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Googlers Write to CEO Demanding Equal Treatment for Contractors (bloomberg.com)
98 points by tareqak 5 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 115 comments

Ask Microsoft how it works out for a company when contractors are treated as employees[1]. What ticks me off is that before that lawsuit, I was really enjoying being a contractor then that happened and companies became really skittish and a bit hostile.

1) https://www.reuters.com/article/businesspropicks-us-findlaw-...

Microsoft losing that contractors case also had a lot of repercussions affecting legitimate contractors.

In the early 1990s before Microsoft lost, I easily got direct-1099 contracting jobs at various companies.

Afterwards, every company got scared and overcorrected away from 1099s. It didn't matter if you incorporated as "Joe's Programming Solutions Inc". They insisted you had to go through one of their "approved vendors" which was basically just a middleman company set up to hire you as a W-2 employee. That intermediate company would then contract you to the 1099-averse client. Microsoft's defeat was when all the "W-2 bodyshops" popped up.

Instead of me earning $100 directly from a client, I had to find a W-2 shop to "hire" me as an employee and let them skim $30 from my hourly billing so I would only net $70/hour. It wasn't too happy about that but that's the closest I could get to being a freelancer. I really didn't want to be anyone's employee.

I believe most contractors share my opinion that the overall effect of the court judgement against Microsoft was a net negative and it didn't improve work conditions for contractors. Instead, it just made it worse by enriching middlemen we never asked for. It's also a net negative for the client company because they pay a somewhat higher bill rate to the W-2 company because they provide the service of "legal cover" to protect against a Microsoft type of lawsuit or IRS reclassification. It's a textbook version of economic inefficiencies.

In exchange for the $30 an hour, you get a meaningless phone call from someone who works there every couple months and access to a terrible health plan.

My plan was literally "pay $100 per month to avoid the 2% Obamacare tax." It covered basically nothing, and the deductible was ridiculous.

The only value "talent agencies" add is that you can start earning money immediately, instead of jumping through whatever hoops vendors need to jump through to be approved nowadays.

You got hooked up with someone bad, which is a shame. I had a great health plan as a contractor (through my agency) and they were great about finding fun jobs. I do know a lot of agents didn't tell folks what rate they were being billed out at (I suspect that $30/hour would mean you are not getting good value), but my pay was a % of the bill rate.

I actually negotiated my pay with the hiring manager. I have no idea what the agency was paid.

I got the invitation directly from the large company I was consulting for. They explained to me that they didn't work directly with freelancers; they had processes in place to prevent TVCs from being retroactively deemed FTEs (and compensated for withheld benefits). Therefore, they put me in touch with an agency whose only function was to hire freelancers as W2 employees and rent them back out to the company. I don't recall exactly: I think the agency's only client was the firm I was consulting for. They might have had 1 or 2 more. The whole we-only-exist-because-bureaucracy was pretty transparent.

Funny story: one of the TVC restrictions was that you could only be one for a year. (At the end of the year, you had to either convert to full-time or take 6 months off.) Partway through the year, my client decided they wanted to switch agencies. Thousands of us got an email that basically said "As of next week, you legally work for Other Agency. Your day-to-day work will be the same."

Uhm.... that sounds really, really shady. If you do the negotiating then they've failed at 90% of their job, and I suspect you most certainly didn't get your full value.

They chose an inaccurate job title for me to justify my salary. Maybe I could have made more freelancing somewhere else, but I think I was at the top of what this role was willing to pay.

I was making $100 per hour with a guaranteed 40 billable hours per week.

Well, I'm glad you got something decent out of it. I have a bit of a visceral reaction to bad actors in agencies since their actions had consequences.

It was very informative at one place I worked where a ticked off employee released a spreadsheet with all of the hourly rates for all the consultants. I was rather amused to lean how many bad actor agencies there were (although gratified that I worked with the honest sort). It was a bit amazing to me that people were baffled that I didn't really want to look at the spreadsheet. I knew my rate, was pretty happy, and was a bit worried it would impact how I viewed others.

> In exchange for the $30 an hour, you get a meaningless phone call from someone who works there every couple months and access to a terrible health plan.

And you no longer have to pay $9 of social security and medicare employer taxes, right?

You still pay that. And yes, it's wrapped up in that $30. Yes, someone is providing a 'service' for 30% of your billing, but you can't shop around to get better and/or less expensive service.

