meanwhile, they work to vote out everyone who won't commit to doing so, do everything in their power to make it complete political/etc suicide to not make the pensions happen.

It's just as obscene to do this, and then not expect that, eventually, someone who says "well wait a sec this will bankrupt us", will have to undo it. That's on the people who did it, the union leadership, and the state.

It's not like the unions can't do math. They knew this would happen just as well, as did their membership, and they fought tooth and nail for it anyway in order to "get theirs" while they still could. This argument that "well they should and that's okay and it's everyone else's fault for letting them" is just silly. If that's how you see unions "helping people", good riddance to them. There are very very few innocents here. The innocents are the other taxpayers, honestly. And yes, they absolutely all are villains for the part they play in doing this. Again, it's 100% not the one-sided thing you present where the poor unions negotiated a fair deal against the evil state and people got screwed later.

Do you want me to pull up the history of votes in these states, and how the union usually campaigned heavily for decades against any attempt to reduce or taper the pensions (IE not give them to new recruits) at all to try to make them more sustainable right up until the state had to kill them entirely to avoid bankruptcy? This is why people got "screwed out of their retirement" (in plenty of cases, they voted to approve the union doing this, so ....)


> the only reason I'm able to sit here typing this message

You're giving them way too much credit.


People died for the 8 hour work day.

What makes you believe that's a concession that would be willingly granted?


You're placing words in my mouth. Don't do that please.


Unions were a major force in America as well. For what it's worth, their tactics were truly vile, and it's a bit revisionist to claim we'd have no working rights without them.

Office workers never had unions, so why the need today?

The fact is that, today we have many government controls in place that protect workers. We don't owe unions a share of everyone's salary for eternity for work they take credit for.


I'm an office worker and I am in a union.

> today we have many government controls in place that protect workers

You're joking right? You brought up America so I assume you're discussing America. How can you possibly, even slightly claim that the government protects workers rights when 90% of your country has at-will employment?

Is that seriously what Americans think passes for satisfactory workers protection?


We have laws against discrimination, workplace safety regulations, the Family and Medical Leave Act, numerous state and local laws for starters. These things have teeth and companies have to take them pretty seriously.


You do realize that it was unions who brought about the change for these laws right?


The suggestion is that unions need not continue to exist just because they take credit for accomplishing something in the past. And then you say, "Oh yeah, well they can be credited with accomplishing something in the past." Okay. We've gone in a circle now.


> The suggestion is that unions need not continue to exist just because they take credit for accomplishing something in the past. And then you say, "Oh yeah, well they can be credited with accomplishing something in the past." Okay. We've gone in a circle now.

The best part is that you can point out all of the really horrible and repulsive things those same unions did at the same time - like lobbying to strip non-white Americans of citizenship and pushing the government to round them up in internment camps - and somehow they don't have to take responsibility for that part of their history as well.


No, the OP left that out de facto. And it’s disengenious to ignore the primary drivers.


Henry Ford introduced the 8 hour work day. That was non-union.

Unions also openly shut out non-whites and burned down competitors businesses, and many other things.

The unions were the Mafia. They lost power over the things the Mafia likes to do. It's a minor a miracle they survived.


I suggest you brush up on your American history: https://www.loc.gov/item/today-in-history/august-20/


If you cannot fire workers at will, you will be much more cautious when hiring and trying to ramp up quickly. When I read about other areas trying to incentivize startup culture (e.g., France) they try to replicate one or two factors of Silicon Valley's success, they seemingly fail to realize that there is a panoply of reasons why Silicon Valley is what it is.

I won't try to argue that at-will employment is the primary reason, but I do believe that it is an important one.


You can get around that with contract-to-hire (to make sure people will work out). California also bans non-compete agreements and has 11 month turnaround times for tech workers. It's a place that has innovation because it protects workers rights and also moves, incredibly, incredibly fast.


> You can get around that with contract-to-hire (to make sure people will work out)

Incidentally, that's one of the first things labor unions seek to prohibit in their contracts.


I wish argentina had at-will employement. Making it hard to fire is one of the most terrible things you can do in the workforce. An eternal origin of unemployment, disinvestment and poor performance.


There are a growing number of smug Europeans on this site that seem to think they have all the answers to America's problems, even when there isn't any. This argument could go on for ages but obviously people already have their own views.


You should be able to fire slouches no questions asked. Not sure why that's controversial.

Yes, we have minimum wage laws, child labor laws, OSHA, laws in place to ensure you get paid, wrongful termination laws, and so on.


You're kidding yourself if you think at will employment is used to just "fire slouches no questions asked". It's a gun to your head held by your boss. One wrong step and you're on the street. It's ironic that "the land of the free" is so keen to submit its citizens to such a tyrannical workplace.


If you think your boss is responsible for leaving you out on the street, you have to believe he is your savior for giving you a job.

I rather not revere employers that way.


I lost count of how many mistakes I made on the job, but fair enough.


> one wrong step and you're on the street

You'd make a great union organizer with fear mongering like that. I've worked in a variety of places in a variety of fields, and I've never seen that done. What's more, the times when I have seen people fired they usually get a fat severance package that ends up putting a lot more money in their pocket than otherwise.

I'm sure that there are terrible places like that, but generally speaking doing business that way is much more expensive than treating your people well. When I was in management, turnover was one of the most expensive things to have happen. In some cases the people were irreplaceable (the experience and history they had in their brains was not possible to transfer). From time to time we'd have someone that just wasn't working out, but most of the time we treated people exceptionally well so they wouldn't leave and go to the startup down the street that pays more and keeps the fridge stocked with beer.

