Then I married my wife, who worked in a union at a college library, and I learned I had only heard one side of the story. Initially we had a few interesting, and heated, debates about unions. Over time though I have slowly come over to the idea that unions as a concept, and in many implementations, are a good thing.
I still think some unions wind up getting too much power and abuse that power, but they are generally a good check in a world that resembles more and more the world of the Cyberpunk 2020 game I used to play .
Curiously, this is the second time I've been reminded of Cyberpunk 2020 this month. The first time was the 'Satoshi' reveal last week, which brought up memories of Hal Finney . I always equated with Spider Murphy , the top digital rights activist/info broker/info breaker in Cyberpunk 2020.
Although it is in principle possible to have multiple competing unions, it is often forbidden (either by law or union contract) and many companies are anyways small enough market.
Corruption makes you more competitive (e.g. Uber ignoring local taxi laws) and the chicken shit judiciary is extraordinarily hesitant to charge companies (think of the jobs!).
The perfect crime in modern times is to think up some convoluted fraud with your company making sure that it's too difficult for a jury or layperson to explain in terms where it is obviously wrong (e.g creating derivatives several layers of abstraction away from mortgages and exaggerating their risk profile). The prosecutors just aren't pursuing cases which aren't easy wins.
- Rampant corruption (i.e. Teamsters in the 60s is the most egregious example, but probably even a lot of current unions are rife with corruption)
- Racketeering (i.e. like what happened when Theranos tried to move offices)
- Protecting bad/lazy workers (i.e. impossible-to-fire poor performing employees that do nothing yet collect a paycheck every week)
- Blocking strategic decisions in the name of protecting employees (i.e. "Sorry, we won't let you automate X; too many people would lose jobs")
I see how unions benefit workers in the case of terrible corporations that exploit workers, but as a small business owner I'm afraid a union would morph into a parasite that hinders the business and engages in all sorts of undesirable activity (in the case of industry-wide unions).
Like I read a few years ago at some convention in NYC some organization couldn't get their booth up and running because they weren't allowed to plug in their own equipment because "that's union work" and they had to wait for a card-carrying union member to come plug in their TV or something ridiculous.
Now let's say I work for a hypothetical Walmart union. 1 million members or whatever. What can I do to check and balance anything? How can I bet anything except a tool to be used for various warring factions to extract more money from each other.
You misunderstand how unions work. Unions aren't monolithic organizations, but rather organized around locals (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_union), with a local being the unit of the union representing a single workplace. While locals are affiliated with a larger union, they also have some degree of independence (exactly how much depending on a variety of factors), including electing their own leadership.
For most union workers, while they are technically members of a much larger union, almost all of the ways they interface with that larger organization are through their local. So they're not one among a million members, they're one among (say) a few hundred, all of whom are people who work with them and live in their community. And if you're part of such a group and want to change its direction, you can run for a leadership position in the local, just as you would in the HOA.
Eletricians tend to work within a city, at a given job site. So they are fairly autonomous.
A walmart union would not. For example, look at United Auto Workers. How much control does the average UAW union member have over his life?
Compare to the average software engineer. How much control does he have over his working conditions and pay?
See also any democratic society.
Most of which are not democratic.
Democracies are extremely inefficient compared to a "dictatorship" where the president of the institution is in charge. You should only switch to a democracy as a last resort due to systemic abuses that can't be resolved any other way. I haven't worked in the games industry, but so far working as a software developer I have not encountered systemic abuses that merit introducing an extremely inefficient democratic oversight system to the company.
I don't see who is the "dictator" in your example as it relates to a union shop. You're all small (1 person) dictatorships, but you could also frame it as 1 person democracies? In this situation a systemic abuse is any abuse that happens to you, because you're the entire system? Or this is just a really hard metaphor to work with?
I get that you're argument below was "I'm lazy and don't have time to deal with being informed about the issues that would come with a union" but how is that any different from "I'm lazy and don't have time to deal with being informed about all the possible labor abuses my employer is perpetrating"? Why does it have to be systemic to be a net negative, and how do you know you're aware of everything going on?
You can just be a lazy union member and assume that "the union is a net good" the same way you can be a lazy non-union member and assume "being unionless is a net good".
In Ontario, Canada, the autoworker unions have been trying to unionize the Toyota plant and have not been successful: the workers always vote 'no'. The works at GM and Ford plants felt differently.
Just because you work in a 'good' part of an industry does not mean everyone does.