> You still pay that. And yes, it's wrapped up in that $30.

That's a confusing way of putting it.

> Yes, someone is providing a 'service' for 30% of your billing

And that's pretty misleading as a followup.

You're paying them 30% to perform services and to pay that 9% tax for you. So you're effectively paying closer to 21% for their services. That's still a lot. But it's significantly less.

A quick search of Wikipedia says the employer's share of FICA is 7.65% of the employee's gross wages: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Insurance_Contribution...

Yep. As someone who hired contractors at a company that competes with Google, I can tell you that this case was slide 1 for our training. Google already treats their contractors the best in the industry by far - free food, free transportation to work, etc.

Their hands are tied.

I don't think Google is going to agree to the demands. I believe they already segregate many of their low-level non-direct hires in completely different campuses. Nothing wrong with that but it indicates that they have a reason to keep many separate and don't want them physically close to sensitive projects.

And I agree with you. If the Microsoft scenario happens it will end up worse for people who prefer being a consultant/contractor. Of course, some temps would prefer an FTE role.

I work in pharma, and I was a contractor before I was hired on. It's a similar situation to what's described in the article, where contractors are full-time employees of a third-party company, and that company's rules are the ones that apply to their employees.

If I remember correctly, the contract company was mostly concerned with co-employment. As it was explained to me, Microsoft had a similar setup, but contractors were treated exactly the same as employees. Those contractors sued and won all of the additional compensation they had been denied as contractors.

For that reason, Google can't have too much control over things like hiring and firing decisions, healthcare offerings, compensation, etc, lest they be considered a co-employer. In the article, it sounds like the Google employees want Google to wield its power to enforce particular HR policies on their contractors, but I'm not entirely sure that's possible.

Disclaimer: I'm a biologist, not a lawyer.

Would you mind sharing your opinion/learnings on your time contracting? My wife (molecular biologist) is currently interviewing for a similiar position through one of these middleman companies (Agap2).

Edit: (bit of background) from what I see (through her) really hard to get directly into Pharma here in Germany/EU even with a PhD and decent CV.

Gladly! I'm in the US, so it may be a bit different, but here is my experience.

To start, would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat. I was fresh out of undergraduate with a degree in biology, but very little experience in labs. I spent several months applying to jobs and not hearing back at all. I eventually answered a very odd job ad, and they were basically so desperate for bodies that they interview almost everyone who applies with the appropriate degree.

There were two systems for that company at the time, but both were on-site in the pharma company's facility, using their equipment. The first was a core lab that did a bunch of cell culture and other various work and only interacted with people at the pharma company as clients. The second is essentially a contractor embedded in a pharma lab, doing whatever work the lab needed.

I was in the second type of lab. I had some basic computer stuff on my resume, and they decided that matched well with a lab that needed someone to do CT scan analysis. I only saw my boss at the contracting company in the halls or at monthly check-ins; otherwise, all of my daily interactions were from the lab's PI and pharma employees. I eventually was a supervisor to the other contractors in my department, and I was on the management track, but I wanted to stay in the science.

I spent a few years as a contractor. That original PI retired and I moved to another lab that I still work in. Getting hired as a contractor is a pain in the ass, because the job has to be posted internally first, and I wasn't allowed to apply until it was posted externally.

In my mind, the contract company served to hire people with little experience, give them the necessary basic skills (pipetting, weighing, maybe ELISAs, TaqMan, etc) and weed out people who couldn't learn new things, which is of value to the pharma company. As a contractor, I learned all of the practical stuff that hadn't been taught in college, and I got to network with tens of labs. I was somewhat fortunate that I love the lab I was placed in, so I didn't hesitate to apply for a full-time position when it became available, but I also was very aware of a couple of labs I would have been miserable in, which is also more information to have than a true outsider would have.

Lastly, the majority of people at my level (hands-on research) who are hired from outside without knowing someone on the inside are hired for very specific skills, and I had none at the time.

I'm happy to answer more specific questions if it would be helpful. My email is my username @ gmail. Good luck to her!

These "contractors" exist solely to create the ability to exclude employees from benefits and rights. It's entirely possible for Google to resolve this: Google can hire it's own employees. From my recollection, Apple Store employees are, in fact, employees of Apple. Whereas if you go to any sort of Google popup retail location, you're going to be working with contractors.

