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I was skeptical of unions. Then I joined one (vox.com)
89 points by throw0101a 64 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 101 comments



As a child of two news people I grew up hearing union horror stories, such as typesetters in a newspaper that spend almost all day playing cards because their job has gone but the union still forces the paper to keep them on.

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 [1].

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 [2]. I always equated with Spider Murphy [3], the top digital rights activist/info broker/info breaker in Cyberpunk 2020.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberpunk_2020

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hal_Finney_(computer_scientist...

[3] https://cyberpunk.fandom.com/wiki/Spider_Murphy


Unions can be bad or corrupt or too large in exactly the same way companies can be bad or corrupt or too large. The existence of such bad actors however does not mean that the very concept of companies or unions is bad.


For companies there is competition. If a company is significantly more corrupt than its competitors, then it may not be competitive (unless it has some other significant advantage) and perhaps will go bankrupt. That is another reason why monopolies and oligopolies are bad (as this anti-corruption mechanism does not work for them).

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.


I would think of company corruption in the opposite direction. It's pretty stupid to steal from the company you work for, better use your position in the company to steal from others.

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.


Makes me think that the way to encourage unions is to figure out how to regulate away the bad ones.


Unions are no more or less corrupt than any organization of humans (the businesses they work inside of especially).


Absolutely. They are the counterweight to corporations. Otherwise there would be no natural counterpoise to the interests of companies. I do not believe in the invisible hand resulting in the best possible state of equlibrum.


Absent an existential threat, a union drawing membership fees is marginally most profitable by doing exactly nothing. This is economically perverse as a limiting case.


My only question with unions is: what checks and balances will be in place this time around to prevent unions from:

- 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.


It's much like a HOA or any other political organization. The check and balance is YOU. If you are involved in the Union, and other workers are involved, there is seldom a problem. If like the current U.S. political landscape, people abdicate their responsibilities because it's harder and more work, you end up with less than ideal people in the leadership roles.


I was in a condo with like 8 units. Got in the HOA board, because it wasn't that hard (3/8 owners get membership). I could pretty much stop stupid stiff.

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.


> 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?

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.


I'm not sure thats the right comparison.

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?


> 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.

See also any democratic society.


But this is why we lean towards a lot of freedom in society.


We also lean towards creating plenty of institutions in society. We have regulatory oversight groups. We have law enforcement groups. We have trade organizations and Parent Teacher Associations and lobbying interests and and and.


> We also lean towards creating plenty of institutions in 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.


That's a lot of assumptions my dude.

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".


Count yourself fortunately that you had the opportunities to work in better working conditions. The software developers and other creatives in the gaming industry may feel different.

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.


> 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.


Many revolutions started when one person though things weren't right.


> If you are involved in the Union, and other workers are involved, there is seldom a problem.

OP was asking what he can do as a small business owner.


When unions were illegal, they could only survive by being in the interests of the workers they represent. The ones that became legal were the most willing to cooperate with capital, and in turn were given structural advantages against more radical unions.

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


>I can ask you in turn: What checks and balanges are in place to prevent businesses from:

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).


Oh yea, I guess it never happens then, because of the 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.


In theory, theory and practice are the same thing. In practice, not so much.


> * My only question with unions is: what checks and balances will be in place this time around to prevent unions from:*

The same can be asked for elected representatives in government.

See "Democracy or Oligarchy? Models of Union Governance in the UK, Germany and US":

* https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2995297


To my understanding, unions arise where some form of abuse is systemic. I.e., as an employer, I can rely on my employees not giving me the middle finger and just walking out since they are unlikely to be treated any better anywhere else. From the employee's perspective, the market doesn't work for whatever reason.

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.


I think the main checks and balances should come from the union members themselves, however, often times it's the "loudest voice" that wins over.

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).


> - 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)

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.


Imagine a hypothetical metro system where the drivers were unionised. Imagine driverless trains were possible from a technology and safety perspective. And imagine they were only planned for new lines, and future automation was guaranteed to happen below the rate of driver retirement, so no union members would lose their jobs.

Would you expect the union to oppose such automation? If not, what should happen if they did?


If automation is guaranteed to happen below the retirement rate, then you’re still going to be hiring new, possibly interim, drivers to cover the deficit between retirees and automation. I’d expect the union to be concerned with the career prospects of those not-yet-hired drivers in addition to their current members.

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.


> Would you expect the union to oppose such automation?

Yes. Though the automation as described hurts no workers it kills the union itself.


> My only question with unions is: what checks and balances will be in place this time around to prevent unions from:

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?


> 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?

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.


"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."

That sounds almost as bad as an open-plan office.