Right, but the article in question is arguing:
> A union isn’t just right for Vox Media, but for everyone
And I'm questioning if it really is. I, for one, don't want yet another democratic system I need to invest time and thought into in order for it to be effective. Local, state, federal government + HOA is enough already.
I'm happy with the way the president of past companies I've worked for ran things and I'm glad I didn't have to research union candidates, run for union positions, and/or vote on union issues in my already limited free time.
OP was asking what he can do as a small business owner.
For example, in many shops there is only one union. It is not difficult to see how that would lead to perverse incentives on the union's part.
I can ask you in turn: What checks and balanges are in place to prevent businesses from:
- Rampant corruption
- Protecting bad/lazy managers
- Blocking strategic decisions in the name of protecting profits
- Manipulating national politics for their benefit
A business is trying to make money. The first 2 out of the 4 points directly harm their profit motive, the 3rd and 4th are what companies should be doing (it's not great, but it fits their profit motive).
Yea nah I don't know which businesses you've worked at but the top 2 are endemic to every large business. It turns out that the people running a business don't necessarily do what's best for the business, either.
The same can be asked for elected representatives in government.
See "Democracy or Oligarchy? Models of Union Governance in the UK, Germany and US":
See the recent talk about unionizing people who work in the games industry, for example.
What happens to unions after their original purpose for existence has been fulfilled, is another story. Some might turn into vehicles for illegal activities, as some individuals move to take advantage of the existing power structure.
Nevertheless, their existence should be seen as a symptom that something isn't right. An employer can probably avoid the unionizing of their workforce by addressing the underlying problem.
They can also avoid or postpone it by striking down even harder on their workforce. Like so many fascist regimes have shown, this can be particularly effective in the short-term.
It's difficult as an individual to make an argument against striking for increased pay for example, even if you believe the long-term impact of that decision will ultimately be worse (i.e. it could lead to increasing the speed with which the employer investigates automation to stop the impacts of you striking).
Am almost wholeheartedly in favour of organised labour, but am not convinced most unions have the right organisation (although something is often better than nothing in the case of workers rights).
> - Racketeering (i.e. like what happened when Theranos tried to move offices)
RICO act which pretty much destroyed unions in the US... the ones which were left and were pretty corrupt.
> - Protecting bad/lazy workers (i.e. impossible-to-fire poor performing employees that do nothing yet collect a paycheck every week)
Union contracts or collective bargaining agreements lay out these sorts of things, and they have to be negotiated in that contract.
> - Blocking strategic decisions in the name of protecting employees (i.e. "Sorry, we won't let you automate X; too many people would lose jobs")
If all companies were set up with unions then they would all oppose altogether which would not effect the competitiveness of a company... but the entire industry. So such a move would have to be an industry move. This then makes a key industry beholden to not just the shareholders but also the employees when the government goes to set policies for that industry.
Would you expect the union to oppose such automation? If not, what should happen if they did?
Even if the plan theoretically matches up perfectly, reality isn’t so neat and tidy. People decide to retire early or logistical problems prevent the automation from coming online on schedule. Any competent union should be negotiating for a more nuanced transition plan, at least, that accounts for the effects of potential over- or under-staffing scenarios on the workers.
Yes. Though the automation as described hurts no workers it kills the union itself.
What checks and balances are in place to stop corporate entities that happen to not be unions from screwing their workers, screwing their employees, and screwing their community?
In a world of regulatory capture, pretty much the only weapon anybody else has is "we'll turn off your money spigot," yeah?
At least in the tech industry: dead sea effect. If you screw your workers, they'll get up and leave and go work for your competitor. Companies don't want this.
That sounds almost as bad as an open-plan office.
Secondly, how do you address the racism in Unions even now? Within the last year multiple African American Union workers were complaining about racism within the Union and they were largely ignored by the Union.
I remember when I used to work at XYZ Company I would have to wait for weeks to have a union employee move my stuff from desk to desk (even a desk that was 1 desk over) when I could've done it myself in minutes. Why do I need a Union worker for something I can do myself? Why does a company need to spend $600 for something I can do myself in less than an hour for free.
Maybe in the US journalism and entertainment fields people can get off more easily with a Union as their jobs are somewhat shielded from the threat of offshoring. That is not the case in engineering and manufacturing. Unions are not for every industry and these things should be done at the Local, State and Federal level so everyone can benefit. The government is supposed to be counter balance to business. The government is outsourcing their job to Unions.
