Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Google Employees Demand the End of Forced Arbitration Across the Tech Industry (techcrunch.com)
315 points by rmason 41 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 234 comments

I know this won't be popular...but I don't understand why people are so anti-arbitration. Court cases are very expensive, regardless of the verdict. In the situation of running a business, you have a 1 business to many employees situation handling multiple cases simultaneously could get extremely expensive whether the cases are valid or not.

People use the threat of legal fees to extort business owners all the time because all it takes is one bored attorney who's willing to take the case on contingency while the business is looking at $150-500 / hr fees to defend itself. Happens to doctors constantly.

If you are a business that employees thousands of people the amount of potential legal costs could put you under entirely, because attorneys have to respond to every single claim that opposing attorneys make. These techniques exist almost solely to drive up legal costs.

When your potential cost for an employee is far higher than the actual compensation you can afford to pay, it significantly increases your risk for every job you can create.

This is usually a two way street as well.

In nearly every contractor agreement I've read, the liability for the hired contractor is limited to at most the amount of compensation they receive from the business for the job they were performing.

I'm not anti-arbitration...I'm anti-FORCED-arbitration.

I have suspicions about the incentives and stances of the arbitrators vs the law, but I'm not well-versed enough to state those with confidence.

Almost everything you said about arbitration is true...but you left out the other side. My employer already has a lot more leverage over me than I do over them. When that scale is further tilted, across all their employees, many of the cost-benefit analyses about treating your employees fairly go into their benefit, further making things worse (and arguably more expensive for me).

> People use the threat of legal fees to extort business owners all the time because all it takes is one bored attorney who's willing to take the case on contingency while the business is looking at $150-500 / hr fees to defend itself.

I'm willing to discuss the benefits of good anti-SLAPP legislation all day, but "threats" aren't the same as suing, and "bored attorney willing to take the case on contingency" aren't actually all that easy to find - there's a reason a lot of crap goes unpunished until a group large enough for a class-action lawsuit comes along - the payout isn't worth it, at least not for the lawyers who would win.

Companies LIKEWISE use the threat of legal fees all the time - the solution is not that employees need to sacrifice their legal rights.

People are anti-arbitration because they empathize more with the employees than businesses. It is objectively better for employees to not have to go through a company-issued arbiter when the company has wronged them. The argument you're making is a bit like trickle-down economics - what about instead of minimizing the cost of lawsuits, you do less things that are likely to land you in a lawsuit, which is the point of the laws in the first place?

Maybe then companies would focus their lobbying efforts on muting the effects of patent trolls and shady lawsuits. I do feel for the business owner, but taking away the rights of employees is worse for society.

Exactly, if employers lost arbitration 95% of the time, they'd find another arbitrator.

> It is objectively better for employees to not have to go through a company-issued arbiter when the company has wronged them.

The main argument of your parent comment is that it's better for both employees and employers due to generally lower costs all around. You simply made an assertion to the contrary. Do you have any evidence to support your position?

I alluded to it being similar to trickle-down economics - what is good at lowering costs for business is not necessarily better for both employees and employers. Employees giving up their rights to take action against an employer is a net negative against the employee - I would submit that for employees that are wronged, its a more significant negative than any lowered costs.

I'm definitely for making it easier to run a business and afford to be able to hire people, but not at the expense of the employee. I didn't get into it much because it risks an argument on economic outlooks which I didn't feel was as important as the main point.

I think all the current replies to this comment are slightly off-mark. In an n-to-1 relationship, forced arbitration favours the 1 party. (An example is a company and its customers or a company and its employees.)

The reason it favours the one party is that the cost of action is prohibitively high. As a customer/employee, suing your vendor/employer or taking them to arbitration requires you to dedicate much of your life to that cause. To them, it’s a small cost of doing business that has already been budgeted for.

The solution that was invented is class-action lawsuits. If an employer steals $1000 from every employee, it’s not worthwhile for them to sue. If market collusion raises the price of a RAM module by 10%, it’s not worthwhile for most customers to sue.

Forced arbitration removes that option. It is not possible to have class-action arbitration in any agreement I’ve read.

Another way of removing the option of class actions is class-action waivers, which are problematic for the same reason in my opinion.

People are anti-arbitration because arbitors are paid by the companies. Arbitrators do try to be as fair as possible, but there's simply no way to remove the inherent bias they have to the people who sign their paychecks.

(Note: federal agency judges are different. While they are technically employees of the agency, they are protected by federal laws/union rules that apply broadly, and those job protections are incredibly strong. This is why agency judges like immigration judges are so willing to buck their employers.)

> agency judges like immigration judges are so willing to buck their employers

And that "protection" is one of important reasons why it is so hard for a potential immigrant to find a job in the US.

Similarly, removing "forced arbitration" will make getting job at Google even harder.

The reason people are so anti-arbitration is that the decision of arbitrators is more based on which side of their bread is buttered and that seriously colors their decisions. An arbiter who rules against somebody is more likely to be rejected by that entity in the next arbitration.

Thus it works between two small guys that will not likely encounter the arbiter again. However, when there are big fish involved there's a strong bias towards ruling for the big fish, the guy who rules for the small fish too much finds himself unemployed.

When it's between two big fish the decisions will take the middle of the road. This causes big troubles with union vs government arbitration--the union simply doubles it's demands and will end up on average getting what it asked for. Right or wrong doesn't really enter into it.

For practical purposes for the little guy vs big guy arbitration means don't bother unless you have a slam dunk smoking gun.

> Court cases are very expensive, regardless of the verdict.

Then fix that problem! In Germany, for example, in labor court even if losing a case all parties get to foot their own bills. This also disincentivizes companies from hiring uber expensive lawyers.

> People use the threat of legal fees to extort business owners

And business owners have insurance here that covers them. As for the fees of the court system, they're low. People expect the state to provide an affordable justice/police system and not one that has to fund itself through "civil forfeiture"...

The main issues are that arbitration is generally secret, and class actions are prohibited.

Those two facts tend to naturally exacerbate the natural advantages the company has due to the fact that they are well organized and able to amortize their work over multiple cases but individual opponents become less able to be similarly organized.

But you soon realize arbitration is a scheme that simply screws you over. Check out all the good nytime articles on it... then see for yourself https://levelplayingfield.io

Is there a particular type of search I should be looking for on there? Glancing through employment related search seems fairly balanced with some going either way and many being settled.

Imagine a situation where a company is routinely misbehaving towards its employees. What are the tools that can be brought to bear to change a company's behavior?

  1. Government regulation
  2. Union representation
  3. The threat of public exposure and resulting public opinion fallout
  4. The potential downside of very large damage awards
In the general absence of #1 (in the US, we generally don't like regulating businesses) and the small and declining power of #2, we rely upon #3 and #4 to influence company behavior. Forced arbitration generally guts both.

Have you ever gone through forced arbitration? If being forced through the court system is undesirable / one-sided and forced arbitration feels the same, then there should be something in the middle that is fair for both workers and employers, right? I don’t see why this issue has to be a zero-sum game.

How forced arbitration is legal in the US never made sense to me.

If the clause was "In the case of a dispute, we win.", it'd be deemed invalid by the courts. But since it's "In the case of a dispute, we have an overwhelming advantage in a private court.", that makes it valid?

> In the case of a dispute, we win

Wasn't there an article recently about some predatory lending practice where the lender made you sign a clause essentially letting them win in any dispute? And it got enforced a bunch?

Confession of judgement is what the clause is called.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18560153 (which also links other comment threads on it)

> But since it's "In the case of a dispute, we have an overwhelming advantage in a private court.", that makes it valid?

In theory, arbitration firms are supposed to be independent and unbiased. I'd love to see some statistics backing that up. If there were a case for arbitration firms heavily backing companies over individuals, then that'd be a much stronger case.

1. EPI is a lobbying org, so this is not exactly unbiased. The paper this comes from is a policy paper about the "arbitration epidemic".

2. It makes the weird underlying assumption that the people in court should be winning as much as they do. The fact that a difference in numbers exists is interesting but doesn't tell you whether it is fair or not.