The other way Google can control all of these aspects even for contractors is to refuse to work with contractors who do not uphold the standards they set. As these contracting companies exist solely to provide contract work to big tech cos, they will fall in line immediately.

But you've sort of hit the nail on the head right there. Apple Store employees are likely employees because Apple Stores are a major part of Apple's business.

Apple hires hoards of contractors for all sorts of roles internally (experimental projects, kitchen staff blah blah).

Google popup locations are not comparable to Apple Stores.

> The other way Google can control all of these aspects even for contractors is to refuse to work with contractors who do not uphold the standards they set. As these contracting companies exist solely to provide contract work to big tech cos, they will fall in line immediately.

Hmm. But if they try to match (or come close) to Google's standards then Google will likely have to pay more for a contractor than they do for an employee. At that point might as well just hire them.

Even when I was a contractor, I never quite understood this. The contractor costs Google whatever it costs the contractor to employ them plus some amount of profit for the contract company. It would be cheaper to just employ people at a contractor's wage and internalize those processes, at least where the contractors are doing similar work to their own employees. It might still not make sense to start doing things like maintenance or cooking.

As best I can tell, it is a different pot of money. In my company, contractors are a budgetary decision, while employees require HR and other hurdles. Similarly, when you want to cut costs, you can fire contractors (shrink the contract and let the contract company do whatever they need to) without making the news with a headline like "Google lays off 10% of its workforce".

> The contractor costs Google whatever it costs the contractor to employ them plus some amount of profit for the contract company.

Plus contracting overhead on both sides (the contractor-side overhead is neither an employment cost for the contracting firm nor profit.)

From what I can tell, there are two main reasons companies use TVCs:

1. They don't want to be in the business of hiring/vetting/training/supplying benefits for people who aren't part of the business's core competency (security guards, cooks/baristas, receptionists, etc.).

2. Bureaucratically, TVCs are a lot easier to hire. You don't need months of interviews or headcount approvals in your budget: you just need to be able to spend money.

Of course, these problems are both theoretically solvable if a business cared to solve them. (It really bothers me that the people who take care of us aren't always well taken-care-of.) However, it's important to understand that there are multiple factors at play. TVCs are often chosen less for cost savings; more because at the hiring manager level, they're a lot easier to get approved.

I have mixed feelings about this as someone who has worked as a contractor at a FAANG company.

On the one hand, many of the complaints are absolutely correct. Where I worked contractors were:

- Second class citizens - Often worked on teams with other engineers, and ended up being in charge of a major part of the project - Have subpar working conditions but are still required to come to the office (ie crappy working spaces with fewer amenities, often the inability to sit with their actual team) - In worst case scenarios can often end up with abusive manager who at times will explicitly let them know their place as a contractor - Get the runaround when it comes to discussion 'conversion' to full time employment. I've seen this happen only a handful of times

From what I've seen the ones most beholden to this crappyness are contractors who are non US citizens (after all if you are a citizen what's stopping you from applying to literally almost any other job... even at a large tech company). Contractors from outside the US are pretty much stuck.

On the flipside the bar for contractors and full time employees is VASTLY different. For contractors (at least in engineering) the interview process can be mostly boiled down to about five recruiter style questions on your area of expertise, or something as simple as "build a class that does XYZ, ok you're great for this role". No full day onsite interview loops with multiple whiteboard / architecture questions etc.

I'm not saying with proper preparation contractors couldn't do the same roles and aren't qualified, but they are also held do a different standard (for better or for mostly worst).

I've also seen many contractors leverage the name-brand of the company they worked for to get interviews that may have been previously inaccessible (yes, even with putting "contracting for X company" on your resume, Google / Apple et all still stand out to recruiters).

I hope this doesn't make things difficult for those of us who actually prefer being contractors. Becoming a contractor in tech (not at Google) is one of the best decisions I've ever made.

1. I mostly get to choose how much I work, currently around 25 hours per week.

2. Despite fewer hours, I still make more annually than I ever did working full-time.

3. I don't have waste time going to all-hands meetings, mandatory trainings, offsites, etc.

4. I can work on my own side projects without worrying about an employer trying to claim the IP.

Maybe you could argue there's less job security, but if you think you have much of that with at-will employment, you're fooling yourself.

These types of contractors are different. They can't dictate their hours. They are basically software engineers hired on contingent status. The IRS frowns upon it but will typically allow 1 year before they convert to full time. A lot of big tech companies use them to hire engineers at lower pay and also to try them out before converting them to full time. People will take the lower pay on the hope that if/when they convert they get their actual value. This however frames the original price decision. Not saying it's evil but it's definitely not 1099.