How does one determine who's lazy and under performing and not? There is not a good qualitative way to evaluate this. Most of the time it just boils down to do you like the person or not.

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.


> How does one determine who's lazy and under performing and not? There is not a good qualitative way to evaluate this. Most of the time it just boils down to do you like the person or not.

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.


I know I'll get downvoted but most of the time in my experience the people aren't actually lazy or underperforming. It's just that their manager doesn't like them. I'm going by what I've seen. TBQH! Usually if people are bored or lazy for too long they quit anyway.


My only question with corporations is: what checks and balances will be in place this time around to prevent corporations from:

-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 should all agree that organized labor is a net-positive for most industries first and then recognize their downsides and mitigate them.

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.


Unions are just monopolies. I don't really have a huge problem with that - as long as they are not given the backing of state power. Having a law that enforces closed shops is not something I'd support.

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.


"...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?


> Having a law that enforces closed shops is not something I'd support.

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).


Uber etc. raise millions and billions in the idea that if they scale enough they can capture a market and monetize it once captured. A market monopoly.

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?


That is why there are anti-trust laws, and we should apply them much more rigorously against companies like Uber.


> i.e. that's like me and my co-workers voting on how much we'll be paid.

thats bad?


It is when they're voting on how much a third party (I.e. you) will be required to pay them. See: the Chicago, California, and general us public pension crisis.


I have a tough time with this one myself. My father was a police officer and, as he rose through the ranks, he had to deal with police officer union corruption at every level - he can tell you horror story after horror story of the problems driven by the police officer’s union. On the other hand, now that I’m working myself, in the very non-unionized field of computer programming, I can at least see why people began to realize that collective bargaining was so important.


There are a bunch of reasons why police unions are somewhat of a special case. Enumerating them can get dragged into a lot of disagreements, but its important to remember they're an outlier and not the common-case for labor unions.


What makes police officer unions so different from the others?


This might be a naive union question:

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.


It seems like that kind of defeats the purpose of the union: to create a unified bargaining entity for the workers. If there are two or three unions for the same type of work, then their negotiation power isn't as strong.


I imagine it as a spectrum. One union has all sorts of power. Two or three unions have less, but still have way way more bargaining power than one union per worker, which we have today. There should be a balance.


In Israel school teachers have 2 competing unions.


Unions are like companies and other organizations of humans. Some are fantastic, some are terrible, with most in between. It's unfortunate so many push to brand them all with one description for ideological reasons.


> I saw unions as a balancing act to corporate interests, offering protections to lower-skilled workers who, without collective action, didn’t have much power over their bosses. [...] But not high-skilled industries like digital media, where workers could, on their own, use their skill sets as leverage over their bosses.

This is every dismissive comment about unions on HN ever, right here.


And is it not true?


No. There is nothing about “higher-skill” workers that means management interests or values automatically align with theirs, or that collective power isn’t greater than individual at higher levels of compensation.

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.


Skill levels are widely varied at the higher levels. Collective bargaining means, valuing them about the same (a common agreement means the same outcome for all?)

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.


> Skill levels are widely varied at the higher levels. Collective bargaining means, valuing them about the same (a common agreement means the same outcome for all?)

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


>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"

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.


What does this point have to do with anything? Like what are you trying to say, that collective bargaining is somehow bad because...management could lose more money on a project?

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.


I'm saying that somebody being talented doesn't mean they automatically get paid more. They actually have to do something that creates more value for the company. That is why those ML guys aren't being paid obscene sums of money even though they're trying to solve one of the biggest industries.


I don't understand how this pertains to unions. The conversation was originally about how a union could allow for engineers to be paid consummate to the value they provide due to collective bargaining and therefor a greater control on the supply side of labor.

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.


>Collective bargaining means, valuing them about the same (a common agreement means the same outcome for all?)

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.


I'm talking the disparities between 'senior workers'. Putting them all in one hat is exactly the issue. I negotiate my own rate now, and its pretty good.


OK, so you can negotiate your own rates, and get a good deal. That suggests that you're a pretty good negotiator.

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.


Or, I'm classed as "Senior Programmer III" and get scale for that bucket and that's it.

No thanks!


But (and this seems to be something that many people get hung up on about unions) if your field/area doesn't currently have a union, and you form one...the way it operates is going to be determined by you and the other people in your field.

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?


> Collective bargaining means, valuing them about the same (a common agreement means the same outcome for all?)

Plenty of places have wage schedules:

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Schedule_(US_civil_ser...

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.


I bargain my rate by the job, not by some bucket you put me in. You need this task done? I can do it; you'll pay for that. You need it sooner? The rate goes up. You want a fixed bid? I'll have to pad that, to cover for eventualities.

Not a lot about 'Level III' in that discussion.