Um, no. There is a massive difference between "lazy" and "I don't like them". I may not like them because they're lazy, but they are not at all the same thing. The problem is, if you're trying to get rid of a lazy employee, and they have a union (or any other lawyer) trying to protect them, then the lawyer wants to paint "lazy" as being as non-objective as possible, so it becomes something they can't be fired for.
-Rampant corruption: (i.e. funding anti-global warming, pro-tobacco propaganda science, etc. Bribing governments. Trashing the environment.)
-Racketeering (i.e. Missouri & Kansas suing opioid manufactures under RICO, rent-seeking behavior/aspirations exhibited by nearly every major industry today)
-Protecting bad/lazy CEOs, Officers & Board Members (i.e. golden parachutes, do-nothing Board Seats filled by nepotism)
-Blocking strategic decisions in the name of providing value to shareholders (i.e. Stock buybacks over R&D, laying off experienced engineers in favor of cheap juniors, etc.)
So what if you have to wait a bit to have some one hook up your A/V equipment? Corporations generate their own byzantine bureaucracy without any help from unions (try getting a upfront quote for a medical procedure sometime). What undesirable activity would industry-wide unions do? Prevent IT outsourcing? Force considerations in international trade relations? Claw back some profits for workers instead of shareholders? Slow down the frantic rush to turn every industry into a duopoly? Put a check on C-Suite compensation? Hold a general strike the next time there is a push to get us into a war?
I look at the shenanigans going on at WeWork and others, and I start to think maybe capital shouldn't be trusted to the Capitalists. Re-Unionization is really the only way I see to reign things in before the next generations turn to full-fledged-capital-S Socialism.
We don't ask "Should we have government? What should we do to minimize corruption?" We recognize the need for government, then work to make it better.
Furthermore, like most regulations, I would hope that the power of union against corporate would scale with the size of the business - that not every profession would be a guild, but that the larger and more powerful a business to a region, the more power the union has against it. This would be to avoid the last example you cited.
Edit: Lest I draw the ire of mods, I am tired of getting downvoted for a good faith discussion relevant to the linked article. If you have a problem with a statement, please reply constructively.
That and government sector unions. Those things are toxic because the unions end up supporting providing political support for the people they're employed by i.e. that's like me and my co-workers voting on how much we'll be paid.
You mean like every C-level manager at every corporation in the world?
AFAIK it is the other way. Closed-shop may be a result of contract freedom between a powerful union and a company (and then it is enforced as any other contract). While union laws often limits content of union contracts, e.g. forbids closed-shop. That is why you do not see closed-shop in Europe (with generally stronger union laws).
Why can't industry workers do the same? Once software has eaten the world, what's to stop software people monetizing the employment market they have captured?
Competition is good, and we always want a choice of where to shop. I imagine the same goes for unions. Is there anti-monopoly and antitrust law around unions? E.g. protecting consumers against there being only one union for widget makers. I would guess that unions would be less controversial with a healthy ecosystem of competition on both the employer and labor sides, but I don't know much about unions.
This is every dismissive comment about unions on HN ever, right here.
The results we’ve seen when such workers realise this (see Googlers more-or-less ept attempts to change management policy) is the test for this. A strong union would stand them in much better stead.
So there's a downside.
As a highly-skilled contracting worker, I care nothing about changing my client companies policies. Their values are a curiosity to me. I negotiate my rate, do the job, submit my invoice and move on. So maybe I'm not the person who can appreciate the advantages in a full-employee situation.
you seem to be inferring that skill level should influence compensation, and since unions are primarily in the business of bargaining on wages, the downside is that they introduce some ceiling or whatever
but, that's not how all unions operate. many are focused on working conditions/presence of work/benefits alongside. your average SWE doesn't care about these things because their job is physically and mentally easy, plus they are wooed with free food/working conditions/intellectual challenges etc. so average software guy is sated and doesn't have much incentive to rock the boat.
but, let's run with your example. suppose there is probably a large amount of variance in ML engineers. suppose some have a skill set 1x (average ML engineer) and a few have a skill set 5x average
the 5xers like yourself (maybe) probably feel great, they have tons of disposable income and don't feel any particular pressure because their work is intellectually fulfilling etc. so no need for collective bargaining. don't hold me back! you say as you cash check after check
but, in the case of ML engineers, one thing they are creating is self driving trucks which is a market worth hundreds of billions of dollars! management throwing them $500k, $1mil etc. a year is absolute pennies relatively despite being a large absolute salary
were you to pipe up about this as a contractor, you'd just get run out of town. but unions may be able to take the collective and say "we are an insanely talented group of specialists worth 10x what you're paying us, so pay us... or we quit"
there are unions like screen actors guild that mandate membership but function as a sort of "loose" union insofar as they have extremely talented people alongside entry level people (high skill variance) vis-a-vis more manual labor (e.g. nurses, coal miners) whose variance in "output" is way more narrow
And if these ML experts fail to create an automated trucking system then will they be the ones to pick up the tab? Of course they won't. This means that the money spent on them still matters, because you're not guaranteed success.