Back when I was consulting I had MORE job security, because I had more than one "employer." If one dried up for some reason I pretty much always had someone else lined up looking to pay me to do some work.

My least favorite part of being an employee is goals/reviews. I much preferred just saying, my rate is $X this year, you can pay it or not.

Agree in a very similar situation and hope to continue this format of working.

But that said this equality effort isn't about folks like us, it's about helping out those that need healthcare, holiday pay, etc. I'm on the side of those in need getting the benefits over our privileged lives being mildly altered.

It amuses me, because a significant percentage of these consultants are foreign workers brought in for the explicit purpose of increasing supply and suppressing domestic wages. Now the domestic workers are fighting to improve the wages of the people brought there to hurt them.

I want to be clear I'm not intending to say anything negative about the domestic or foreign workers. It's just an amusing situation imo.

When I was a contractor (in NZ), there were substantial tax benefits.

Not only was my pay higher (to compensate for no-notice termination), I paid less income tax because many expenses were deductible (car, power, house, phone, computers, etc).

It turned out to be something like double my typical salary, with health insurance taken care of by taxes.

Are the tax rules different in the US?

Somewhat similar, but there are a lot of downsides. Doing taxes as a contractor is basically like doing taxes as a business. Probably similar in your situation. However the rules for it are much much more convoluted, especially when you have healthcare insurance. In the US, the healthcare insurance easily has a tax break involved as an employee, but as a contractor, it would likely require crazy things like incorporating and setting up a CEO/board, etc... Total nightmare. You might get lucky and cheat by calling it an outside service (and expense), but technically you could get audited and bad things result. Things get even more complicated if you have or want an HSA as a contractor. This USED to be a good option, but now it seems like HSA plans are total shit. HSAs used to be cheaper but now they seem to be the same price as non-HSA plans so there really is no advantage to them. Basically, until that side of the tax code is fixed, contractors are fucked over health insurance wise in the US.

There’s nothing convoluted about deducting health insurance and dental premiums if you are self employed.

Money you pay for health and dental insurance is counted as a reduction against your AGI — technically this is even better than a deduction, as long as you don’t qualify for insurance through another employer, and cannot exceed your total employment earnings. So you can’t decline employee sponsored health insurance and also claim the reduction, and you can’t deduct premiums to the point where you have a net loss.

Qualified expenses go on Line 29 of Form 1040 where it says “Self-employed health insurance deduction”.

You do not have to incorporate or setup an LLC to claim the deduction.

> In the US, the healthcare insurance easily has a tax break involved as an employee, but as a contractor, it would likely require crazy things like incorporating and setting up a CEO/board, etc...

I'm not an accountant or lawyer, so take what I say with a grain of salt. Should be able to setup a LLC in the state you do business in. Be careful in California, the LLC will cost you $800 a year even if you make no profit.

Once you have an umbrella company you can write off valid business expenses, including health insurance premiums. Be sure to pay quarterly federal tax payments if you are making profit.

Contractors in this case are likely w2 employees of another company.

Normally, contractors are self employed, and can use expenses as deductions etc. This doesnt apply in this case, is my guess.

Along with the deductions, on the U.S., if you can have your contract as a corp-to-corp, the tax savings can be even greater.

Pay yourself a fair salary (usually around 30%) along with FICA, take the other 70% as a company dividend and not have to pay Social Security, etc. Not paying FICA is a big saving. It's a very typical S-Corp payment arrangement. It just usually requires an accountant to manage (make sure you pay tax estimations on time, etc).

With the corporate tax cuts last year, there's even further savings.

An Uber/Lyft driver could operate as a corp if they wanted to. https://www.ridesharingdriver.com/driving-with-an-llc-or-cor...

> It turned out to be something like double my typical salary, with health insurance taken care of by taxes.

Yeah, except the part about health insurance. In fact I know a lot of folks who had to do the insurance 2-step (find a job for a month - or whatever period - or longer then get terminated and keep the COBRA benefits so they could pay insurance yourself). Not sure if Obamacare now that it's been around for a bit alleviates the fact that the insurance market for individuals used to really really suck.

Another way to resolve the health issue is to have a spouse who works to get health insurance so you can contract.