So i guess i would ask. Imagine someone does a completely objective analysis of the gap and determines federal courts are in fact, the problem, and people are winning meritless lawsuits in court but not arbitration.

Would you be supportive of doing something about that?

3. Here is a more academic paper for you:


This is in fact, the original source for the 21.4% number EPI quotes.

EPI conveniently (in their own policy paper) leaves out the paragraph starting with :

"This employee win rate is substantially lower than that found in previous employment arbitration studies, which tended to use selective samples. It is also lower than employee win rates in litigation. However, it should be noted that we may be comparing apples and oranges here in that the characteristics of cases in arbitration may differ systematically from those in litigation.


The task for future research is then to analyze what factors may explain this gap and whether or not it is problematic from a public policy perspective "

EPI does not do that.

Here's a more recent analysis: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3238460

An interesting note: "In fact, in a variety of settings, no variable affects win rates as dramatically as whether a plaintiff hires attorneys with arbitration experience."

It is entirely possible the difference in win rates is due to the fact that in court employees are using experienced employment lawyers and in arbitration they are not using lawyers experienced in arbitration (meanwhile, the corporations do because they are sued so often).

Or because more of the claims are meritless in federal court or a ton of completely fine things.

Helpful, thank you! That's quite an interesting result to consider.

I'm curious why I haven't seen any signs of people going after the arbitration firms and their impartiality, rather than going after the companies using those firms.

> I'm curious why I haven't seen any signs of people going after the arbitration firms and their impartiality, rather than going after the companies using those firms.

I think the reasoning people have is the alignement of incentives is messed up:

Big companies will use arbitration if it provides them a cheaper alternative than going to actual courts.

The arbitration firm that is more employer friendly will save more money to a company than a firm that is less employer friendly, therefore the company is more likely to hire the first one. And arbitration firms are more likely to be employer friendly since their financial success is impacted.

Ending arbitration isn't necessarily the right solution, since courts could be too crowded, but maybe authorizing it, only if the case is handle in a timely fashion, and the employee has a right to "appeal" to a regular court , could make it more fair and more economical to both sides?

The last employment arbitration agreement I remember looking at, the company didn't just get to choose whatever arbitrator they wanted. It was a symmetric process.

Right now, this is just the convenient bogeyman of the day. The problem is the data to do such a thing simply doesn't exist. Once you get past the policy positions, it's sparse.

I posted some studies from SSRN, etc in my other comment here, but: Most studies that try to objectively evaluate the data (and there are plenty that don't on both sides!) don't come up with obvious "the arbitrators are unfair" or "court is right more of the time" answers. This is why you see the policy folks go after the win rates.

It is definitely true that large scale studies agree that the win rate is less in arbitration (There are some smaller scale studies cherry picking data that find otherwise).

The large scale studies though don't have enough data to say whether that win rate makes sense or not.

I posted the most recent one (not yet published) which tries to understand the variables affecting win rate.

Trying to objectively take 1000 cases in court/arbitration and say "what should have happened" has not occurred. Without something like that, it is hard for folks to make a meaningful case that there is a real problem.

Despite what the prevailing viewpoint here seems to be, the truth is if someone did that study, in as unbiased a way as possible, it would likely be significantly more convincing to the judiciary than what they see now (trying to convince the populace/politicians is much harder :P)

For example, right now if you ask federal judges (no matter what their politics) whether they think all the winning employment legal cases before them deserve to be winning, their answer is a resounding no.

If it was a resounding yes, or the data showed the opposite effect in arbitration (IE people were losing cases they shouldn't), you'd have an easier time getting courts to buy that arbitration was actually harming people.

But we can't seem to get past the policy positions and "people should always be in court" mentality.

It's really quite sad.

It’s because the problem is the existence of the system, not that the instigating companies haven’t learned or cared to learn how to obscure the unjust advantage they are buying.

Would you say the same thing if arbitration firms ruled in favor of employees more often than courts did?

(I'd also be interested in knowing why the comparison was with "federal court" and not "any court".)

In theory, yes. In practice they are heavily favored because companies love them over legally required to be fair, impartial, and unbiased courts. They favor them because their arguments are usually secret. You don't know what has worked in the past, but the corporation does.

We should really pass a federal law prohibiting arbitration in contracts of adhesion.

We should just ban arbitration outright. It's a clear violation of the right to a fair and public trial (seventh amendment in the US, but more generally the human right), no matter what the courts say.

Even if you believe that arbitrators attempt to be fair and correctly apply the law, there are numerous public policy issues with them, for some examples:

- The well known principle that it's not enough for the system to seem fair, it must appear to be fair.

- The lack of an appeals system. Real courts screw up all the time and there is 0 evidence to believe that arbitrators are better.

- The lack of case law developed, leading to re litigating issues and no clarity for future controversies.

- The lack of checks and balances, regardless of how fair arbitrators are today there is no way to stop them from becoming corrupt in the future.

We should specifically ban forced arbitration. If both parties are okay with using arbitration I see no reason to restrict that.

There's no forced arbitration. Both parties do agree to it in employment contracts.

The problem is the balance of power is overwhelmingly with employers, so if you don't agree, you don't get a job... anywhere.

You've just described force.

That's a contract of adhesion, where one party (the employer) writes the standard employment contract, and the employee can either sign it (and take the job), or not. Yes, you can rarely get small one-off changes applied, but significant re-writes of any company's standard employment contract are off the table if every job I've ever taken.

Aribtration seems fine if it's business-to-business, and both sides have full-time counsel on staff, a contracts department in accounting, etc. etc.

Also, the intense secrecy surrounding arbitration proceedings. If I have to give up my right to talk about how I’ve been wronged in order to even seek a remedy, then that is reason enough to ban the practice.

This makes it a first amendment issue, but it’s more than that. We as a society lose out when cases are settled behind closed doors with no public record. We cannot make informed decisions about employment if we don’t know who the bad actors are.

The secrecy is so the corporations know all the arguments that work and on which arbiters, and you don't.

It makes a lot of sense and I'm likely to sign a forced arbitration clause if I think it will be a fair process.

People respond to incentives and there are lawyers specialized in trying to grab huge payoffs from companies. They are not allowed in arbitration.

This is a sensitive issue and the last time I posted, some innocent bystander got banned.

You can review my post history, which is serious. Yes, people respond to incentives, and yes, massive payoffs by companies when a seedy lawyer is one of these incetives is one of these. Why people here don't understand this is beyond me. People understand that giving equity in a company produces great labor from early employees. It should be equally obvious that allowing massive, inflated, and ungrounded lawsuits encourages the opposite result.

If done well, there is nothing wrong with forced arbitration.

I can only repeat: I myself will sign a forced arbitration clause, if I expect it to be vaguely fair, even if it deprives me of the chance to file a huge golddigger lawsuit.

I prefer to play on the winning team, not sue them. Forced arbitration, done well, helps this.

Why would I sign if it's so evil?

It's not a court, it's arbitration which is provided by certified and regulated firms that are supposed to be objective. And you willing agree to it. There's nothing illegal about it.

If you think arbitrators are compromised then it would be no different with a civil court, which probably has even worse objectivity.

The firms aren't certified, regulated, or required to be objective. Civil courts have a much more balanced mix of outcomes; arbitrations almost always rule in favor of the business against the individual.

“Willingly agreed” is a just a bit of a stretch here. When one party has substantial leverage over the other, consent is not really meaningful.

You can find another job. What leverage do they have?

If you're talking about the only factory in town with jobs available to feed your family, then it would be an understandable situation but high-paying white-collar positions with these benefits and flexibility are an unimaginable luxury for most and do not qualify as any sort of forced scenario.

What happens when every job in your field has Mandatory Binding Arbitration in the employment contract?

Then that would be a problem, but that's not the case. People just find it easier to claim no accountability.

80 of the top 100 largest companies in America, including subsidiaries or related affiliates, have used arbitration agreements in connection with workplace-related disputes since 2010. These companies are the most successful, powerful companies in America, with combined annual revenues totaling over 7.6 trillion dollars according to Fortune magazine.[0]


You seem to be suggesting that employees put, at the top of their priorities list for where to work and how to support their families, a practice that is widespread in the industry, poorly understood by laypeople, and not predictably encountered by any particular individual, in order to live up to your standard of being 'accountable'. That is not reasonable.