> Skill levels are widely varied at the higher levels. Collective bargaining means, valuing them about the same (a common agreement means the same outcome for all?)

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.


> Skill levels are widely varied at the higher levels. Collective bargaining means, valuing them about the same (a common agreement means the same outcome for all?)

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.)


Yes, it is. There's so many different rights that a union could argue for. SAG or professional athletes unions are some great examples. There's still large ranges of contract options available, tailored to an individual. But there's also a ton of hard fought guaranteed working conditions that might not exist otherwise.

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.


Anybody interested in a practical example of this should watch this[1] outstanding report about the problems in the video game industry and how the "higher-skill" workers are starting to unionize.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TSB5YQqDiY


No... it's not true. In the end I have heard employees be terminated for all sorts of frivolous reasons. Unless you are a very senior developer, the chances of you being replaceable especially at a well funded company are very high... In fact all businesses are set up to make all their employees replaceable.

> 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.


I think it is probably fair to say that unions have pros and cons, and the pros outweigh the cons for factory-type workers, whereas in the professional fields the cons may outweigh the pros. Here are some items to consider:

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.


>>1) Payscale

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?

>>2) Demand

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"?


Payscale is a pro for unions where the labor is fairly uniform. It is a con in professions where an individual can get much higher salary by providing much higher value to the employer than his/her peers. Example: if I was in a union shop, and I consistently found ways to optimize the machine I'm working on to decrease defects and increase output, that is a benefit to my employer. But my employer may not be allowed to give me a promotion for that work, because I've only been there for 2 years, whereas another employee who just does the minimum necessary work and has been there 10 years will get the promotion instead of me.

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.


Here's the thing about payscale: Mathmatically speaking, you're probably not exceptional. That's just how statistics work. Most people are going to be somewhere in the middle of the bell curve. Yes, there is a minority on either end who are being held back or lifted up by this, but that's just not how these things work. I think that devs are frequently on the higher side of intelligence relative to the population at large and therefor think they're exceptional. Pay scales smooth things out across the company but you could look at it as a greater good as it guarantees a greater benefit to those starting out who are making the least. Even if greed is your sole motivation, the assumption that a meritocracy will exist and you will be rewarded for your hard and above average work isn't always the case.

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.


But then you get a better job somewhere else. Highly skilled, remember?


You reply would only make sense if we didn't have a new thread every month about how broken tech interviews are, where even experienced/senior engineers are complaining how exhausting it is to get a new job.

You need to think about others, not just your particular case in order to understand what drives people to support the idea of union.


The noise doesn't match the reality IME. Tech interviewing trends are less than ideal sometimes, but finding jobs as an experienced and articulate professional developer is not hard in my own experience and that of everyone I've worked with.


As everyone here will tell you hiring in tech is broken. It will take you a significant amount of time, months to find another job... after having to practice to get that job with things you don't usually do -- i.e. pass code interviews and other bullshit.


Is that true everywhere, or is it mostly a West Coast web dev shop cultural item? In systems engineering / operations / devops / architecture roles in the MidWest, I have never experienced any of that BS.


It might be in West Coast dev shops. I'm not sure, I've never interviewed at one. I have worked in the central US and east coast, and I've always been able to find a new job within a month or so of deciding that I want one. Perhaps hiring in tech could be better, but calling it broken is a wild exaggeration IMO.


> In fact all businesses are set up to make all their employees replaceable.

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.


The next paragraph:

> 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?


I didn't consider a journalism employee to be in the highly-technically-skilled category. Sure they have a reason to want some security.


Whoa whoa whoa there chief. Don't move the goalposts. The article's author stated "High Skilled" not "highly-technically-skilled". He feels he's part of a highly skilled trade which was his reason for opposing unions.

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.


Well, he did. That's why he didn't think he needed a union.


If it were true, a lot fewer places would have an open office layout, as just one counter example.


And is it not true?

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?


We surely can.

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.


No, it isn't true.


> A union isn’t just right for Vox Media, but for everyone.

At least the author sets the hyperbolic tone up front.


What about the unions at that Shell plant where Trump spoke and the workers had to stay unpaid at first? Why did they roll over?

https://twitter.com/spettypi/status/1161360126361710592


They had a choice:

* 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.


That is a bad faith, gross oversimplification of what happened. Their employers used them as part of a political optics campaign and threatened to dock their pay if they didn't play along. Saying "I'm going to shoot you if you don't leave your desk" and "Tomorrow we have a scheduled weapons test that will be concentrated around your desk area" are technically describing the same event. The illusion of free will doesn't mean there's a choice.

These people didn't have "attend political campaign rallies" as part of their job description.


This post got flagged off the homepage almost as soon as it made it there.




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