If things really were like you say they are, I'd be supporting unionization as well. However, in a couple years of management and a dozen or so as a grunt, that has not been my experience.


If we're gonna do anecdotes here I've seen management refuse to give a 5k raise to someone when they knew replacing them was going to be 40k minimum because "no one gets more than 2%", and I've seen that multiple times.

I've also been threatened before with concerns about my "culture fit" in a meeting my boss brought me into 5 minutes after I told him I disagreed with his approach but would do it if he said so.

I've had good managers but it only takes one asshole getting Peter principled above them to neuter most of their ability to run a team well


I have seen it quite a lot in software engineering in just my 5 years in the profession, happened to myself and many friends - hell, I was even in management last time it happened to me. Many times it came down to whether the people were a part of [insert manager's] inner circle/did whatever management wanted.

The stories are all too common, even at companies that supposedly treat their employees well. At will employment is a terrible thing.


Without mechanisms to discourage unfair termination (like unions and strong law enforcement), companies can and will and do ignore the law and just fire whoever they want. The threat of being knocked around by unions and/or the government for doing it is the only thing that stops companies from firing people when they get pregnant, or when they get diagnosed with cancer, or when they get engaged to their same-sex fiance, or when they adopt a kid from a foreign country, or when they report their boss for sexual harassment.

While you're waiting for your wrongful termination/retaliation complaint to wind its way through the existing systems, you don't have a job and you aren't paying rent. It's good to have multiple layers of protection so ordinary people don't get screwed by a business operator looking to save a few dollars.

fwiw the US's current government infrastructure is absolutely miserable at enforcing labor rights laws, so that makes unions a regrettable necessity no matter how bad they are. It'd be awesome if the country was in a good enough state to make unions no longer necessary.


Sure, but who gets to decide who is a slouch?

And once you dive in to the details, thats where life gets muddy.

I do think it's controversial that a single boss that might hate you for totally irrelevant reasons be able to fire you on a whim. Made up performance standards and the like.


And it gets more hairy because unemployment in the US (in most states) needs to be approved by your employer. That's really fucked up. If you think it helps prevent abuse of the system, I'd rather some people abuse the system and everyone get unemployment rather than people have to fight shitty employers for it.

Unemployment should be insured by the state. I've heard social workers tell me "Of course you should apply. It's your money" but I've also heard HR people tell me companies in most states have to pay out unemployment which is why they fight it so hard.

Anyone care to chime in on how unemployment generally works and who pays for it in the US?


How about minimum vacation days, parental leave and healthcare coverage?


Corporations were a major force in America as well. For what it's worth, their tactics were truly vile, and it's a bit revisionist to claim we'd have no modern society without them.

Many early innovators never had corporations, so why the need today?

The fact is that, today we have many government controls in place that protect corporations. We don't owe corporations a share of everyone's money for eternity for work they take credit for.

(shall I keep posting comments like this?)


Many unions in America have developed into malevolent forces that seek unfair competitive advances, often to the detriment of many people working in that industry.


Any examples?


Most of my knowledge in this domain is contextual and thus useless but here is a good example of the more extreme side of some unions. [0]

I want to make it clear that I am not against unionization. What I am against is the use of rhetoric and promises of fair treatment to create a mob-like organization that uses threats and coercion to not only manipulate the local government but the people who exist within that organization's industry.

[0] https://www.phillymag.com/articles/2012/10/25/busting-philly...


As have many managements in America.


What you dont see is that unionization creates a lot of poverty as well. Those that did not get a job because they werent in on the union and were left out are not on hacker news debating your point of view.

> It might not have affected many of you with the silver spoon you have in your mouths but the only damn reason that kids still aren't working in sweat shops and you get to go home at 5pm is because of workers organising and having each other's backs when abuses and overreach occur, and a little bit of solidarity for each other is necessary when you see such flagrant abuses like this.

Not only it is debatible that unions eliminated child labor, but even if you take that as the only way to stop it, that happend a century ago. Today's unions do not have the same plight that those did.

In any case, there is no problem with unions existing, if they actually organize workers and give them better conditions and productivity, employers will be happy to deal with them and share the spoils. But thats never where unions stop.


> on this site is sickening. [...] may mean nothing to Americans [...]

You're on a predominantly American site, commenting on an article about American unionization, admitting that your situation is different than Americans, and yet are sickened by predominantly American opinions towards these things? You can't admit regional differences and then be sickened by others contextual, region-biased opinions. You have flawed logic.


What I read was "It seems to mean nothing to Americans - but it should, because..."


"because...it is totally the same thing across regions and history." The problem is that the appeal to emotions harms rational debate. If we cannot recognize regions and times in history are different, we cannot have a rational discussion without one side being "sickened". Contextual, region-based differences are a real thing.


What if they're not defending the current state of Unions, but the potential future state of Unions that indeed did help us greatly back in the day?


"What I read was "It seems to mean nothing to Americans - but it should, because..." "

Oh, it's worse. It's the typical "you only don't share my opinion because you are ignorant, not because you could reasonably disagree with me"


What if they're not defending the current state of Unions, but the potential future state of Unions that indeed did help us greatly back in the day?


> I live in a country with a very strong union movement and the only reason I'm able to sit here typing this message is because my parents and grandparents unionised rather than live off of slavery wages.

Here's another: (AFAIK) where I live there is a strong link between companies with high rate og union membership and company profit.

I learned this while I worked in the industry.

I was never unionized myself, -I've considered it more than once. It seems however that every union must have terribly misguided ideas about everything from supporting local political parties to international politics.

I don't want to support that. It's not so much about the money but rather that when they say that x thousand members of y are behind the boycott of z then I'm not one of them.


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