It's perfectly reasonable, but it's always easier to blame others. Who's forcing you to work at Google? That's really the only job opportunity you have?

In your own link, the only relevant detail is that over half of the Fortune 100 use forced arbitration without a meaningful choice. That's bad, and I already said that it should change, but it means the other half don't have it. Also talking about companies is not the same as your entire industry, so it's not as simple as you make it sound.

Mandatory arbitration is more common in low-wage workplaces. It is also more common in industries that are disproportionately composed of women workers and in industries that are disproportionately composed of African American workers. [0]

It's always easier to blame the victim than to change the system that made them a victim. The Google Employees are not just speaking for themselves:

>“2019 must be the year to end a system of privatized justice that impacts over 60 million workers in the US alone.”

In fact, those who are speaking out are probably the least likely to effected by forced arbitration, because arbitration is optional for FTEs @ Google


I am so glad to see this movement. We've needed this for decades.

But please, let's not limit this to the tech industry. Forced arbitration should be made illegal as a condition of employment in the U.S. And if it's not something that can be legislated nationwide (the Supreme Court rejected Susan Fowler's appeal), let's do it state by state.

Sadly a state-by-state approach would leave a lot of employees stuck without options in the most vulnerable positions.

I am not unhappy to see this start in the tech industry, white collar workers have much more power to effect change in their workplace than blue collar workers... But I am similarly concerned that this might not be carried to other industries (or for it to be limited to a small number of companies that slowly reverse their policy due to "competitive issues")

The idea would be to eventually transition from state-by-state to nationwide, it's just easier to do it one state at a time than try to go from 0 to 100 with the whole nation at once.

Some advancements that have been made state-by-state and then finally nationwide, rather than nationwide all at once, include the abolition of slavery, gay marriage, and currently in process, marijuana decriminalization.

The case was Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis. Not Susan Fowler's appeal, but her lawyers filed a brief in support.

It cannot be done state by state, it has been ruled as a federal law and states are powerless to protect their citizens from predatory corporations at this time.

Federal law preempts state law. What can states do without Congress repealing the Federal Arbitration Act?

Honestly seems like we may be headed toward unionization, it may not happen within the next 5 years or so but silicon valley mega-giants sell a bill of goods to their employees regarding how they are all about changing the world for the better, but when analyzing their day to day operations it's obviously a lot murkier.

I think workers are really starting to see through the wool and demand that their companies act as ethically as they claim.

I hope so, companies have agendas that are not aligned with those of their employees. Collective bargaining is practically a profanity in the US and it'd be good to see that silly prejudice eroded.

> ...it'd be good to see that silly prejudice eroded.

This is too dismissive. The fact is that unions are politically engaged. Being concerned about lobbying and political advocacy isn't silly.

If you were an employee for/against software patents, how would you feel if the union actively campaigned and donated in the opposite direction? Even worse, what if the union tended to support candidates on the opposite side of issues you cared more about, like public schools, gay rights, or abortion?

It's so unlikely that a programmers "union" would lobby in favor of software patents that you almost might as well worry that they'd lobby for lower wages, or an abolition of remote working. They could do all of those things, but looser IPR rules more favorable to rank-and-file developers seems like such a basic, shared concern that it's likely to be a plank of any organized labor in software development.

Meanwhile, as pointed out by sibling comments: most large tech employers already overtly and vigorously "lobby" in the opposite direction.

I was saying some employees might own software patents and be in favor of them. I don't agree, but I also don't expect them to be happy about dues going to fight software patents.

It seems like you might be saying that if a union can't satisfy every member of the profession it represents then it shouldn't exist. I don't agree. I feel like if you run a union that represents a profession of which the overwhelming majority of employees feel one way about an issue, then you lobby on that side of the issue. There will always be a minority that disagrees. That minority must then decide whether their views on that particular issue are strong enough to outweigh all the other benefits of the union.

Or maybe they already did the calculation and have already decided it's not worth it. You can't say people will make up their minds and then insist that they have it all wrong.

Besides, all the replies here are ignoring one of the major points... that lobbying as a when can be detrimental. Software patent policy isn't on the ballot and is maybe the 30th most important issue for voters, so it isn't all that relevant when picking a candidate to support. Gun issues, immigration, abortion, health care, and other issues are way more important to most. Donating based on right to repair ignoring the other issues is very atypical.

Fixing IPR conditions for employees doesn't have to involve abolition of software patents; a much more workable plank for a software union might be an end to restrictive IPR clauses in contracts that require developers to assign and later (even after leaving) defend patents based on their work. You could own and benefit from a software patent and still be very much in favor of having the option to participate in your employers patent plans.

Isn't your counter-example about as unrealistic as the notion that such a union would want to promote software patents? As in, that's a zany example but the (more-or-less) inverse seems about as zany.

I'm not sure I follow (but then I didn't write carefully either). Are you saying it sounds zany that a software developers union would lobby employers to end restrictive IPR clauses in employee contracts? Because that would be pretty high up on my list of demands (those same IPR clauses make it tricky for employee developers to go off and start their own companies).

Conveniently, I didn't read too carefully! This bit is probably what I should have been replying to, minus the zany:

looser IPR rules more favorable to rank-and-file developers seems like such a basic, shared concern that it's likely to be a plank of any organized labor in software development.

For SV specifically, I have a hard time seeing this as a major issue let alone an organizing one - mostly on the basis of personal impressions but also historically - there would be no SV at all if this was some serious impediment at a time when patents mattered a lot more than current software patents do. Why do you think it's such a big deal? It does pop up a lot on forums but lots of things do and more often than not, it's people being surprised and shocked (not entirely unreasonably) at the first AoI they get when they start working around here. But in practice, these (among halfway decent actors) are almost never used in a coercive or draconian fashion.

> If you were an employee for/against software patents, how would you feel if the union actively campaigned and donated in the opposite direction?

And if your employer lobbied in the opposite direction? For example pro software patents, pro anti-circumvention laws, anti labor protections? Is it better if the only lobbying is from corporate?

Yes, we have this problem. Why would it be better by adding other lobbyists into the mix?

Then you could change your employer. Outside of right-to-work states, you may have to change your entire field of employment in order to work in a non-unionized job.

what if no employers in your field share your values?

Sure that possiblity exists. But that scenario is a strict subset of the scenarios in which unionization would force people to support views to which they are opposed. If there is exactly one employer in your area you're hosed union or not.

I disagree, in many cases people disagree with the opinions of organizations they join. Introducing sane gun regulations have polled above 66% but the representatives we have in washington won't touch that with a ten foot pole. Similarly a lot of labourers may share opinions that managers may disagree with, with how lobbying works the opinions of management and above are codified in lobbying efforts, unionization would allow the majority opinion to be expressed.

True it allows the majority union opinion to be expressed. But it doesn't change the fact the workers are still enabling the company to spread it's message by virtue of working there. They can avoid the latter by working for a different company.

Furthermore, there isn't anything that's preventing those employees from voicing their opinions without a union. The story linked in the OP is exactly that. Unless tech companies are firing thier employers for their political views, employees can make their views known regardless of union status. While we have seen a few instances of that, most were views that I doubt the average pro software developer union person wants to see defended (then again a lot of people proposing unionizing developers want to limit H1Bs so you never know).

Contrast this with people who are against what the union is doing. The only way to avoid this is to leave the union. In some states (including California) this may mean leaving the entire field of work. Right to work states guarantee the ability to work without union membership, but many (most?) tech jobs are not in those States.

I make enough that I have consciously chosen to work for a company that I endorse the values of. But this is the second job I have had after immigrating to Canada, the first one paid well and I needed work.