Some states in the US have moved towards doing the same thing, but the impact hasn't always been positive as contractors don't get the same protections / benefits as employees and often this ends up being a net negative for the individual.

Google contracts out a lot of already ... not that great jobs, they're not getting paid more for being contractors already....

I think there was once a time in the US, where as a developer you’d (on average) come out ahead financially as a 1090 rather than W2, but I wouldn’t do it anymore. The cost of health care / insurance for a family pretty much forces me to be W2.

>for a family pretty much forces me to be W2

Yup, someone in the family has to have insurance or you're toast if you've got a family sadly :(

I think this is referring to something different, but I could be reading it incorrectly. I think this is essentially that Google has a contract with the companies named, and then the contractors are full-time, regular employees of the contract company. The workers themselves are not 1099 contractors, I don't think.

Correct. They are W2 contractors, not “independent contractors”.

> Are the tax rules different in the US?

AFAIK contractor-style employment (working for a contracting agency at GOOG) is considered no different from working directly for GOOG individual-tax-wise. It would be more like the situation you describe in NZ if you had your own business for which you did contracting.

Don't contractors have to actually PAY their taxes though?

Having to actually cut a check for a several grand every quarter seems like it feels worse than having it taken out of your check.

Most contractors don't own their own company - they are w2 employees of some contract compant. The contract house takes a cut (generally half again more than you make - but out of that they have to pay a bunch of taxes on your behalf). You are an employee for all legal purposes, just not of google but the third party.

We have social security tax, which is 14.2% (including medicare). The employer pays 50% and the employee pays 50%. When you're self employed - you're the employer as well as the employee so you pay the full 14.2%. That 6.1% increase is usually a lot and hard to get enough deductions to offset it.

it works the same way in the US, and probably (my understanding is depends on what you do exactly) even more so now because contractors can probably the pass-through clause in the trumps tax changes in 2019 (aka contractors will be able to pay lower fed income taxes than full-time engineers)

>When a shooting happened at YouTube’s campus in San Bruno, California, in April, TVCs didn’t get some communications updating workers on the situation, which left them feeling unsafe, the TVCs said.

Wow, that seems like something very hard to argue against. I hope that even if Google keeps them as contractors they improve communications.

That sounds like an oversight. IIRC there are "googlers-<site>" mailing lists that each full-time employee at a site is automatically added to. Whoever was doing comms that day probably assumed it went to everyone in the building, not realizing that it doesn't cover contractors or visiting employees.

It's easy to argue against! "None of those communications, including the ones to employees, were necessary in the first place."

YMMV, but where I work (non-tech company) contractors are treated quite well. I think the general feeling from most of the company is that contractors are hired to do specific project work, so their domain knowledge is narrow and specialized and thus are better/more knowledgeable than the in-house developers. This leads to people within the company going straight to contractors for questions/discussions/planning/etc, leaving in-house devs out of the loop. In the end you're left with over-engineered solutions and scope creep among other dysfunctions. Really frustrating.

Careful what you wish for. You might just get it and it may not be what you want.

That's very ominous. Would you care to elaborate?

I think he's implying that Google may resolve the issue by treating the full time employees the same way they treat the contractors.

I am quite welcome if that happens actually, that is what equality means isn't it.

Are you saying you want them all to endure "discrimination, racism, and sexual harassment"? I hope I'm reading you wrong.

Well, if Google is such a horrible place to work for, my advice will be quit and sue them

I'm not sure what your agenda is but I doubt anyone wants to take advice from you.

True, no one has to. Reality will figure itself out.

Not if you are Google full time employee.

Google's been down this road before. They were called out for having too many contractors to full-timers and their response was largely to eliminate contract positions.

That didn't last.

I had a friend who was a contract developer back when their NYC footprint was just the 8th avenue building and he was working 4 people to a cubicle.

I was in the Google NYC 8th ave building as a full employee -- everyone who had a cubicle was working 4 people to a cubicle. Then they densified, and put six people to a cubicle, The cubicles were pretty big. Then they moved us to a different section of the building with an open floor plan with no cubicles at all.

The assumption is to bring contractors up to the level of employees, but when demanding equality on those terms it might also mean that employees are brought down to the level of contractors.

The wish was specific enough to prevent that.