If you can't handle the risk, don't start the company. If your business depends on you convincing people to take less pay, might not be a great company.
If you're saying "talented but lazy people who don't use their talent to provide value shouldn't be paid more" yes, we all agree on that. Nobody is trying to argue that point.
This is a misconception spread by capital to make you think unions are going to hurt you.
The media company I work for recently unionized. I assure you the junior staff still makes less money than the senior staff. What the union bargaining got wasn't flat wages. What it got was a higher wage floor for new hires, better PTO, more flexible working hours, and a consistent yearly raise/compensation schedule, things like that. No senior employee's work is devalued.
The tradeoff isn't between senior and junior workers. It's between workers and owners.
But are you really the best (non-managerial) negotiator in the entire company? Statistically speaking, the odds of that are low. And with a union, you could have the very best negotiating on your behalf. Yes, you'd have to give them all the information—but you have to do that now with your managers, in an adversarial setting, and you could instead do it with the negotiator in a friendly meeting where they're actively working to help you get them the information to get you the best deal.
Or, maybe you really are the best negotiator in the area. Wouldn't you like to get some extra pay from the union to be that guy above, and use that negotiating skill on behalf of the rest of the senior workers? (Don't think they'd pay you extra for that? Well, you're the best negotiator around—make it happen!)
Or maybe you not only genuinely believe there's no one who could possibly be better than you at negotiating your compensation, but also genuinely don't care that other people have the opportunity to be paid what they're worth, too. In that case, all I can say is I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People.
So if your field is skilled programmers, why do you think a union formed by you and people like you would insist upon rigid pay scales, rather than pay individually negotiated based on skillset, competency, and demand?
Heck, even if there is a national union for your field, if there's no local, you would be in a position to significantly influence what route the local went.
And even if there is a local, if you joined it, especially if you're such a good negotiator as you seem to think, why do you think you wouldn't have any pull in determining compensation ceilings?
Plenty of places have wage schedules:
Throw a "Senior" or "Level II" or III in the position, and it can move someone to a different level.
I've also seen places allow for an extra boost via a "market allowance" mechanism.
Not a lot about 'Level III' in that discussion.
The middle-ground could be guilds like SAG/ACTRA: base requirements for working conditions and benefits, but clauses for independent compensation (but perhaps with a floor).
Tom Cruise and the guy playing Taxi Driver #2 are both card carrying members, but it doesn't stop Cruise from making more given that he's less replaceable than John Smith.
Isn't SAG an existence proof that this isn't necessarily the case? (This shouldn't be read as an endorsement of all things union, or of SAG in particular, just that it doesn't seem to fit the claim.)
It's weird that people have this idea that all unions always look/work a certain way when they're so varied from field to field (never mind country to country).
Off the top of my head, you could very easily have a union that says "These are the specific job requirements and expectations for this job. Here are the tiers of skill in this job type. Here are the floors for compensation at each tier. Here are the guaranteed rights and working conditions that the owners must maintain (PTO, Health coverage, overtime, etc). Any grievances will first go through mediation with a Union Rep/Lawyer available." and call it a day. That covers about 90% of what most pro-union supporters actually want to happen.
> Isn’t that just smart? Why would I, the hypothetical investor risking my money on a venture, tie that money to a specific employee? That’s putting all of your eggs in one basket.
Similarly, why would as a hypothetical employee work without the protection of a union?
> 1) Payscale -- a professional is in a better position to have a substantial emergency fund, to get through a sudden layoff.
It would be higher yet with unions.
> 2) Demand -- Some professional skills are also in high demand, which makes changing employers easier.
Easier, yes, but not easy.
> 3) Upward and lateral mobility -- In a union shop, mobility is often rigidly defined by seniority, whereas in many professional services, the employee can be more in control of their career. Contrast this to something like the airline pilots union, where a pilot has to start over as a rookey if they change airlines. When I started my last job, I was able to negotiate more weeks PTO because of my years of experience in the field.