Being able to quit a job over a moral objection is a painted as a luxury to most employees (whether it actually is a luxury or not... I think is less relevant than all the media we're fed reinforcing the fact that having a job is a privilege we're lucky to be allowed)

I don't disagree that quitting one's job over political disagreement is a luxury for many, if not most people. But however hard it is to quit one's job, it is even harder to quit one's entire field - which is what is needed to avoid union membership is non right to work States.

Thus to depict union membership as protecting workers' ability to avoid taking part in the endorsement of views is nonsensical. It is strictly harder to quit a union than to quit one's job. Because the latter not only involves quitting one's job, but also finding new employment in a different field.

> It is strictly harder to quit a union than to quit one's job. Because the latter not only involves quitting one's job, but also finding new employment in a different field.

(Did you mean "former"?)

I think you're being more than a little hyperbolic. Unions can't force employers to not hire you if you're not a member (in fact most employers probably would prefer non-union employees because the employees have less negotiating strength).

Not to mention that historically unions have been the catalyst for workers rights legislation (like the 5-day work week, and 9-5 hours, overtime pay, and so on). So even if you aren't a member there are obvious benefits to employees who aren't members of a union (in the long run).

> Unions can't force employers to not hire you if you're not a member

This is not the case. At least, it is allowed in States that have not passed legislation to that effect. Many (usually liberal) States have not done so, as it would weaken the power of unions.

> Introducing sane gun regulations have polled above 66% but the representatives we have in washington won't touch that with a ten foot pole.

And do you know why it is so? The popular adage is "gun lobby throws money at representatives", but it's actually not true.

The reason why gun control doesn't get traction despite popular support is because those polls that measure support or opposition don't measure the dedication of people expressing it. The majority, when asked about gun control, support it, yes - but most don't feel particularly strong about it, and extremely few consider it a make-or-break single issue. So when it comes to voting, politicians know that they can get those people's votes even if they don't go for gun control, riding on other issues.

OTOH, NRA (and other gun rights orgs) have a very effective resource, and that isn't money - it's membership. Specifically, it's the subset of its members that is laser focused on gun legislation, and the majority of whom consider it their single most important issue. Because of that, they're likely to turn out in the primaries, and vote based solely on that one thing, ignoring everything else. Furthermore, NRA (or rather NRA-PVF specifically) facilitates it by compiling dossiers on various candidates in all races across the country, and publishing them together with voting guides. So what this all means is that any Republican who openly supports gun control will find it hard to get through the primary. And, conversely, not supporting it is not a big downside in the general (D voters will vote against you anyway, and R voters will vote for you anyway).

This is changing lately with the rise of left-wing, ideologically motivated groups that target primaries in a similar way, like Indivisibles, which means that Dems these days are a bit more likely to pick it up. But it's still a litmus test for Republicans, and for as long as that remains the case, you're not going to see 70% popular support translate to 70% legislature votes.

By the way, we had a very good demonstration of this recently. Remember the whole bump stock kerfuffle? When ATF announced that it's reviewing its categorization of them, there was a public comment period. Here's how it went:

"Of the more than 17,000 public comments received so far by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a review by Reuters of 4,200 turned up only 10 favoring the bump stock ban. Almost all the rest criticized the proposal as heavy-handed, unnecessary or unconstitutional."

Funnier still, most comments expressing support for the ban were form letters, while most comments expressing opposition were not. This despite the fact that over 80% of the population support the ban, according to the polls - just not enough to bother leaving a public comment on the Internet expressing that opinion, much less prioritize it in their voting choices.

I have very left wing politics, socially and economically. A union is by nature far more likely to represent my views than any corporation. If your politics are "rich people should be able to do whatever they want, collaborate with whatever despicable organizations they like, treat employees however they like and have little oversight over their business", that is a justifiable reason to oppose unionization. I don't share those views, but that's the status quo, and it is almost completely inescapable in this industry.

I think you're thinking a bit too coarse grained. Do you believe that teachers should get performance based pay? Plenty of liberal teachers think so, but they have no choice but to fund an organization that lobbies for the contrary.

Same deal with unions in tech. Say you're in favor of immigration for high skilled workers. Most unions are against immigration when it has the potential to increase the supply of labor in their field (because increased supply = lower costs of labor).

Performance-based pay just leads to gamification of the performance metric, not better teaching/education. Teachers should get paid a living wage, and that's what their unions should be working for.

There are certainly unions with bad politics. The ideal is a union that is embedded as part of a broader pro-worker movement that supports migrants, women, other minorities, the unemployed, etc.

I have yet to meet a teacher who is in favour of performance-driven pay, and I have a feeling that even in America (where "left-wing" is actually center-right by most metrics) many liberal teachers aren't in favour of such proposals.

In Australia, high schools are ranked based on final exam scores and that's something teachers already hate. But to tie it to pay would lead to an even larger conflict of interest and attempts to cheat the performance indicators. When I was graduating high school, I noticed that all of our raw marks were reduced right before our final exams (they were reduced because the metric takes into account whether the school was "harder" on students than the national exam or "easier" on them, and rewarded "harder" schools).

If this was just done to change a ranking, imagine what would happen if teacher's pay was linked to performance. Hell, what about rural or "bad neighbourhood" areas? Should we always and forever doom them to have bad teachers because all the good ones go somewhere with better pay? This is already happening (because working for a higher-ranked school is better for your career) and is pretty bad -- having performance-based pay would be a disaster.

I always thought performance based pay was a very right wing proposal, supported by right wing organisations.

I think that's a good point -- unions are not perfect and may support the interests of their members over the interests of other workers or society at large. However, in my view they are far preferable to any corporate board of directors, which represents only the interests of the owners of the company. Politics is struggle, it isn't just opting out of things you don't like, or else you'll end up a hermit. it's organizing for representation and power, and unions are one example of that kind of organization. An imperfect one, yes, but far preferable in my view to none at all

This is such a backwards way of thinking about collective bargaining.

The corporations you work for the the exact same thing (lobby for things they want) and it's rarely for your own benefit. The difference between a union and a corporation is that unions are democratic organizations. Good luck voting your boss out of their job. All you can do now is quit and find a new job, which for a lot of workers isn't easy to do.

This is the argument used in the recent Janus ruling of the SCOTUS. It's part of the last 40 years of anti-union propaganda shoved into our faces by corporations.

> The difference between a union and a corporation is that unions are democratic organizations.

I already have quite enough entities "democratically" deciding how to represent me or spend my money in ways I oppose, and I don't want another. Do not presume to speak for me or count me among a number of "supporters" of any cause without my explicit consent. The right way to handle any kind of lobbying is "we're thinking of supporting this cause, here's an easy link if you'd like to support that cause, and we'll only speak for those who agree"; that would still allow a union to facilitate collective action without presuming to speak for everyone.

There's a huge difference between (for instance) "let's collectively demand better working conditions, better benefits, and equitable treatment" and "let's lobby the government to make it illegal to work on software without being a union member". I don't care if 53% of a union favors the latter or not. Unions can and do engage in regulatory capture.

Like any concentration of power, unions can be used for good or for ill. Propaganda would have you believe they're always bad, and pro-union folks would have you believe they're always good.

There is an implicit false choice here. I don't have to pick between one lobbying group or another. I can reject both, at least in principle.

Both can be true:

- A union lobbies better for me than my employer.

- No lobbying represents my views better than either employer or union lobbying.

  A union lobbies better for me than my employer.
No, a union typically lobbies for the interests of the union leaders.

Those interests may or may not coincide with yours.

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Because you may not perfectly agree with union lobbying, it's better to leave corporate lobbying unopposed, which will almost certainly leave you (and the entire working class) worse off?

I am so confused by this comment, the parent mentioned that they'd prefer if unions had a voice in lobbying over just having corporations lobbying but then mentioned that having no lobbying would be ideal. This seems like mentioning the perfect and then saying "And this other thing works too."

Expecting corporations to stop lobbying is laughably unrealistic, so "no lobbying" isn't available.

It is. The US spends enough money on elections that it really wouldn't be crazy to just switch over to public funding of elections and take money out of the equation entirely.

But I do agree that there is no way companies would chose to refrain from lobbying if the option was available.