As other people on the thread have mentioned, you can look at Microsoft to see what will happen. This same exact situation played out there: long-term contractors demanded employee rights, went to court, and got them. So Microsoft immediately changed its policy to a) pretty much ban individual contractors who weren’t working through agencies (that skim way more off the top than they’re worth), and b) set a hard limit of 18 months, after which the contractor has to leave and can’t work for Microsoft again for a “cool-down period”. Which sucks for everyone: the contractors aren’t any better off than they were, and the FTEs now have to waste time training a new person every year and a half just when the outgoing one had become an expert who needed little supervision.

Well, if you want equal treatment then either contractors will be treated as good as employees, or the employees will be treated worse to have an equal treatment with contractors.

> One contractor, who works 50 to 60 hours a week in Google’s marketing division, said TVCs are treated as “collateral damage” who can be hired and fired on short notice to help the company achieve business goals quickly and cheaply.

well yeah, that is the point of contractors ...

I recently watched "Requiem for the American Dream" (the documentary is included with Prime Video, and there is also a book of the same name) [0]. One of the points that Noam Chomsky made near the end was about undermining solidarity (I don't remember the exact phrase, but it had solidarity its name). I found the why in which Chomsky portrayed the accomplishments of unions and how the political elite dealt with unions afterwards (e.g. McCarthyism) both enlightening and depressing. Workers regardless of profession were all united towards better conditions for all. The gradual exaltation of selfishness and self-interest has become a silent but effective tool in pitting people against each other.

I highly encourage others here to watch it should they have 72 minutes to spare.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWD8Wksx_zI

Shouldn’t this lie on the consulting firms placing them? Equally, are the consultants unaware that they work for the staffing firm doing project for Google?

Yes, security communication should go to all. But everything else?

The genie is out of the bottle. No company can afford to hire it's contractors as fulltime. Their cost would double. There's 2 things that can happen 1. Move to automate or offshore these jobs 2. Bring parity to fulltime or contract employee pay and benefits so its indistinguishable whether you work fulltime or contract- its just a choice for both. Just like do you want PPO or HMS for healthcare.

Maybe I'm missing something, but why should contractors have access to company-wide emails to staff, townhall staff meetings, or Google health care and benefits?

Some of those seem very much the essence of the difference between working for Google as an employee vs not working for Google as an employee.

Isn't "Googlers Write..." misleading?

The letter linked in the article says it was written by TVCs (Temps, Vendors, and Contractors).

I guess "Contractors Write to CEO Demanding Equal Treatment for Contractors" is less exciting?

It's great to see some Googlers stand up for this. Subcontracting is an all around poor practice and encourages exploitation of labour, and whenever this is pointed out the same old false arguments on the lines 'but some slaves had it good' or the 'alternative is starvation' are trotted out, completely defocusing the companies benefiting from this labour and their dependence for it. This subtly shifts and derails discussion.

But the bigger problem having this discussion in a tech context is the tech community is also made of up many who derive near religious identity from their jobs and conflate their jobs with success and identity, and logical arguments cannot appeal to emotion and this need for hierarchy.

This is literally illegal in many European countries which demand that people working at FTE conditions be employed as full-time employees.

Is this literally illegal? From what I understand, the typical arrangement is that these people are full-time employees, but they are employees of a different company, and the contract is between companies.

To delve into hypotheticals, company X has a building and hires company Y to clean it. Company Y employs the janitors full time, and company Y decides the policies for hiring and firing janitors, and decides what their schedules are. The janitors are working at FTE conditions, and therefore they are full-time employees, but they're not employees of company X and don't get the same benefits.

Well obviously it depends on the country. I know that here (in Israel), the are laws around this that say that anyone working in what is effectively FTE in a company, even if they are contractors, had to be treated in various ways like a fte of the company. Eg in vacation days.

I'm not sure about any subtleties here- when exactly this kicks in, etc. But there are some real protections.

To be clear, these people are FTE in a company, it's "just" a different company. There are various laws here in the US about whether someone is an employee and a contractor and the courts generally seem interested in enforcing them such as they are.

The test here comes down to how much control the company has. If the company controls schedules, pays ordinary wages, provides equipment and training, etc. then it's an employee. If the person can set their own schedule, gets paid for work completed, buys their own equipment, and is free to work for other companies then it's likely a contractor.

I know that Google has an office in Tel Aviv so it should be easy enough to check if they have the same kind of staffing they do elsewhere. The company I work at mostly uses contractors and vendors for things like janitorial service, catering, etc. At least, as far as I can tell, I'm more of a code monkey.