Yes except in tech you are an old man by 40, so yes enjoy your 5-year senior developer status... And enjoy your retirement at 40. It's a mythology that you are better off in tech because of the lack of unions because of the super high salaries, etc., which are only to be found in a small segment of the industry.
1) Payscale -- a professional is in a better position to have a substantial emergency fund, to get through a sudden layoff.
2) Demand -- Some professional skills are also in high demand, which makes changing employers easier.
3) Upward and lateral mobility -- In a union shop, mobility is often rigidly defined by seniority, whereas in many professional services, the employee can be more in control of their career. Contrast this to something like the airline pilots union, where a pilot has to start over as a rookey if they change airlines. When I started my last job, I was able to negotiate more weeks PTO because of my years of experience in the field.
I don't get how this is a "con" of working for a hypothetical union. Why couldn't a collective bargaining agreement create better wages? Why couldn't a union help prevent a sudden layoff in the first place?
Some professional skills are currently in demand, which currently makes changing employers easier. Again, saying "Well if my job sucks, I can just go get a different job" might be true today, but it might not be as easy tomorrow. Also, this isn't a "con" but an alternative solution to the same problem a union would solve. If your job is enjoyable and paying you well (ideally what the union should be doing) then why do you need to change jobs?
>>Upward and lateral mobility -- In a union shop, mobility is often rigidly defined by seniority
There's no reason for this to be needed. You can make a union without this problem. NFL players don't make more money because they're older, they make more money because they provide more value to their teams. They're also in a union.
Bad unions exist. Good unions also exist. Why not just say "if we're going to make a tech sector union, we need to make it a good union that meets most people's needs" instead of saying "some unions can be bad, so never make a union"?
Whereas when I do this as a Unix/Linux systems engineer, I get constantly rewarded. Or I build up my track record and take those skills to a higher paying employer.
And yes, good and bad unions exist. It is quite possible that bad unions tend to form around certain types of professions (factory machine operator, teachers unions, etc). Whereas actors, sports teams, etc. have more in common with high tech workers (individual contributions can have outsized impact), so it is possible that a "good" union would form around the tech industry.
Personally, I'd like to see something more like a trade guild, which sets a base set of guidelines that their members have to follow, and also minimal acceptable standards that employers would need to follow in order to be able to higher quality workers from the guild. The benefit to the employer is that the guild would basically give them workers that are of at least a known minimum skill level for a given position.
The general idea is that there is always an inherent imbalance between an individual employee and their employer after an organization reaches a certain size (I don't think unions really need to exist in <10 employee situations). As organizations get larger, the loss of a single employee gets less and less painful to the company while staying the same for the employee. To counter the imbalance collective bargaining serves as a maximize the pain on employers for performing actions against their labor.
Let's just clear something else up: "Guild" and "Union" do have specific structural nuances, but are also both used to generally describe "labor collectives/organized labor".
You say you want a trade guild but think a union is potentially problematic. I say they're basically the same thing. This is a semantics discussion about how best to organize and structure your labor collective.
You need to think about others, not just your particular case in order to understand what drives people to support the idea of union.
Isn’t that just smart? Why would I, the hypothetical investor risking my money on a venture, tie that money to a specific employee? That’s putting all of your eggs in one basket.
> even in a company that genuinely does try to be the best in digital media, things can slip through the cracks, and a bad manager can make a world of difference. I had always gotten along very well with my bosses at Vox, but that could change in one corporate reshuffling. I also started to worry about the future: What if, in a very volatile journalism industry, I’m laid off, or Vox is sold off to another company? Who’s to say the next owners would be as good as the current ones?
Journalism isn't the same thing as "writing listicles for Buzzfeed", and even that isn't always as easy as it might seem to be to laymen.
Consider that Hollywood is unionised even though the pay differential between an extra and a star is far greater than in tech. They can make it work, why can’t we?
Many European countries have unions for the whole company, and there are several factors as part of the wage.
Collective agreement is just one of the pieces.
Nothing prevents the existence of bonus tied to performance.
At least the author sets the hyperbolic tone up front.
* go to work
* not go to work
It's just that their 'assigned duties' for that day, if they went to work, were to attend an internal company-sponsored function. If the company wants to pay people to mill about, that's its prerogative.
I'd file a grievance for the lunch thing though.
These people didn't have "attend political campaign rallies" as part of their job description.