There's also my favorite subtle fix to U.S. democracy - require all members of Congress to reside full-time in their districts and conduct all government business electronically. Now instead of hiring 1 lobbyist who can wine & dine 535 members of Congress and build personal relationships with every one, you have to hire 535 lobbyists who can each wine & dine 1 member of Congress and have to compete with their actual constituents & neighbors for social attention.

This also has a number of other benefits to democracy, notably that social science has shown that our allegiance is to those who we are in closest proximity daily with (i.e. representatives might actually represent their constituents instead of the political class) and it disincentivizes gerrymandering (if you're gonna shove all the black people in one district, you're gonna be living with them).

I hadn't seen this proposal before but that actually makes a lot of sense and would probably help out quite a bit.

There are concerns with logistics and security when it comes to electronically submitted votes for elections (i.e. e-voting) but this sort of a solution side steps any concerns like that, heck it could be voting by show of hands over a video chat.

I do disagree with the gerrymandering portion though, I think the US really needs to adopt a proportional representation system (I'm partial to MMP) which would just make any attempt at gerrymandering irrelevant, sure you can win a particular seat if you gerrymander, but the amount you can effect overall representation would be quite minimal.

> Collective bargaining is practically a profanity in the US

While this is not true for all Europe, excessive "collective" (quotes intended) bargaining in my country has ensured indeed a sort of equality... an equality where everyone is put at the bottom with regards to wages. That's because everything is decided at national level (there are contracts for workers, teachers, engineers...) with close to zero local flexibility. New professions are kind of shoehorned into previous contract types (heck, I'm a researcher, and my contract applies to the "retail industry").

Major national unions (which have mostly retirees in their ranks) prefer it like this because they can have political power. That's why they are vehemently opposing any kind of local negotiation between employees and local unions, because that would strip them off their power.

tl;dr: Implementations differ, some might even yield worse results than before.

I'm...pretty sure unions would end up being heavily anti open source.

"I'm sorry, the union is opposed to postgres. You can either roll your own DB or use Oracle. Oh, and you're not allowed to store more than half a million rows without a Union Approved database administrator."

Replying to clarify my point for all the replies:

Think of all the job descriptions that have become irrelevant, for most startups, in the last decade: "DBA", "sysadmin", "IT". Even in the past year or two, thanks to docker, there's less need for "devops".

Unions exist to protect the interests of today's--not tomorrow's--workforce.

So yes, I certainly believe that a union would say "companies that use docker hire 90% fewer sysadmins than those that do not. We have 70,000 members with that job description. The next collective bargaining agreement will forbid it.

Labor unions have historically been anti automation. If you think software unions are somehow different then the burden of proof is on you.

Imagine that 10 years from now someone invents an AI that can magically take a set of plain english specifications and output a working, high-quality CRUD web app, making a single engineer as efficient as 10. Do you think the software engineers union at BigEnterpriseCo would let them use it?

Fortunately we don't need to rely on your hypothesis here; we can simply look at what's actually happening in the many countries where unions for software engineers are common.

Do you have actual examples of irrelevant jobs in software engineering that have been kept on because of unions? How about unions advocating for proprietary software in order to keep out open source software?

Given that many software unions already exist, the burden of proof is on you to prove that such things are actually happening. It's unreasonable to expect someone to prove the negative here.

Labor unions have historically been against automation _that gets rid of it's members_ which it should be if they are protecting them. Likewise, corporations have been all for automation that let's them lay off wide swaths of workers.

If union members benefited from automation, they'd be all for it. Why should someone be for a change that makes them jobless? Corporations certainly don't lobby for changes that decrease their profits.

This is like when the Luddites were labeled anti progress, when in reality they we're anti being replaced and left to starve in the streets, with the industrial automation being the linchpin in a set of events that caused said starvation.

Share the wealth or don't be surprised when people will fight you over it.


Getting personally nasty will get you banned here, so please don't do that, even when someone else is wrong.


Hi, Europe here. We have unions, and it has basically nothing to do with open source. It has like, ZERO relation to unions.

You think an organization composed of rank-and-file software developers would work to oppose open source? That seems extremely unlikely.

When you form an organized labor bloc, it's not like the Teamsters come in and manage your field for you. The people deciding what workplace changes to push for are the developers themselves.

Wait what? What does that even mean? An engineer's union wouldn't be dictating programming practices, it would just be an instrument of worker empowerment and protection from employer negligence/greed.

Besides, unions would most certainly be more pro-open source than any corporate entity. Open source gives everyone the opportunity to be heard and have their feelings and thoughts actually affect outcomes; this is more or less the same goal of a workers union.

An engineer's union would be whatever its members wanted it to be. Whether you like or agree with those members or not. Whether those members are at your organization or not. Whether the decision was made last week or 30 years ago and just never changed.

Unions, like all organizations, have institutional inertia. And they do good things and bad things.

No, I disagree.

If unions REALLY wanted everyone to have the opportunity to be heard and respected feelings, there would be no violence and intimidation when people move to cross a picket line.

It happens. It's ugly. And it shows unions are NOT about respect for anyone's feelings that don't align with the 'endorsed' way of thinking.

>And it shows unions are NOT about respect for anyone's feelings that don't align with the 'endorsed' way of thinking.

Crossing a picket line doesn't elicit an ugly response because people are upset about how others are thinking.

It elicits a response because scabs directly undermine the union's main leverage with which they bargain collectively.

It's about power, not thought control.

  because scabs 
You just confirmed the comment to which you replied.

>And it shows unions are NOT about respect for anyone's feelings that don't align with the 'endorsed' way of thinking.

The comment I replied to states unions are violent and don't care about feelings that aren't part of an 'endorsed' way of thinking. I stated another more direct reason why they would have the same reaction which has nothing to do with attempts at thought policing, but rather with their reason for existing.

Maybe the difference feels subtle, but it's an important one.

And this justifies your "scabs" slur how, exactly?

Well, I clearly don't align with your preferred endorsed way of thinking. You're free to mentally edit 'scab' to 'strikebreaker' if that helps you out, but I prefer to use the shorter, more recognized term.

I've got a feeling you aren't interested in discussing the actual argument that unions aren't primarily attempting thought control, and that 'thoughts' aren't the reason for violence in the event that people cross the picket line. It's the fact that the act is taking bread out of people's mouths.

If the term 'scab' upsets you a great amount, please note that in the majority of the western world, the use of scabs is restricted or illegal. Accordingly, their use is often in the context of illegal attempts to undermine labour's negotiating leverage during strikes. The US is the notable exception to this trend, largely due to judicial interpretation, rather than direct legislative efforts.


Please don't do this here.

Huh??? What kind of software engineers do you work with that prefer proprietary software over FLOSS?!?!

I'm quite sure tech unions would end up being heavily pro-open source, with the result of more code being open sourced throughout the industry.

I say this as the TL of a team at Google that fought (and won) to open source our project. It wouldn't have happened were it not for me and a few other engineers pushing for it to happen.

Unions =/= the employees they supposedly represent.

I can easily see a union boss say "Our Oracle employees' wages will be undercut by these unauthorized developers using FLOSS alternatives. This is unacceptable. It is our job as union representatives to insist on the highest standard of professional software, and demand that all unionized software houses use Oracle."

Much of the opportunity in the software industry comes from software developers undercutting other software developers. You & I like it when we're the beneficiaries, and not the dinosaurs being undercut. There's no guarantee (and actually a pretty strong selection incentive against) the innovative developers being the ones with political power.

Exactly like how all the unions representing ER nurses do their best to undermine road and workplace safety, in order to guarantee jobs for the nurses they represent.

Oh, wait...

ETA: more seriously, unions can push for or against bad practices, just as management also can. Broad generalizations almost always represent ideological campaigns more than an objective appraisal of the on-the-ground landscape.

More like how the reason buildings in the USA don't have waterless urinals is because of the plumber's union.

I was a unionized IT worker for about a decade. No such bullshit commenced. The closest thing was demanding that 24x7 oncall be compensated.

In other words, the union went years without negotiating compensation for being on call. My nonunion companies over the years all did compensate.

OP could just as likely mean..."when 24-7 was introduced, they demanded compensation."