Why wouldn't Googlers make a union? I think Microsoft had one back in days, but it was microscopic.

At least in the US, unions tend to cover jobs where there is a lot of manual labor and etc. They tend to heavily emphasize seniority over most anything, and in doing so straight up discourage merit based pay. Many have strict rules about what position is offered to who and when (seniority wins again).

They're not very effective / desirable for higher skill jobs IMO where merit and skills change rapidly.

Granted that's all very general and I'm sure there are exceptions but unions (I hear they're different elsewhere) in the US are kinda wonky, not very agile, and can become an negative entity in many ways as they serve their own interests.

This isn't strictly true. Professional athletes in major leagues are unionized, and their jobs are highly specialized and well paid. The Writers Guild of America is another union that represents a non-manual labor profession. You could also consider the American Medical Association as a pseudounion guild that restricts entry into the medical field and keeps wages high.

Like I said it was a general statement, but professional athletes are kinda a different animal considering their "laobr" is in high demand and very rare at their skill level. That's a pretty distant comparison. Same goes for doctors where they're not readily replaceable considering training / licensing requirements.

Pro Athletes are like 1% of the 1%. Even the 12th guy on the roster was like the best player on his college team. I am not sure if everyone in google was the best coder in their college.

>Like I said it was a general statement, but professional athletes are kinda a different animal considering their "laobr" is in high demand and very rare at their skill level.

Er, what? That was the point.

You: Unions are mainly effective for low-skill, manual jobs.

ForHackernews: But they have them for professional athletes and actors too.

You: Irrelevant, they're a whole different animal.

Yes, the point all along was that the union model applies to different animals/worker-types.

Also, they failed to address screenwriters, who have a creative specialist occupation that is vaguely more similar to software engineers.

Interesting, never thought about that one. And it's also similar in terms of tons of unqualified people trying to get in, and a low barrier to entry (in terms of producing recognizable work)...

As well as the Screen Actor's Guild.

"SAG-AFTRA represents approximately 160,000 actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals."


As well as the American Federation of Musicians.

When I was a freelance orchestral musician I loved the union. There was a huge difference in how you were treated during union vs non-union gigs.

My wife was a part of a union that covered theater workers.

Their group medical benefits were "you pay for it and submit each bill individually". It was pretty brutal, they showed no interest in changing it at the time.

Progress is a function of effort, not time. Default to action, push whenever feasible to fix what is broken.

I find many union's efforts to be lacking generally.

And federal government employees have a union, the American Federation of Government Employees, the vast majority of which are office workers. Something like 670,000 members.

AMA is great for doctors. You need a license to practice you don't need a license to code. I don't think it wouldn't really apply to programmers.

The AMA is everything that is wrong with American Healthcare.

They have enforced the Physician monopoly to the point where its cronyism.

There is a reason Physicians make 300k/yr.

But it’s good for the members of the profession, which is the point of its existence. No doubt a similarly structured “programmers’ guild” would be equally good—for programmers.

It would only be good for the programmers who kiss the ring and the already priviledged. It will screw over everyone else.

I will never ever support an organization that puts up artificial barriers to what is currently a very open work industry.

I would join the group just to sabotage it if they tried to keep out bootcampers or people without a CS degree. Anyone should be allowed to program.

On the other hand, they are the reason a doctor or lawyer trained in India can not come to the US and directly start practicing, aside from the Indian lawyer not knowing US law, which they could potentially learn just as they learn java.

No negative sentiment implied here. I am an immigrant myself.

IMO, there should professional licensing gated by an exam, similar to the accounting or actuarial professions. Anyone who can pass the exams gets in. But the flip side of being a real profession is you're liable if you store passwords in plaintext.

It's too bad nobody ever thought to create an Independent alternative.../s

As much as both parties gave lip service to healthcare reform, they both supported cutting the independent advisory board on pricing before it even got a chance to get started.

There are plenty of truths in your point, but there are TONS of unions that aren't "manual labor" related. The top 3 US unions by membership are Teachers and Public Servant. There's also entertainment unions (All pro sports, SAG, etc). These represent millions of US workers.

There are trade offs to collective bargaining, especially if you feel you're at the top of the skill curve among workers (If you're in the 1% of workers, why would your value be helped by bargaining with the other 99%) but the idea is always that in any negotiation of you vs. "the company" the advantage is typically in favor of the company because of the deferred costs across the entire organization. The larger the company gets, the greater this advantage becomes. Yes, there are other companies competing for top talent, and coding is an exceptionally in demand skill (which BTW, many hiring managers still prioritize seniority/experience over true meritocracy) which helps in the short term but since everyone is pushing coding education initiatives, I can't imagine this will be the state of things in the future. Right now, since there's more Senior Dev job openings than people with Senior Dev skills, there may be a slightly more neutral negotiation table. We'll see how that plays out in 10 years.

Any time you have a large group of people, there's going to be disagreements about organizational choices or decisions as to how best to allocate resources. If you're unwilling to buy into the group, it's always going to feel like an albatross instead of a benefit.

A coders union could be a good thing in the long term. Right now, the sector is still too chaotic, and lots of people are making stupid amount of money. If that starts changing...

Yeah, exactly. In a lot of unions in the states, if you have 5 years experience, you make x amount of money regardless of skill. The benefits are usually VERY nice though.

Depends on the union benefits wise.

Teaching ... not so much.

Unions are for situations where individual workers can not negotiate well. That's why the term "collective bargaining" is often interchangeable.

IT workers are typically considered professionals why can negotiate for themselves.

The general rule of thumb is how "replaceable" a worker is. Someone like a doctor or a hard to find engineer is considered professional, and thus a union is not needed.

Someone who has a lot of handholding on their job, and can easily be replaced by someone else who will train quickly, is what a union is for.

Thus, a union might work for the cleaning crew, foodservice crew, and maybe even Waymo testers. It won't work for software engineers, because engineers should be able to negotiate for themselves.

I'm not sure I quite grasp this argument. Google is a popular, high-demand employer, and lots of people want to work there. But Google still found it useful to conspire with other tech companies[1] in order to hold down wages. The reverse should also be true: The sorts of engineers who can get a job at Google are in high demand. But, if they bargained as a group, they could probably get even more money.

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/apple-google-ruling/u-s-judg...

> It won't work for software engineers, because engineers should be able to negotiate for themselves.

Why? Is there something about software that inherently makes its practitioners shrewd negotiators?

Part of what keeps software salaries down is the uncapped supply of talent competing for a small number of jobs. Tough to expect much negotiating power.

Not to mention it flies in the face of many popular “engineers suck at negotiating, let me teach you how to” blog posts on HN:


Uhhh, no thanks.

I have no desire to increase the amount of people who have control over my working environment and getting in between my employment contracts that I negotiate with potential employers.

Having only one entity that can screw up my working conditions (the employer) is much better than having 2 entities that can screw it up (both the employer and the union.)

When dealing with a single entity, the relationship is clear. I negotiate with them, and offer my work in exchange for a contract that we both agree on.

It would screw up incentives to have a third party who has significant control over my mutually agreed contracts.

It's not a good idea while CS salaries are so exaggerated next to other engineering salaries: the top 10% of earners complaining about working conditions will come off as a bit entitled to the other 90%. Wait for salaries to normalize or maybe concentrate on creating a trade association instead and steering the industry through that

Isn't Unions against the idea of contractors? That takes work away from the union workers?

Unions, in general, aren't monolithic. How the average trade union member may feel about contractors within their field would likely depend on the industry they work in.

Further, these groups aren't mutually exclusive in some cases. Many contract electricians are unionized, for example.

Make sure you understand the difference between a contractor and an employee.

Often people who should be employees are classified as contractors.

In this case, a union would advocate that contractors are really misclassified employees.

No, contractor and freelancer unions exist.

how does google have that many contractors?

Google pays competitively enough such that contractors agree to do work for the company. They just don't get the benefits that a FTE get.

These CEO demand letters are always perplexing. Do the authors think this is a representative government? The CEO represents the shareholders, not you. A letter from an employee is like a letter from a RAM stick in a data center.

While I agree the CEO works for the shareholders he also has to keep his ship running. So sometimes the CEO will care about what employees say.

But I think at this point the CEO failed correct the problem of at hand and now will have to deal with every injustice a few googlers see fit to scream about.

From here on out all I can see is it getting worse, and then the shareholders firing the CEO and replacing him with one who will deal with sort of issues appropriately.

We can talk all day about what is appropriate, but I think many will agree you can't have your employees hold a company hostage over political beliefs. But then again, Google set themselves up with this problem with their silly hiring practices.

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