24-7 isn't required if your org only depends on system between working hours.

24x7 wasn’t a big thing in the era of “data processing”, and things like mainframes were staffed 24x7,

That strikes me as being Anti-Union FUD.

Can you elaborate on what you mean? I'm not the parent commenter, and personally have no reason to spread FUD, and yet the parent comment aligns with my (admittedly low-confidence) model of how institutions in general and unions in particular tend to work and have worked historically

An even mildly democratic union comprised of engineers would never stand for that.

This is a vocal minority pushing for this. The majority may not be for unionization.

You cannot actually ratify a union without a majority of workers. Unions are typically democratic organizations. Also folks don't usually like to stick their heads out if there isn't enough of a movement to avoid being fired for organizing.

Another big thing anti-union propaganda pushes is that it's a vocal minority making a lot of noise. Usually it's the opposite.

  Unions are typically democratic organizations
Modern democracy relies on secret ballots.

Unions want "card check" votes that let the leadership see whom they need to intimidate.

I think I misunderstand exactly what a union is, because my understanding of what a union is, doesn't seem to imply being unable to create one without majority support.

Is a union not just a collection of employees who have entered into a contract together which requires that they do certain things as part of collective bargaining actions.

I don't see why that would inherently require a majority of the employees, or even a majority of the employees in a certain occupation.

Is the 50% requirement due to some enshrinement of unions in law?

Minority unions don't have the same legal status in the US. The contract would be unenforceable.

That seems counterintuitive to me. Why does there being other people employed by the same people prevent me and the group I'm in from entering into contract together?

Why are unions treated differently than other contracts?

I'm assuming this is because of some historical accident that came about with a struggle between people who wanted to prevent all such contracts and people who wanted unions to have special privileges over other sorts of contracts?

A majority union isn't a kind of contract. It represents all workers in a bargaining unit, even workers who voted against it. In theory, this simplifies negotiations and helps make sure all workers are fairly represented.

Some union supporters worry that allowing minority unions would weaken established unions. Union opponents have focused on passing "right to work" laws, which require majority unions to represent non-members for free. The status quo probably makes unions stronger in pro-union states and weaker in anti-union states.

Thank you for explaining! Your explanation is quite helpful.

You don’t need to be in the majority to effect change. You just need leverage.

Bernie Sanders used publicity and shame to force Amazon to pay fulfillment center workers a higher minimum wage, and he’s only one person (albeit a person with a platform).

So find the leverage. Everyone has pain points.

And they now apparently are paying the high performing workers less.


A move which is more likely retaliatory than it is about Amazon’s profitability and concerns about going under.

Amazon didn’t have to reduce the pay of high performing workers. They chose to. That says more about Amazon than workers attempting to raise their wages.

Exactly. All that is on Amazon, not those fighting for a living wage.

The majority may be waiting for the tipping point.

I live in Denmark, work for a SV company, and I'm union.

It doesn't mean much, but should I someday need legal assistance they've got my back. I don't use them for negotiation, etc, few engineers do.

But they run a decent news paper, and highlight topics like this.

I'm not against unionization, but I also wonder whether employee representation on the board of directors is a better approach in many cases. It seems like it may suit the culture of tech better, and avoid some of the unfortunate bureaucracy of a true union.

I've heard this concept brought up before, but are there real world examples where this has been effective?

It seems to me like any minority form of employee representation on a board (e.g. requiring 1 seat) would just be paying lip service to employees since the majority of the board would still make decisions based on what drives future profits.

it's currently law in Germany. As an American I don't have any first hand experience with how well it works out.


Harder to hide board decision making process when the employees have a seat at the table though. Might make it easier for employees to organise against problems before they become entrenched decisions.

How do you implement this without a) government mandate a la Germany or b) some form of employee collective (unions) to balance the power the company wields?

Alternative is it’s a mascot/figurehead appointed or “voted in”.

"union bureaucracy" is mostly just anti-union propaganda, unions are no more bureaucratic than the corporations they live in, the difference is they are typically democratic organizations. You have little to no control over the bureaucracy of the company you work for as an ordinary worker. In a union you can.

This is definitely not true. Some unionized aerospace companies literally draw a line on the floor that engineers can't cross. When an engineer needs to make a change to a spacecraft they need to describe how to perform the change to a technician, wait for the technician to do it, and repeat the process if the technician doesn't do it right. Policies like those would immediately go out the door if union rules didn't mandate that only the unionized technicians can work on spacecraft.

This is a bug. Not a feature

No, this is a feature, not a bug. Union rules often create redundant roles for the purposes of making the company hire more employees. More unnecessary work for the unionized technicians in this case, at the expense of making the company as a whole less efficient. Remember, the union is incentivized to do what's best for the union which is distinct from what is best for the company or its members.

You’re stuck in the past. Instead of lamenting about the negative effects of past schemes with the idea that any future scheme will have the same problems, how about we design new solutions given all of the experience and information we now possess.

Are we not technologists and engineers?

A defeatist attitude just slows down the problem solving process.

The current situation is working perfectly fine for plenty of tech workers. We have some of the best ratio of compensation to working experience in the country. There's a reason why so many people want to get into tech. Forced arbitration or not, I highly doubt the average Google Dev would want to trade life situations with the average American.

Are we not technologists and engineers? Don't we know enough about the pitfalls of trying to fix a system that isn't broken?

> We have some of the best ratio of compensation to working experience in the country.

But is it among the best ratios of compensation to value provided to the company? That's the more interesting number.

> Are we not technologists and engineers? Don't we know enough about the pitfalls of trying to fix a system that isn't broken?

The system isn't broken for _you_. You're not in a position to speak on behalf of me.

> "union bureaucracy" is mostly just anti-union propaganda, unions are no more bureaucratic than the corporations they live in

So, extremely? "no more bureaucratic than the corporations they live in" is not a hard standard to meet while still being incredibly bureaucratic.

I am impressed that these employees are able to talk about this stuff and not get managed out of the company :-).

Unionization itself though has had mixed effects in the US. From workers having their conditions and lives improved to city governments driven to bankruptcy. So it isn't all good or all bad.

Perhaps technology workers have reached critical mass at this point.

I am impressed that these employees are able to talk about this stuff and not get managed out of the company.

Me too. I expect some people to be fired, but in some subtle way. "One out, all out". (Few today know what that means. Find out.)

If you want to see an effective union of creative and technical employees, see The Animation Guild, IATSE Local 839.[1] They represent the major studio animators and some CGI people in Hollywood. They have about 2500 members.

A big advantage of being represented by IATSE is "crunch time = big overtime pay". Films do have scheduling crunches, and they come out of the production budget and the producer's cut. This is why film scheduling is a real thing and software scheduling is a joke.

[1] https://animationguild.org/

> "One out, all out". (Few today know what that means. Find out.)

Could you link something, for the curious of us? I googled but the vast majority of results are scientific papers about the Water Framework Directive for assessing the health of bodies of water, plus a Wikipedia link to the "One in, one out policy" (not the same thing), plus a Guardian article that alluded to something about union-busting but never explained the history of the term.

I had trouble too - maybe there really is a capitalist conspiracy ;) The best references I could find are [1] and [2].

As far as I can tell, the point is solidarity - if one worker strikes, all workers must strike. Any scabs who go back to work will be ostracized by the loyal strikers.

[1] https://books.google.com/books?id=KUopAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA314&lpg=... [2] https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/one-out-all-out.9459...

> From workers having their conditions and lives improved

Like the 40-hour work week: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight-hour_day

It's straightforward to favor private-sector unions and oppose public-sector unions (and, for that matter, to have problems with particular private-sector unions as well). Public-sector unions have to contend with an incentive problem that other unions don't.

FYI, this would be illegal, which is probably at least one good reason Google isn't doing it. The right to organize is federally protected.

And there's very recent precedent on this front within the tech industry, too. Just look at what happened with Lanetix, which fired all of its software engineers after they started organizing, then lost the resultant NLRB case and now owe a substantial amount of money.

What's your opinion about why it hasn't worked out well for city governments?

Maybe a tragedy of the commons? "Well, it's not my money being spent, why not give the unions a bigger pension"? Whereas in a private company there is always someone who wants the company to continue to be profitable.

In New York at least, constructions unions extract large amounts of money from the government. Some examples that come to mind:

  * Lots of construction employees are mandated by unions to stay around (crane greasers I believe are an example) even though these employees do no work, and then managers have to be hired to manage more employees, etc.
  * Sometimes employees are hired to do no work at all
  * Highly experienced employees will be given menial jobs like coffee-fetcher sort of deal, but get paid very highly for it due to their experience.
  * The MTA has no negotiating power, the unions and the construction contractors agree on a price and then give it to the MTA
Why is it like this? I don't know, one could imagine all sorts of corruption, political plays to get the construction vote, political games to avoid seeming anti-union, who knows.

California has over a trillion dollars in pension obligations. Politicians make deals with unions that the government cannot afford because unions often become very politically powerful.

There are lots of opinions on this, and there are several cities in California who have gone through or started the Chapter 9 process[1]. When I read the material on these I see a fundamental tension between committing to planned future payments vs the ability to scale revenue to make those payments. As a result, any "baked in" payments, whether they are wage increases in union contracts or interest payments on general obligation bonds, can consume more than the available revenue. Bottom line is that things like pension obligations contribute to the problem but it takes a couple of things going south at the same time to drag a city under.

That said, responsible city management which is unable to arbitrarily change the tax rate by law (the fabled CA requirement of 2/3 majority vote) would not enter into contracts that would put the city's solvency at risk, and yet they still do.

[1] The factors contributing to a local government's decision to file for relief under Chapter 9 typically are varied and complex. From the information that has been made available to date, it appears that Stockton and San Bernardino's bankruptcy filings were driven by some similar factors including: long–term imbalances in revenues and spending, reduced tax revenues associated with the downturn in the economy, some constraints to reducing expenditures in the short term, and increasing costs to provide retiree benefits. Additionally, substantial borrowing appears to be a factor in Stockton's filing, and prior budgeting practices, such as borrowing from internal funds, appears to be a contributing factor in San Bernardino's case. By contrast, the bankruptcy filing by Mammoth Lakes appears to be driven by a single significant event—a recent legal judgment that required it to pay an amount more than twice its annual General Fund budget. -- https://lao.ca.gov/reports/2012/localgov/local-government-ba...

Unionization is not a panacea. Unionization may be able to preserve jobs and defend employees from employer strongarming tactics but on the converse, it can protect employees who would have otherwise been fired for improprieties and other less attractive ideas as well as those simply not pulling their weight any longer.

> but on the converse, it can protect employees who would have otherwise been fired for improprieties

I know of these cases in the US, but that wouldn't fly in a German union. They only stand up for you when the employer acts out of reason, but not if you're fired with a valid reason (e.g. sexual misconduct). Maybe a look at the German system could be of help here, though I sympathize more with the French model as their unions sometimes go the extra way for the employees.

Absolutely UK unions are like lawyers in this regard you represent the member even if you know they will be found guilty, to make sure their rights are protected and more importantly to "keep the company honest" as one senior manager said to me once.

I suspect that Mr Danmore (x googler) did not get fired fairly as google did not I suspect follow its internal procedures to the letter.

There's good and there's bad to unions, absolutely. There's good and there's bad to lack of unions, too, though. At some point, the negatives of unionization outweigh the positives - if employers were smart, they'd work to make sure that doesn't happen.

seems to me that employers are working to make sure that doesn't happen. Pay is very, very good. Most of us make multiples of median household income in our respective areas. Plus have better working conditions.

Engineer pay hasn't kept up with productivity gains, inflation and increases in cost of living expenses.

The fact is that engineers create an increasing amount of value, and their compensation hasn't increased sufficiently to reflect that.

In fact, Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Pixar and eBay were found guilty of colluding to keep engineer pay artificially low through anti-poaching agreements[1].

[1] Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe will pay $415 million in anti-poach deal - http://fortune.com/2015/09/03/koh-anti-poach-order/

Do you think this really concerns Joe and Jill staff member at these companies, because I don’t think they cared about Joe and Jill but more about your senior people working on core products and services.

> seems to me that employers are working to make sure that doesn't happen. Pay is very, very good. Most of us make multiples of median household income in our respective areas. Plus have better working conditions.

Most software developers are not on HN, or making anywhere near Valley salaries.

It may not be unionization per se, but it's well past time for our organizations (IEEE/ACM/Usenix) to start defending our interests by establishing standards for employment contracts that don't include this kind of crap.

Many unions in the US are not multi-organization groups. A lot of folks unionize their co-workers without collaborating with, or joining, a trade or national union.

I like it this way better because it gives you the ability to have more control over the organization as a normal worker. All that scary "union dues going to big bad bosses" rhetoric goes out the window when you know the union leadership as your co-workers.

Doesn't really work longer term you need scale and external resources eg lobbying, legal support research.

You do need better democratic oversight than you have in the USA cough in my opinion.

> Doesn't really work longer term you need scale and external resources eg lobbying, legal support research.

So have multiple independent unions that have each other on speed dial for when they need to amplify influence. And lobbying should be opt-in by individual members on a cause by cause basis.

1 Secondary action is illegal in the UK and restricted in many other countries.

2 Again in the UK there are very heavy restrictions placed on union lobbying and I suspect in the USA to.

I am sorry balloting members individually on every policy is madness that's what conference is for.

> I am sorry balloting members individually on every policy is madness that's what conference is for.

We have technology for this, and it's not hard to take a vote. I will never be a part of any union that presumes to speak for me on individual issues without my individual consent. And if the union is doing so many things that the number of votes are too much for individual members to deal with, it's doing too much.

(By contrast, it does seem entirely reasonable to give broad parameters to people doing negotiation, rather than doing negotiation ballot by ballot; the members should then vote on the resulting negotiated proposal, though, before it gets finalized.)

It's impressive that they have so much bargaining power to do so. With so many people lining up to work at google, i would imagine people would be more fearful of their jobs.

I am in full support.

> Honestly seems like we may be headed toward unionization

Nope. For the simple reason that unions have borders, tech jobs don't.

"Tech jobs don't [have borders]"

That's going to be a huge surprise to the people, both tech workers and otherwise, who live in one of the major tech hubs where all the tech workers congregate.

Yep, and when workers in that hub become too expensive and less efficient because of unions, where do you think the jobs will move?

US unions rely largely on holding a monopoly on the supply of labor. When that monopoly disappears, they lose all power.

Workers in hubs are already more expensive, but jobs don't seem to be moving.

Are you claiming that the jobs won't leave no matter how expensive the workers are?

I'm merely pointing out that the costs are already more expensive, and this doesn't seem to be causing many to relocate.

You're really so naive as to think that companies are just going to avoid gigantic markets for engineers just because of unions?

You know that unionized jobs are _not_ drastically different over those that aren't, right?

"You're really so naive"

You're really so naive to think that unions don't change productivity?

Why don't you go and ask Germans, the Dutch, Swiss or Nordic countries, which have gigantic union presence, if you think unions have anything to do with productivity?

The problem with US isn't with the unions, it's with the corporations' complete vitriol against them.

> unions have borders

there are international unions and federations of unions actually

> there are international unions and federations of unions actually

Not really, that's just naming and marketing.

No only that, unions actually compete with each other across countries. An union in the US is fighting for US workers, and to keep jobs in the US, and might be competing with an union in Mexico for those same jobs.

Getting past 40 years of hardcore anti-union propaganda won't be easy, especially in tech which essentially came into its own in tandem with neoliberalism.

Every single part of the economic system is organized into industry groups, lobbying groups, industry associations and everyone thinks its perfectly natural for them to group together to promote and push their collective interest. No individualism there. Google, Facebook, Twitter and others are part of multiple such industry associations and lobbying groups.

But curiously when it comes to labor suddenly collective action becomes anathema? This is not logical. Isn't it high time anti-union propaganda and demonizing unions on the flawed logic of 'bad unions make all unions bad' ie some banks are corrupt so banking as a concept is bad is jettisoned for informed discussion.

The key word in this case is 'forced'. If you prefer company managed arbitration then you should be able to 'choose' it. Similarly those who see it as fundamentally flawed should have the freedom to choose due process in a court of law as is the right of every citizen.

For the content of the article: it's amazing (in a negative way) with how much utter crap companies are able to get away. I get that the US takes pride in individual liberty, but allowing companies that much leverage including forcing employees to relinquish their right to a court of law is abhorrent.

For the presentation of the article: anyone from Techcrunch reading? The site looks like shit on tablets. In a webview after 500ms the site goes blank, only the footer remains. In Chrome, the article is 40% of the screen, the right side is some ad. What the fuck?

California keeps trying to ban mandatory arbitration in contracts, and federal courts keep ruling against the state on the grounds that the Federal Arbitration Act pre-empts California law.

>the US takes pride in individual liberty

In many states it is unlawful to negotiate Union favored closed shops. Not to mention arbitrary bans on alcohol sales and nude beaches and intermittent restrictions on teaching natural selection or climate change.

In much of the county, language around liberty is not remotely about individuals but is used disingenuously to drive voters to act against their own interest.

  unlawful to negotiate Union favored closed shops
Agency shop has the exact same effect, unless your employment predates the union. You are still constrained to the CBA and have to pay full dues.

Just pointing out that employment requirements such as non compete, inventions clause, forced arbitration and others are all legal under the (dubious) notion that employees can just work elsewhere. But a union membership requirement is outlawed. Seems a double standard.

I love how the headline is "Google Employees" instead of "35 Google Employees." I guess the latter would make it too obvious that this is just Techcrunch pushing an agenda.

It's also a mischaracterization to imply that only 35 googlers care about this. Removing arbitration for sexual harassment was one of the core demands that 20k Googlers walked out for last month. So the number of supporters is somewhere between 35 and 20k...

> So the number of supporters is somewhere between 35 and 20k...

This is actually a pretty good summary of micro-political science in a nutshell.

And getting 20k to walk out on a wildcat would be considered a stunning success by any M&P (managerial and professional) union.

It's probably well higher than 20k, considering that that's only ~20% of the company. You'd need to do a representative poll to find the real number, which I suspect is well above 50%.

And not all supporters will have walked out so the actual support will be higher.

> So the number of supporters is somewhere between 35 and 20k...

With 95% confidence.

Every journalist has an agenda... remember NY Times' "enhanced interrogation"?

Let’s be honest and ask, “Who doesn’t have an agenda?”

> “Who doesn’t have an agenda?”

People who are lying.

And journalists having an agenda isn't a bad thing, they just need to stop listening to modern journalist "fair and balanced" lessons from college. When ever you're writing an article make it clear what your general opinion on the subject is so that people can incorporate it into their understanding of your statements.

I'd much rather just have transparency of opinion than today's "fair and balanced". Today's news is (generally) written to avoid authors expressing their opinion openly, but sources and statistics will be cherry picked to reinforce their opinion. If that opinion was openly stated it'd be easier to confirm whether the statistics are reasonable neutral or misleading.

I totally agree. I actually find the "X has an agenda argument" misleading at best in that person stating it is implying that they don't have their own, or that their own agenda is beyond reproach.

As long as that agenda is known, it can be factired into process to arrive at more equitable outcomes.

Not talking honestly about agendas actually does everyone a lot of harm.

I’m not entirely convinced that you’d actually get more equitable outcomes, but I would definitely appreciate the transparency. I can’t help but think that some people would just stop reading altogether if they saw that article stated their agenda of X, but the reader held their own of Y.

Actually I think it takes guts for even 35 employees to stand up like that at I'd assume a considerable risk to their careers.

Not even remotely comparable situations. That guy went to great lengths to create a hostile workplace environment for a great number of his co-workers, and just doubled-down on his idiocy when asked (politely) to stop. He wasn't fired immediately--he was given a chance to take down his manifesto and chose not to.

This group, today? They're just asking for their employer not to engage in unethical legal practices.

> doubled-down on his idiocy

Ironic, given the topic of seeking the afforded freedoms...even if it's idiotic.

> Not even remotely comparable situations.

Pretty close, especially since what you have successfully done. I mean it's not the end of the career for anyone Google fires, so that's hyperbole, granted. It's comparable because you baked it down to a phrase in both cases, which describes behavior that runs contrary to Google's interests (in one way or another).

Who was that guy?

you mean the blatantly sexist guy

These companies presumably have these forced arbitration clauses in order to save money. There costs would increase if they no longer had these clauses. Where is that money going to come from? I'd suggest it probably comes from lower employee salaries.

Further, the deck seems pretty stacked in favour of the company in court anyways. They have a team of lawyers each way more expensive than any lawyer I'll be able to afford. Not to mention the time and effort that would spent suing a company when I'd really rather be moving on with my life.

So its not at clear to me that I'm worse off with forced arbitration. Without it, I'd have a lower salary and only slighter better chance of winning a suit against my employer.

google has 50 billion dollars in cash lmao

court is unfavorable but it's less unfavorable if you do a class action lawsuit, which is the whole point.

Google having 50 billion dollars in cash is irrelevant. What makes you think they'd spend that on legal fees/settlements?

Perhaps I've got a better chance of winning a class action suit, but it probably returns me as an individual a tiny amount of money. Still not a winning proposition.

Had Google ignored their demand, what would they fo then?

Some Googlers have already discussed a strike (as Google refused a number of other demands from the walkout) and have raised money to support Googlers who may be financially constrained in a strike situation. Some have resigned, and others have made plans to leave in the near future.

What exactly would a strike at Google do? Will the servers stop running?

There's a lot of room between "nothing" and "all Google services stop running". Reduced trajectory on new feature development, for instance.

I'm sure you can figure this out if you think about it.

Since a significant number of protesting employees are SREs (site reliability engineers), there's a non-zero chance that problems that arise would not be dealt with as promptly if there was a strike, depending on how many SREs joined the strike and what they were responsible for. At Google scale, technical failures arise regularly, so even in a short period of time, this would likely have some impact. It would certainly be an interesting way to test their resiliency to failure.

You don't have to sign the forced arbitration clause in many places. I didn't sign one at my current employer. I had to explicitly do a little extra paperwork to do so, but I don't have a forced arbitration clause.

It's anyone's guess why this is even legal in the US...


Would you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to Hacker News? We've asked you several times. If you can't or won't stop, we're going to ban you.

If you'd review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and use this site as intended, we'd be grateful.

I'd say it's a good thing overall for employees to have more power, it means that supply and demand is favoring workers.

Look for big tech to push for more H1B Visas to shift things in their favor by saying there's a "talent shortage". The H1Bs don't have the luxury of protesting stuff like this because they can be deported if they get out of line plus it drives down wages

Or Google would just grow dev centers elsewhere. No need for H1Bs in that case.

Getting rid of company-handled arbitration sounds less work for the tech companies?

No? It's much faster and cheaper to deal with the arbitration yourself than to have all the dirty laundry aired out in public courts, which will almost certainly be a long, expensive process.


I am quite sure you are not aware of the issue here. We're talking about binding, or forced arbitration. Often times, people are unaware that they are being forced into arbitration, and when they are, it severely limits their legal recourse. There's little reason to support it, unless you're a huge company with liability concerns.

Here's a good source on the matter:


Then don't force it. If it truly is best for both parties, both parties will opt for it. It doesn't need to be required.

If you don't want to have your "dirty laundry aired out in public courts", then don't have dirty laundry.

No one tries to have dirty laundry, and if you are a company of any significant size there’s going to be dirty laundry regardless.

I don't accept this statement. If employees attempting to seek redress over HR issues would hurt the image of a company than that company has some really toxic stuff going on.

detcader 41 days ago [flagged]

If only us men stopped using women like objects at such a rate that it bears statistically significant stress on the scale of the industry! Then most businesses would need to spend zero time and money.

I am not sure what you are implkying here but most (95%+) men do not use women like object in western countries.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact