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Kickstarter employees vote to unionize (vice.com)
910 points by danso 39 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 1092 comments



1. Why do tech workers need a union?

If you want to improve your workplace, you have additional leverage to fight for changes if you're in a union. There's often very little you can do alone. This might be things like pay, or it might be something else entirely.

2. But aren't tech workers elite coddled rich kids who are lucky to make what they receive?

I mean, no. But even if so, high pay doesn't stop athletes from joining a union. Folks who run these companies are even more elite than the person who codes. Why not negotiate for a better workplace? Why be a weak negotiator? Isn't that especially important to do when you have flexibility to go somewhere else?

3. Why don't they just leave their job?

Some issues are systemic across an industry. Additionally, some people like to improve their jobs rather than just leave. People are wired differently. Creating lasting change at a company can be rewarding. Some also care about the mission of the company they work for.


Tech workers could have effectively used the leverage associated with unionization since at least 1984 during the semiconductor recession.

Considering that the revenue per employee number is at an all time high, and the amount of money the company spends on the employee's working environment[1] is at record lows pretty much explains why this is going to be effective now when it wasn't before.

There is also the issue of the "big" tech companies piling up cash rather than compensating their employees. So giving a voice to that choice could be interesting as well.

[1] Most people I've had the discussion with will argue that "free food" and "bus service" is way more than employees in the 90's got. However on a per-employee basis, the typical professional employee (engineer) had 150 square feet of office space that was unshared, in an open plan office that is typically less than 18 square feet and can be a small as 9 square feet. 100 square feet in a class A office building is $1000/month for $10/sq ft. Food and bus service per employee totals to much less than that. The key is that with a union, the employee has a voice in whether they get compensated in office space or in free snacks.


Also, frankly, fsk free snacks. Pay me the money you were going to spend on snacks, and I'll choose whether to spend it on snacks or not. And since the money spent on free snacks was probably about $20/week, it won't be a significant consideration in any of my decisions.

Bus service might be more significant in some places, but every place I've ever lived had that subsidized by the government, and long commutes are a toxic thing in themselves.


Free snacks has to be one of tech companies most profitable endeavors.

They've got a bunch of workers who cost them on the order of 1 to 4 dollars per minute. If they can spend a dollar on a snack to get 2 minutes more work out of them, they are making a killing.

Snacks aren't part of your salary for being an employee of your company, they're your company trying to make as efficient use of your work time as possible. By avoiding you walking around looking for your own snacks, by making sure you aren't hungry and therefore underperforming, etc.

The same goes for meals by the way, I can't believe the number of places that have expensive employees go buy food for themselves blocks away... they're literally throwing away money by not having cheap employees fetch it in a single batch.


You act like there is some shadowy cabal running cost benefit analysis of every decision for some evil purpose.

Maybe the free snacks are there because it’s nice to have free snacks and the boss enjoys them? Does there really need to be a more sinister reason?

I mean, I know at our company that I wanted to have drink fridges with a huge amount of interesting beverages because I enjoy drinking a different drink every day. It wasn’t me trying to improve employee performance.


There is a secret cabal running cost-benefit analyses of every decision for some evil purpose: They're called MBA's and they're everywhere. Especially in larger companies.


This. For anyone who doesn't see it, please check out the film The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2013).


There is at least a little bit of a dark side to seemingly frivolous perks like snacks, foosball tables, and beer on tap- by spending relative pennies for "luxuries", management is able to paper over diminished investment elsewhere, that employees could otherwise benefit from. Or to hide work cultures that aren't as great as they look upon their first visit. Shiny distractions.


This. I work at a place that had no retirement plan, subpar health insurance, generally clueless HR and no support for career development besides "fake it til you make it".

Of course they have ping pong tables and video games and free snacks and drink fridges. The cost and logistics of putting in a couple ping-pong tables is way cheaper than giving everyone vision coverage, or matching retirement contributions.


Why do you need vision coverage?


"Lisa needs braces"

"Dental Plan!"

"Lisa needs braces"

"Dental Plan!"


Man that episode had a lot of great lines.

"[in a flashback when Mr. Burns was young]

Boy: You can't treat the working man this way. One day we'll form a union and get the fair and equittable treatment we deserve. Then we'll go too far, and get corrupt and shiftless and the Japanese will eat us alive!

Mr. Burns' Grandfather: The Japanese!? Those sandal-wearing goldfish tenders? Bosh! Flimshaw!

[Years Later]

Mr. Burns: If only we'd listened to that boy, instead of walling him up in the abandoned coke oven."


/s or...?


I don't know if they were being sarcastic, but I'm willing to argue for the position.

There are life altering medical conditions that can make you go blind, for that "vision coverage" as part of medical coverage makes sense. I'm excluding that from the below because by "vision coverage" most people mean "insurance for routine checkups and purchasing glasses".

For routine eye appointments and glasses - their is no high unexpected costs that need to be spread out over a large population. The costs are low and predictable. The majority of the population needs them. So the typical benefit of insurance doesn't exist - i.e. you aren't spreading large unexpected costs over a large number of people so they average out to a small consistent cost.

Meanwhile insuring these things just means that the people purchasing the product no longer have an incentive to keep the price down, and adds bureaucracy, both of which increase the cost without providing a better service.

So - why do you need vision coverage?

I'll acknowledge some counter arguments exist. Encouraging people to get frequent enough eye appointments, spreading the cost of bad eyesight to the minority of people who don't need eyeware, if government supported - subsidizing the basic need of eyeware for poor people, etc. You can make an argument in the other direction to, but I don't think either argument is obviously better, and in the end which side you agree with basically comes down to what your politics are like.


Software engineering and white collar work in general are very visual-heavy professions. It is absurd not to include health coverage as part of compensation when the job involves 40+ hours a week of staring at computer screens. It is also ridiculous that vision and dental insurance are bundled separately from "medical" coverage, but that is a different issue.


Why is it absurd?

I'm assuming your total compensation is the same either way. So it's not that you're not being compensated for staring at computer screens all days, it's just a question of whether your being compensated by being given dollars or being compensated by your eye doctor and glasses manufacturer being given dollars.


Upon rereading your post, your point makes more sense. But don't you at least get discounts on the exams and eyewear? I would assume there's some justification for why vision insurance exists beyond the serious conditions you mention, and thus be an additional benefit from employers of workers who experience ocular wear and tear all day.


You get fake discounts off egregiously inflated eye exam/eyewear prices

You can easily buy prescription glasses online for less than $20 a pair, and you can get an eye exam done for $50-$100

If you use your vision insurance to buy glasses in person, though, good luck getting them for less than $150. The price of the glasses magically inflates to whatever your insurance will cover.

If my vision insurance weren't bundled with my employment as a "free" benefit I'd definitely just use $80 out of my HSA to pay for an eye exam and then buy a sack of glasses online


> Shiny distractions.

Or, as I put it in a similar situation, very expensive snacks and foosball games


Once I worked in a department that had a crappy coffee maker. We got a new boss. First thing he did was get a really good coffee maker installed.

That boss left, new boss showed up, coffee maker left and an even worse one than the original was installed. No espresso! In SF!

In my experience having at least a VP who actually cares about the perk will vastly improve it. But most won’t care and will do whatever the default is.


I make my own coffee at home and bring it in a thermos. Office coffee sucks almost by definition.

Throw out that crappy "perk" and pay me more money.


Throwing out the "perk" of providing free performance enhancing drugs to their employees means their average employee will become less effective, either because they won't be on performance enhancing drugs or because they will be spending time walking around to get performance enhancing drugs instead of working. So the average employee is making less money for the company, so they are payed less, not more.

In numbers it goes something like they can pay you and extra buck a day for not having the coffee machine, but they simultaneously have to cut your pay 10 bucks a day for the loss in productive work being done. Your 9 bucks a day and free coffee down in the exchange.


> The same goes for meals by the way

I don't think meals work in quite the same way. If I'm looking for a snack that is a short-term immediate need. I have a stash in my desk drawer, there are often free ones in the kitchen & break-out area, and I'm happy to use those usually rather than going further afield. It doesn't save actual time because ten minutes nipping to the shop is ten minutes time I'll serve elsewhere but it can impact productive time as a 10-minute break is a more significant mental context switch than a 30-second one.

But at lunch though, is a different beast. I'm going to be away from my desk and/or meetings for at least half an hour, except on those occasions when there is an emergency so I stuff something down myself at my desk from the collection of protein bars and such in that desk draw & work through. Providing a meal doesn't give the company the same productive time benefit there at all, in fact some studies suggest it could be a detriment - taking a proper break for lunch has been shown to have a beneficial effect on concentration in the afternoon. I usually make a point of taking most of an hour to get out away from my desk, even in iffy weather, though I do currently have the luxury of working close to home so I can actually get there, eat, fuss the cat, and get back, in that time so that may not be as appealing to others.


> Snacks aren't part of your salary for being an employee of your company, they're your company trying to make as efficient use of your work time as possible. By avoiding you walking around looking for your own snacks, by making sure you aren't hungry and therefore underperforming, etc.

Free food is also tax-deductible in a way that simply giving you the extra money is not.


Meals Are supposed to be taxed but the irs doesn’t enforce it.


They are buying more than the snacks. They are buying you time, since you never need to make office grocery runs to stock your desk. Might not be a huge deal, but elimination of chores really is a perk.


Okay, pay me the money you were going to spend on snacks and the money you were going to pay the person who you pay to fetch the snacks, and I'll go fetch my own snacks or order them off the internet to my desk. It's arguable whether it's actually a perk for me to spend 8 hours in a row at my desk, but even if we accept that claim at face value, it's still not a significant factor in any decisions I make.

Perks are things you give me that I can't get for myself, like health insurance which you use collective bargaining to get a lower price on. Snacks aren't that.

And while it's anecdotal, I've seen people take multiple-thousands-of-dollars pay cuts to work at places with "a better culture" where the only discern-able differences were soda in the fridge, beer on tap, and a ping-pong table or similar: all things that if you put a number value on what it's worth to you, aren't worth it. Culture does matter, but it starts with valuing your workers enough to pay them and not use irrelevant "perks" as an excuse to pay them less.


> Okay, pay me the money you were going to spend on snacks and the money you were going to pay the person who you pay to fetch the snacks, and I'll go fetch my own snacks or order them off the internet to my desk.

Your office manager (or whoever) orders snacks from a contractor in bulk once a month (they don't make N GrubHub/etc individual orders every day). If they give you your fraction of that back, it wouldn't cover your GrubHub/etc order. Perks work because of these economies of scale.

You can rail against the value of these perks, but "give me the cash and let me decide for myself" doesn't work.


Also, even if they were to give you your fraction of that back, that would count as taxable income - unless they categorize it as a "stipend" -- which requires a lot more up-front accounting/legal work on their end.

You may prefer getting $6/wk (or $5.04/wk after taxes) more instead of snacks at work, but the simple fact is that your employer provides snacks because it's in their best interest to do so. Whether it's in your interest is not the decisive factor, though they may take your opinion into consideration.


I feel like this conversation got massively side-tracked. Are you arguing in good faith that the amount of value some snacks provide to an employee is meaningful when compared to the other things the GP mentioned?


No, I was responding to the specific argument made by the OP which I quoted above.


What you quoted was more of a statement of what I want than an argument for why I want it. You didn't quote my argument.


I've never seen an office manager order from anything but GrubHub and instacart on a fairly regular basis with plenty of employee input.

You seem to be referring to large faceless corporations that are ordering in bulk that way.


I'm not referring to large, faceless corporations, I'm referring to >100 person orgs. My experience can't be an outlier as there are plenty of vendors that specialize in this space, so someone out there is buying from a vendor. Here's what I found on the first page of search results:

- http://dockspace.co/

- https://snacknation.com/

- https://naturebox.com/office

- https://www.eatclub.com/

- https://www.workperks.co/

- https://fruitguys.com/office-fruit-delivery

- https://www.bevi.co


This entire thread is the reason unions are such a pain in the a$$.

You have a bunch of employees who have never run a company confidently telling with their handwaving math how things should work. You have a dozen people patting themselves and others on the back for the idea of getting a sliver of their snack budget back in salary with no concept of economies of scale.

While unionizing for backbreaking work like the manufacturing industry makes sense, in tech it is a nightmare. Let's see where Kickstarter finds itself in the next recession and see how things work out when executives can no longer make quick decisions but are forced to do everything by committee.


This seems to be hard for some folks to understand. Allow me to simplify.

Fuck snacks. I do not care about snacks. Take them away. I won't complain.


Well I'm certainly not ordering from GrubHub either.

> Your office manager (or whoever) orders snacks from a contractor in bulk once a month (they don't make N GrubHub/etc individual orders every day). If they give you your fraction of that back, it wouldn't cover your GrubHub/etc order. Perks work because of these economies of scale.

What's the economy of scale on me getting up and going to get a fresh salad even when snacks are provided for free, because I value my health and sanity?


If you don’t value it, that’s fine. No one is holding a gun to your head and demanding you eat the snacks, but your original proposition was about using that money to buy your own snacks which doesn’t work for the aforementioned economies of scale.


Really, you think buying my own snacks doesn't work? I gotta tell you, I've been accused of many things, but being unable to buy snacks is not one of them.

Sure, maybe it costs me some minuscule amount of money: if that's your point you can have it. Congrats! You win that argument.

My argument is: pretending that snacks are a meaningful benefit in negotiating employment is a huge loss to employees. But if you want to choose your job based on the snack benefit, have fun working for reduced wages so you can sit at your desk more.


I think you replied to the wrong person? I didn’t make any such accusation...


You said:

> If you don’t value it, that’s fine. No one is holding a gun to your head and demanding you eat the snacks, but your original proposition was about using that money to buy your own snacks which doesn’t work for the aforementioned economies of scale.

And before that, you said:

> You can rail against the value of these perks, but "give me the cash and let me decide for myself" doesn't work.

Buying my own snacks works just fine, because in an economy of scale, snacks simply are irrelevant. The greatest relevance they have is as a contract negotiation chip where employers try to sell them as a benefit which gets weighed against things that actually matter, like salary.

If you view snacks as an inherently important thing, I guess I can't argue with you on that, but I think most people wouldn't agree with you if they realized how much money they might be leaving behind by considering things like snacks when choosing a job.


None of that supports your 'accusation' claim.

> because in an economy of scale, snacks simply are irrelevant.

That's not what 'economy of scale' means.

> If you view snacks as an inherently important thing

I don't, and it's unrelated to my argument.


Who are you to decide if that's worth it or not? Obviously if someone has decided to take that pay cut and switch companies it was worthwhile for them.

You might not care much for those perks yourself but it's self-evident that some people do.


People are free to make whatever irrational decisions they wish. Again, we're talking anecdotal evidence, but those people don't stay long at those companies.

I certainly won't hold it against an employer if they provide snacks.


It’s not irrational to value things differently. I place a huge premium on having a variety of drinks, snacks, and meals at my workplace. Far, far beyond the mere cost to purchase them. I make plenty of money, why would I add a huge time sink, hassle, and mental overhead for a bit of extra cash that I don’t really need?


Do you know how much of a time sink, hassle, and mental overhead it is to work for $5000 you didn't make because you accepted $500 in snacks instead?

If not, I can point you to a few devs who can tell you from their experiences. ;)


I’ve been doing this for a long time, thanks. It’s definitely worth a few thousand dollars per year to me. That’s less than 1% of my income. Just because it’s not worth it for you means little.


> I’ve been doing this for a long time, thanks. It’s definitely worth a few thousand dollars per year to me. That’s less than 1% of my income. Just because it’s not worth it for you means little.

Well, I'll just quote that so you can't change it, and people can decide for themselves whether they think paying thousands of dollars for snacks is a rational decision.

Irrational decisions you've been making for a long time are still irrational decisions. Irrational decisions you make with 1% of your income are still irrational decisions.

If you're saying that leaving behind massive amounts of money in exchange for cheap snacks is something you just inherently like, I guess that's not irrational, but that's a pretty unusual thing to like. But follow your heart!


However, this problem isn't solved by unions, it's solved by teaching your dev friends how to negotiate better. If they are on their 3rd job and are still getting under negotiated with snacks then I don't know what to tell you (or them).


It's kind of nice to know that you can walk 5 meters from your desk to get food, however it doesn't take long to realise that you'd rather 10 min to the nearest place and eat there instead. It gives you a bit of time outside the office,you move more and ultimately make your own decision on what you eat instead it being done by your lovely Big Corp.


Judging by the throngs of people filling office cafeterias, this is not a universal truth. Making my point again.


People rarely do what's more benefitial to them.The best example is when a heavily overweight person with developing heart conditions is prescribed medication left and right instead of being told( and helped with) to better manage diet and levels of physical activities.


So in response to my point that people may value things differently than how someone rando on the Internet thinks they should, your response is that they clearly just don’t know what’s good for them :)


Of course people value different things- that's normal.I remember I worked for a company,where most of my team had this bad habbit of having lunch at their desk. Constantly skipping 1 hour lunch they were entitled to. Our manager used to go crazy about it and eventually had to ban it all together. Interestingly enough, while it was a busy place,there was no need not to take lunch. I always took full lunch break and enjoyed walks alongside Thames,while some others had to seek medical help because of overwork.


So close, but not quite right.

You get free snacks at the office for the same reason people sitting at slot machines get free drinks - because someone wants you to stay there.


And get diabetes


Plenty of companies provide fruit. Apples are not strong causes of diabetes last time I looked.


Eat apples on daily basis and you'll soon see the affected on your teeth and heart. They are good source of fiber, vitamins bit also have a lot of sugar. Despite all this,they are still miles better than your average Snickers bar.


Plenty of companies provide mostly unhealthy snacks.

Also, encouraging workers not to spend time out of the building is not so healthy, physically and mentally.

And it's not meant to be a perk. It's mean to keep people glued to the chair.


Go outside. Don't eat the donut. You are not a NPC in some game. Do your thing.


And yet, on average, nudges work.


Actually, speaking as a diabetic, fruits are something you have to be careful of.

There is a _lot_ of sugar in fruit. A medium sized apple has as much sugar as 8oz of Coca Cola.

The sugars in fruit are very simple, which is good and bad. They tend to spike blood sugar very quickly, but also drop back to baseline fairly quickly.

Now, there is lots of good nutritional stuff in fruit also, of course, but you could absolutely develop diabetes from eating fruit.


Given a choice between the apple and the soft drink, I'd choose the raw apple every time. Human digestion can far more efficiently work with the apple than suga-cola. The "sugar" might be the same in terms of basic numbers, but the composition is very different.

I genuinely would like to see how strong the evidence actually is for someone getting diabetes from raw fruit[1]. Especially when compared to other sources such as sugary drinks etc. My uneducated guess is that we should be able to look at primates with high fruit consumption and we'd instantly see massive diabetes populations. I doubt this is true. It would be a stretch at best.

[1] I should at this stage assert the non-inclusion of anything processed either. I'm not counting fruit juice for example. Juicing is not the same as eating the actual fruit. Less effort so the digestion process changes. Commercial juices are even worse.


> They are buying more than the snacks. They are buying you time, since you never need to make office grocery runs to stock your desk. Might not be a huge deal, but elimination of chores really is a perk.

Wrong. This is the complete opposite of what's happening. They aren't eliminating a chore you'd need to do. You're going to work 9-5 whether they provide free snacks or not, and you're going to snack. If they don't provide them, you're going to leave and go get them somewhere else. They're providing snacks to keep you from leaving the office. They get you at your desk longer. It's not a perk. It's a cheap way to extract more labor.


If your job is more fulfilling than walking to a store and standing in line (and most programming jobs are IME), then it's win-win. Company gets something they want, I get something I want, we're both happy.


Or you could just buy snacks at the same time as all your other grocery shopping? I guess if you literally never go to the grocery store it's a perk, but otherwise it's questionable at best.


I remember when I was working on one of the big4, whenever we were getting "snacks" we would EACH pick from a menu what EACH wanted,and EACH was getting exactly what they wanted. Some were going for the ribs, some for the salad, and we would all sit and enjoy our lunches/late dinner together. Not all perks had to do with junkfood.


As you said, that stuff is lunch/dinner, rather than snacks. Certainly that's a more valuable perk that some pretzels and sodas (or whatever). It's also less common.


No, they’re trying to make sure you never leave the office. A walk down the street to the nearest grocery store is a nice break, but not one the company wants you taking.


I'm under the impression that the practice started in the bay area where the nearest grocery store is a nice 10 minute drive away.


You know, with the advent of Amazon and other Task Rabbitty to-your-door delivery services, did they really save me any chore here? I can get just about anything delivered to my door stop within 48 hours, why is it trouble for me to get my preferred snacks at all?


I can have them delivered for very little premium. If my co-workers and I pool our orders we can reduce the impact of those deliveries (or rotating pickup), and have more choice about what snacks we get.

Donut and coffee clubs (and similar) in offices have worked this way forever.


Unless you left all shopping on partner or parents, it is like 5 seconds to grab stuff for office too while in store.

And even if your partner does it all, "honey would you buy also some crackers" is quick.


I worked for a company that IPO'd at the time for around $4.4 billion.

Shortly after IPO they wanted everyone to go on call. The terms sucked bad, the requirements significantly affecting personal time and the compensation for time on call and loss of personal time less than minimum wage for the pleassue. I'd of been better off working minimum wage out of hours given I'd have to loose personal time anyway. The conditions where non negotiable and I was told they didn't need to re-issue contracts etc, I'd have to go on call with no say in it. In real terms going on call was a pay cut with more accountability.

On refusing to go on call, my manager and his manager used the line "What about the free food and perks, take one for the team". It's about the worst thing they could of said.

Free food being a small salad counter / deli bar and free soft drinks non which I utilized as didn't fit my fitness diet and as you said likely only a few dollars per week extra per member of staff for them to provide a few snacks.

After previously being labelled a high performer etc not long after (days) late on a Friday afternoon HR called me in to sign my resignation papers and go on gardening leave.


Tax free when a company buys them. I prefer the free snacks even at an even money exchange, but realistically, you'd see about $12/week on a $20/week rerouting.


If $8/week is something that affects your decisions, you might benefit from unionizing for higher pay. ;)

If you want to play the tax game, let's talk about reimbursing large purchases like a vehicle, personal laptop that you aren't monitoring, education costs, or housing. There isn't a situation where I'm going to care about snacks.


I'd welcome free snacks. I work on IND airport property, we have 30 minute lunches, the 2 refrigerators will store maybe food for 20 people yet we have 100ish on day shift, McDonald's is the closest anything and in traffic during a typical lunch period will take you 20-25 minutes on a good day to get to and get back and we can NOT eat at our desks (that we share with another shift). Then of course there are 3 microwaves to reheat your food, for 100ish people.

Some free fruit or something would be awesome for when you're not feeling what you brought or need something in addition other than bloomed chocolate and stale chips from a vending machine that the vendor refills once every 1 week to 6 weeks with no rhyme or reason. The soda machine sells out in 3-4 days and the vendor comes once every 2 weeks if we're lucky. The tap water comes out milky white at first and even if you let it run if you fill a mug and let it sit for a half hour, dump it out, the next day there will be white build up. Do that for a week and then heat the mug and it'll flake off printer paper thick pieces.

I'd totally take free snacks, but yeah I'd be happier with more money.

When I was at OpenAI for a meeting a couple of June's ago I was absolutely floored when they were like "we cater 2 meals a day, you're welcome to stay for lunch" and the guard/receptionist immediately offered me a chilled drink as I was checking in. I was like "wait, did I die and go to heaven?!"


Office perks are tax efficient. They aren’t subject to payroll taxes and are a deductible business expense. Not having any perks at all would be wasteful.


Also notable - there are companies that provide 'free' perks for your staff where a few of them are concrete and the rest are discounts on things from their marketing partners.

Honestly, I'd be tempted to sign up and then tell incoming employees the truth thereof.


That's great for investors, but the benefit to employees is minimal. No, free snacks don't count as a benefit lol.


There's a great tweet about offices...

"Is it weird to be jealous of the corporate dystopia workspaces from 1990s movies?

Neo would be sharing that space with 4 people in an open office plan today."

https://twitter.com/sweis/status/1120433880593575936

Read the whole thread. It's disturbing how close the over the top dystopian joke offices from the film Brazil are to reality.


And the amount spent on actual hardware must be at an all time low. The first lab I interned at in high school in the early 90s, every programmer had both a Symbolics workstation and a NeXTcube on their desk. (In a private office, of course). That represented a pretty significant investment. At my first "real" job, I got a Sun Ultra 5 workstation. These days you get the same Macbook Pro that everyone else can pick up at the Apple Store. Often tech folk will have faster personal computers at home.


Right, it was not uncommon in the 80s and 90s for your workstation to cost significantly more than your car did. The Ultra-5 was the cheap Sun work-station at $4k base price, as by 1999 Intel based workstations were starting to put pressure on Sun from below.


I could seriously do with more RAM, but I don't need a $4k computer.

In fact, since I have a MacBook but would be more than happy with a (Linux) ThinkPad, it might not even cost more.

My point is, we don't need 'hardware investment' for the sake of it. If places started doing that I'd rather BYO device, and pocket the difference between what I need and what they budget for.


I think it's the disconnect between "You can't have 50 square feet of office space" compared to in the 90s where you had potentially 5 figures worth of hardware under your desk.


I suppose, but then the reason's boring isn't it? They're different budgets.


On the last point, Apple seems to be betting otherwise with its exorbitant prices for top spec Mac Pro configurations.


From what I understand their market is basically companies that have already bought into a Mac based workflow and for whom the switching costs (retraining on new software, rebuilding tools etc) would be so high that Apple can practically charge whatever they want. This doesn't seem like a good long term strategy though.


I’m at a two person company and we work fine on both Linux and Mac. There’s no need for a top end mac to do dev work, and frankly no one does a MacBook quality PC in terms of battery optimization (auto graphics switching, battery optimized web browser), ease of use (still top of the line trackpad), whole-disk-encryption, seamless sleep and wake while preserving whole disk encryption.

They designed a laptop for a laptop user whereas most PC makers have no idea what they designed their laptop for. Even if you get good PC hardware the Windows side becomes lacking because Windows has to be optimized for many use cases. Many people who don't get it are using their macbooks as desktop replacement, at which point you should probably just get a mac mini and backpack that around.


> we work fine on both Linux and Mac. There’s no need for a top end mac to do dev work

Absolutely agreed.

> frankly no one does a MacBook quality PC in terms of battery optimization (auto graphics switching, battery optimized web browser), ease of use (still top of the line trackpad), whole-disk-encryption, seamless sleep and wake while preserving whole disk encryption

I haven't had anything else for a while, but I agree. My ideal would be smooth-sailing Linux on macbook hardware. Unfortunately while it used to work, it's only gotten worse, and the pretty much deal breaker is WiFi:

https://github.com/Dunedan/mbp-2016-linux

> Many people who don't get it are using their macbooks as desktop replacement, at which point you should probably just get a mac mini and backpack that around.

What? No! If I was going to do that it'd be a similar SFF device, running Linux. (And more powerful for the same budget, probably.)


I don't think the bet is that software engineers need those, unless they have a lot of some kind of macOS-specific rendering to do or something.


Yeah but that's because that Sun Workstation probably provided significant value over regular consumer PCs at the time. Do you actually need more than a MacBook Pro and a couple extra monitors to do your job comfortably? I doubt it.


That Macbook Pro is probably also much more powerful than your Sun Ultra 5 workstation though. Technology has improved. The important question is whether the stuff they give you enables you to effectively do your job or not.


Politics aside, I wonder if a tech union would have a strong incentive to make their individual workers irreplaceable--encourage them to hoard knowledge or make the code deliberately difficult for others to understand--such that the company would have a lot more to lose from a strike. As an outsider, most unions that I'm familiar with have employees that are more or less replaceable (one certified welder can fill in for another in a relatively short amount of time), but I don't think this is (as) true for tech. Thoughts?


There's nobody purposely making that kind of effort right now and it STILL takes something like a month for a new body to get up to speed.


It's not as if most companies- or at least most startups- are particularly good about preventing individuals or individual teams from becoming vital cogs, leading to tribal knowledge. Unions won't lead to less documentation that the existing poor organizational cultures already foster.


My question was about whether unionization constitutes an increased incentive (and I would think that it would for the same reasons that unionization gives a collection of individuals more power than they would have as individuals); I don't think that depends on whether or not existing institutions are good or bad at preventing vital cogs, etc.

I might be wrong, but I don't think it's because of the efficacy of existing institutions.


In which professions, then, would you say the employees are not easily interchangeable? Surely not exclusively programmers? But actors, writers, teachers, doctors and many other non-welding professionals all have unions.


It wouldn't occur to anyone, it would just be a problem afterwards with them gone.

If anything 'obscure code' would just be a reason to get rid; have less of it and what there is is new guy's problem.


If the potential workers in favor of such a scheme wanted to do that, they could just as well do it now individually.


Food and bus service are also simply ways to control the amount of time an employee spends on premises.


> There is also the issue of the "big" tech companies piling up cash rather than compensating their employees.

Big tech companies already do that in the form of stock options, grants, and employee stock purchase plans.


> 1. Why do tech workers need a union?

I don't know if a union is the answer, but tech workers aren't immune to management hi-jinks:

"Apple and Google's wage-fixing cartel involved dozens more companies, over one million employees"

https://pando.com/2014/03/22/revealed-apple-and-googles-wage...


It’s not just wage-fixing, tech companies wield an absurd amount of power in other aspects of people’s lives.

I was once let go due for “performance” reasons that involved major company politics behind the scenes. I’d just gotten my annual review from my boss emailed to my work email about a week before my termination, which showed stellar performance across the board.

When I looked into filing for unemployment, I discovered that I needed to dispute the reason for my dismissal since I was let go for cause, which required me to submit evidence. Who doesn’t have access to work emails? Fired people don’t.

My employment agreement stipulated that the employer maintained all rights to my emails, so I was completely SOL.


Being let go for "performance" reasons is not "for cause" in CA. For cause means something serious that violates the employment agreement, like criminal behavior or sexual harassment.

Companies generally don't fire people "for cause" absent cause because that's the best way to guarantee a lawsuit (because as you've pointed out, it has financial repercussions like cutting off the availability of unemployment, and reputational damage to the former employee).


You should be able to subpoena those e-mails and other documents. Depending on your municipality, there is usually a court/tribunal process just for unemployment claims, or you could get an employment lawyer. It is going to eat up some of that unemployment, but it's worth it to not let a company get away with that kind of shit.


> but it’s worth it

Is it, though? I chose to focus on finding the next gig and luckily got one in a couple weeks. The emotional toll of subjecting yourself to the legal system against an entity with a team of lawyers sounds absolutely horrible.


It's worth it. If there is an actual violation, the company didn't just steal money from you. They defrauded the state labor board and the taxpayers of the state. And that's the sort of thing that government lawyers are very interested pursuing.


In most states unemployment hearings are heavily biased towards the employee, and many times they are just phone conferences. It's very easy to fight.


It probably isn't worth it.

But it might be satisfying enough for you to decide to do it anyway.


For future reference, being fired because of performance or incompetency is unlikely to be a valid "for cause" firing that disqualifies one from unemployment benefits. If a person is fired because the employer claims they suck at the job (whether its true or not), they still get unemployment.

Your mileage may vary depending on local laws or recent changes to employment law.


Yeah, I was going to say. "For cause" is usually things like theft or not showing up for work.

Failing to perform to a certain standard might be applicable if you just started, but if you've been there for years, it becomes a bit more shaky.


If this was in California, you absolutely could have filed for unemployment, even if you were unemployed for performance reasons. Worst that could've happened is that the unemployment office could've rejected the application. In this case, they likely would've called to interview you and get a statement on why you were terminated, in which case a verbal description would do the trick (mentioning that you had received an excellent performance review just the week before would've been enough for the interviewer).

Source: I've been fired (for "performance") once and laid off twice, for all of which I've applied for unemployment benefits (approved the first two times; rejected the third because I was a contractor and not eligible to be treated as employee-equivalent). I didn't have any written evidence for the "performance" one; I just told the interviewer that after I was terminated my former supervisor had to hire multiple people in my place (which was true).

Long story short: always file for unemployment, even if the chances of approval are slim. The worst they can do is say no.


Leave money negotiations off the table, and you could have a union establish a single consistent process for firing practices that'd protect someone like James Damore from being arbitrarily fired.

I don't agree with what Damore had to say, but that shouldn't matter! I would absolutely support a union-backed fair process for evaluating his or anyone's continued employment, whatever controversial things they write about.

"Union stops arbitrary firing of controversial high-performer Damore" would bring a tear to my eye, no matter who it is.


James Damore was fired for perpetuating gender stereotypes, which he agreed he wouldn't do in the Google code of conduct. Even Damore confirmed this with the press. How would being unionized change that?


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AIUI, failing to represent a union member would be a short, fast path to getting a union decertified.

This is one of the major differences between the US and say Germany. There, the union can decide someone is a butthead and decline to help. US unions have no such flexibility. This is down to shenanigans in the 50s involving racial discrimination.


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Please don't use HN for political or ideological warfare.

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


This is an excellent example, because the key thing is: the companies involved weren't even thinking of it as wage-fixing. They were thinking of it as avoiding disruption to launch schedules by not churning people with low bus-factor.

Employees and management have different perspectives on the work agreement and management's is over-represented because they set most of the company policy. An amplified employee voice can lead to better workplace design in general.


The companies can call it whatever they want, but it reflects the power imbalance between worker and employer that unions exist solely to re-balance.

Some managers in a board room somewhere made a decision that depressed the wages for how many thousands of workers, and what can those workers do about it? Jump ship to...the other companies that colluded to depress their wages?

This whole "you're paid enough so don't unionize" thing is so weak, when obviously people could be paid a lot more, but aren't, because, surprise, the companies still hold all the cards.


> This whole "you're paid enough so don't unionize" thing is so weak

Exactly, even Hollywood actors have a union! Although I would wager most of them aren't the high paying variety.


I dunno... I was a victim of this wage-fixing scheme, as were all of my coworkers at the time. And I don't know of a single one who would have preferred to have a union collectively negotiating wages.

The whole scheme was that the companies stopped their recruiters from cold-calling each others' employees. That kept wages down by reducing the opportunities for people to get a better salary by moving between companies (or threatening to). If wages were collectively negotiated, those opportunities would not exist in the first place.


Why do you think that strong unions will fight for collective negotiation of wages?

Sweden has one of the strongest union system in the world and at the same time is one of the most entrepreneurial nations with high wages and lots of billionaires, salaries are lower than the US but they are still negotiated and not fixed by the union. The minimum wage for a specific job might be but apart from that I'm free to negotiate my salary. At the same time I have more days of vacation than the minimum 25 because of collective bargaining. I have requirements for minimum amount of natural light by my desk while at the same time can negotiate bonuses, shares, stock options or whatever because those aren't regulated by a collective agreement.

Kollektivavtal[0] are one of the backbone of how Swedish entrepreneurship works, to help society as whole and to give power to the weak link of the chain, it's an interesting model and one of the reasons why I chose to live here.

One of the ways it work is that by covering so many people the few companies that aren't covered by a collective agreement are naturally forced by the labour market to match the minimum, be it wages or benefits. Because unemployment is low people can shop around if there are better places to work.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_agreement


It's very difficult to actually grow a company in a country like Sweden because of the regulations and taxes you are required to pay after a certain amount of employees.


I would rather pay employees a living wage as part of a sustainable business than deal with the hypergrowth VC bullshit that destroys entire market segments with nothing to show for it except ruined lives after the startups finally implode.


There will be no sustainable business. Regulations and taxes strangle your business before it gets to that point.

If you look at the business landscape of Sweden, it mostly consists of large multinational corporations with bases outside of Sweden (IKEA is a good example of this) and government jobs.

It doesn't leave much room for individuals wanting to start a business and actually having an chance at success.


It's a country of 10 millions that builds jet fighters (Gripen), 5G technology with Ericsson, Minecraft, etc. The current NASDAQ trading platform was also developed in Sweden.

I would say they're doing very well when it comes to business and technology.


All government funded operations except Minecraft..which is now owned by Microsoft.

Funny..the Original owner of Minecraft never stayed in Sweden with his billion dollars.

My point still stands: you can start a company in Sweden, but will never be able to grow it to sustainable levels unless you incorporate elsewhere (or get purchased).

All examples I've seen so far have only helped prove my point.


Spotify is homegrown in Sweden. King.com is homegrown in Sweden. Klarna is homegrown in Sweden and so on and on.

I don't think you have any data to back your claims, reading through your comments it gives me "I feel it is this way" vibes and I don't think


King.com is incorporated in Malta. Presumably to get around taxes in Sweden and Spotify is incorporated in Luxomburg. Stop changing the topic.

My point is that you can't grow a company in Sweden and every single example you have just given me are companies that left Sweden after growing to a certain stage.

I think I'm done arguing my point because facts and data dont seem to matter here and it's funny how such a seemingly intelligent community can be utterly blinded by politics.

The reality is that I would never incorporate a company in Sweden and incorporating pretty much anywhere else on earth would give me an advantage.


Again: as ANY big company looking to evade taxes, this is not a fault of Sweden.

Why are most SV tech companies in the US incorporated in Delaware? Is it because California sucks and should lower their tax rates or employer obligations to the bottom of the pit that Delaware created?

You never replied my other comment about companies that are still incorporated in Sweden such as Volvo, Electrolux, etc., so you can be done as much as you want peddling your point of view, it doesn't make it right.

Edit: checking your comment history tells me that you call what Bernie Sanders is pushing for as "socialism" and you use that as an excuse to vote for Trump 2020, come on.


How was Spotify invented, in your mind?


You made my point again. If you look at the wikipedia page, it's not incorporated in Sweden. It's a multinational corporation with an office in Sweden.


It's literally headquartered in Stockholm. That's like saying a Silicon Valley startup isn't actually in California or subject to California's laws solely because it incorporated in Delaware.


So are many multinationals, for tax reasons (not labor law reasons) related to something called IP migration that let corporations evade taxes on local income.

Labor laws affect a company if they have employees in that jurisdiction. It doesn't matter if your HQ is somewhere else.


HQ is still here in Stockholm, it grew from Sweden up to the point it was incorporated outside of Sweden to go public, because shareholders will be moaning about it. It is still a very Swedish company, paying taxes in Sweden.


Incorporated outside of Sweden is the key here. It seems people are downvoting me because they dont want to hear the truth...but other commenters keep making my point quite nicely.

Incorporating outside of Sweden allows big companies to enjoy tax benefits and then hire Engineers from Sweden at an average of 50,000USD to 68,0000USD (these numbers can easily be found on Google).

They get lower taxes, a cheap labor pool, and the company isn't limited through draconian taxes and regulations, it only has to deal with it at a satellite office. It's a win-win.

Now show me a company that's large, started in Sweden, and is still in Sweden many years later.


But it's the same exact thing that any larger Western corporation do when they become multinational, be it an American, British, Australian, they go out and create multiple tax schemes to avoid their duties, it's not a matter of Sweden specifically having high taxes or not, it's a matter of a systemic issue for tax evasion that large corporations can afford to abuse.

Electrolux, Ericsson and Volvo are still incorporated and have their HQs in Sweden.


Now, by moving the goalposts, you lost your initial argument. Sure it might be the case that Swedish companies, at some stage of their growth, tend to incorporate in another country.

Still the benefits Swedish employees experience don't seem to be in the way of getting a startup successfully up and running in Sweden.


This was my point all along. You might be able to start a company in Sweden, but you won't be able to grow it there because of taxes and regulations.

It's funny how it took so long for someone to finally admit that I'm correct instead of being willfully ignorant about the realities of a socialist country like Sweden.


Just because you're incorporating in a different country doesn't mean you're not continuing to grow and develop your business in the original country.


Sweden is not socialist, for fucks sake, don't push this agenda here. Sweden has one of the freest markets in the world...

If social policies is socialism for you then I'm at a loss here because that point of view is utterly stupid.


Spotify still pays taxes in Sweden. Incorporating doesn't let you avoid income taxes in your HQ country or avoid labor laws, it just lets you play around with the taxes you pay on your foreign income.


Do you have some data to share to back that statement?


Perhaps that's a good thing.


So goes the Sweden's GDP and tax base.

BTW Ikea is no more operating primarily from Sweden, partly because of these reasons.


No, it is because tax evasion using international ports to hoard wealth is a thing, because other countries don't have any will to disallow that when they can earn free tax money from companies trying to evade their duties.

It is a race to the bottom with tax schemes, not the fault of Sweden to try to uphold its values and ways of living. So far it has worked pretty well, tell me more how it can be improved because as a country of 10m people I'd say it is pretty impressive.

Even more if your whining about taxes is so real, then you should come teach the Swedish government how to do it right and better because we are losing a lot of money it seems...


Collective bargaining does not necessarily include collective negotiation of wages.


Can you point to an example of a large US union that doesn't collectively bargain wage scales?


The Screen Actors Guild, and the players unions for most professional sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, etc). They recognize that their members have different levels of talent, and allow the stars to make more, while still ensuring basic rights for every member.


SAG and all the professional sports unions do set minimum pay scale. In the case of the NBA, the maximum pay is set well below open-market levels.


Presumably a maximum pay is set with the intention of allowing that money to go elsewhere in the sport? The NBA knows stars will get paid very well, but they want to ensure not all the money is spent on them so that lesser known players are fairly compensated as well. It seems a smart idea especially because an instituted max is still allowing stars to be paid 8 figures a year.


IMO, the maximum pay/salary caps are set to promote competition across the league. As an entertainment product provided by a monopoly supplier, that's exactly the right thing to do. As a (clearly hypothetical if you'd ever met me) top talented employee under such a scheme, it's terribly counter-productive to my individual situation.


> the players unions for most professional sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, etc)

This is wrong. The major sports unions all collectively bargain minimum salaries, and in some cases maximum salaries as well.


You can't get a job in a SAG affiliated production until enough SAG members are hired, but you can't become a SAG member until you've been in a SAG affiliated production.

I'm not an actor, but on the outside that Catch 22 stinks of Old Boy Network tactics.


And how's that working out for them? The median SAG/AFTRA member makes less than $1,000 per year from acting. And the pro sports players associations are tiny -- they exclude the much larger group of athletes who try to make a living playing sports but don't make the big leagues.



SAG/AFTRA is a large union that represents actors in TV/film, as well as actors in theater, who generally make diddly squat because not many people watch theater performances in the US.

By way of comparison, the rate for a single background-role (i.e., as an extra) in a commercial at SAG rates is more than 3x the non-SAG rate for the same time. ($630 vs $200). If you live in a city like LA or NY, you could make a living wage working (as a background actor) just 45 days a year.


SAG's hourly rates are great on paper - well above market, in fact. The net result of this is that your typical SAG member who doesn't have the power to demand higher rates anyway based on their own reputation ends up with almost no work because so few productions can afford to hire them, which is why their actual income is so low. The way SAG maintains its power despite this is by requiring productions that want to hire more in-demand actors to only employ SAG actors, forcing everyone to sign up to SAG and commit to waiting tables rather than acting most of the time.

If you cast your mind back to the video game voice actor strike a few years ago, for example, you may recall that one of the justifications for that was that they needed more money because many of them were only getting something like one day's work a month on average. Mostly because no-one outside of the big triple-AAA games could afford to hire union voice actors. Back in the day, a lot of video game and anime voice acting was apparently done by union members under pseudonyms so the union didn't find out; that's probably harder to get away with these days.


The net result of this is that your typical SAG member who doesn't have the power to demand higher rates anyway based on their own reputation ends up with almost no work because so few productions can afford to hire them,

This is false. Pretty much every theatrical film, broadcast or cable TV show, and nationally aired commercial in the US is subject to union/guild scales (and even Netflix has begun negotiating with the unions and guilds.)

If you have a "reputation" in Hollywood then you are making above scale because your agent has the leverage to demand above scale. And if you don't, that generally means you are a background player and you're making minimum scale. And at that level, you have trouble finding work because there are hundreds of thousands of other actors competing for the same roles, not because the productions can't afford you.

If you cast your mind back to the video game voice actor strike a few years ago, for example, you may recall that one of the justifications for that was that they needed more money because many of them were only getting something like one day's work a month on average

Yes, because there isn't that much voice over work in video games, and AAA studios were paying minimum scale for games that ultimately grossed hundreds of millions of dollars.

Mostly because no-one outside of the big triple-AAA games could afford to hire union voice actors.

This is false. The union scale for video game voiceover work was $825/session, no residuals no benefits. It usually takes less than 3 sessions to record all of an actor's lines, so you're looking at a total net outlay of less than $2500 for an actor's voiceover work in a video game. If your studio can't afford that for a game in which voiceover work is important enough to justify 3 sessions of recording, then you're not a studio, you're a hobby. (But on that note, a different, lower scale applies to low-budget games, just like it does to low-budget film and TV productions.)


I'm not familiar with union laws, but couldn't those workers form a union that did exactly what they wanted and none of what they didn't want?


Why can't we have any other organization to which we delegate our power, but which then does exactly what we want it to do?

Because with the power comes an opinion on how to best wield it — maybe entirely for the good of the community, but often not limited by that. People why strive to be in control most often have their own axe to grind, too.

But a larger problem is the "they want". "They" are many people, and their opinions on a particular topic are "mostly aligned" at best. This is not a single opinion or want. This is why any collective action of this sort can be "mostly satisfactory" for the participants at best, and often quite disliked by some minor fraction of them.


> did exactly what they wanted and none of what they didn't want?

Unfortunately, many workers want to do horrible things, such as to make it illegal for someone to work in engineering of they don't have a CS degree, or if they came out of a bootcamp, or the like.

Workers voting to put up barriers to entry, and keep out the competition, is both rational, democratic, common in unions, and also a completely horrible thing to do.


Because it results in a parasite effect. The union uses its power to negotiate a pay rise for its members. The business then gives the pay rise to all the employees. Each employee thinks “Well I would have got the benefit if I was a union member or not, so I’ll stop paying my union fees”


That’s already illegal and was punished accordingly, so no need for a union. Labor laws are a better tool.


> A final approval hearing was held on July 9, 2015.[22] On Wednesday September 2, 2015, Judge Lucy H. Koh signed an order granting Motion for Final Approval of Class Action Settlement. The settlement website stated that Adobe, Apple, Google, and Intel has reached a settlement of $415 million and other companies settled for $20 million.

> In June 2014, Judge Lucy Koh expressed concern that the settlement may not be a good one for the plaintiffs. Michael Devine, one of the plaintiffs, said the [previous] settlement is unjust. In a letter he wrote to the judge he said the settlement represents only one-tenth of the $3 billion in compensation the 64,000 workers could have made if the defendants had not colluded.


> Labor laws are a better tool.

Historically, unions have largely been responsible for advancing the state of labor laws. Individuals can't afford the legal representation to win precedent-setting cases against large corporations. By pooling their resources, collectives can bring a gun to the gunfight. Strong unions can similarly match lobbying efforts when corporations attempt to weaken labor laws through legislation.


This is a pretty specious argument. Murder is illegal and punished severely, yet we still try and avoid getting killed.

I would posit that it is the same here; wage fixing is bad and punished, but wouldn't it be better if we had a faster mechanism for guaranteeing equity in treatment by corporations?


No. That’s more like saying we should join a union so we can put rules in place that say employers aren’t allowed to murder us.

It’s already illegal, and people who don’t care about the law won’t care about a union agreement either.

The same court battle and settlement process would result. Or worse, everyone would be forced to strike, and all employees are legally barred from working.


> No. That’s more like saying we should join a union so we can put rules in place that say employers aren’t allowed to murder us.

I love that people are so ignorant of the history of labor struggle in the US that they don’t know that people actually did form unions to prevent their employers from murdering them.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_...


Before you call anybody ignorant, maybe stop and think about the last time a tech employer murdered people. That historical factoid is completely irrelevant when discussing solutions for today. Guess what, we don’t need to wear chain mail while riding a horse to work anymore either. Progress!


> Before you call anybody ignorant, maybe stop and think about the last time a tech employer murdered people.

Does the YouTube shooting count? Google only sent real time security updates to full time employees, leaving contractors to fend for themselves, even though they’re now a majority contractor workforce:

https://medium.com/@GoogleWalkout/invisible-no-longer-google...

And this event certainly has pushed labor organizing at the company.

See also worker deaths at Amazon:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/oct/17/amazon-wa...

It doesn’t seem at all irrelevant to me that companies have a long history of compromising workers safety, unto their deaths, and especially when workers don’t organize to defend themselves.

The progress you celebrate is because people before you did this en masse, so perhaps it is a good idea to be a little more respectful and cognizant of that history.


> 1. Why do tech workers need a union?

In my experience the normal dynamics of employer-employee relationships are broken in the tech sector.

In most cases where employees have a grief with an employer it's usually due to a lack of something, be it wages, safety, job security etc.

In the tech sector that doesn't apply. Wages are good, normal health and safety issues are non-existent and you have no problem finding a job if you need one - if you have the skills.

The problem is that the environment can be very, very toxic. My experience has been of employers offering me a big salary, but then expecting me to work very long hours. Couple this with an obsession with being the first to market and rushing to get the product out of the door and you end up with an unpleasant and stressful work environment.

There are health and safety issues, but they don't manifest in broken bones or bruises, but in stress, anxiety and nervous breakdowns.

And you can't opt-out. I've asked to have my contract changed so that the overtime clause has limits applied to it in exchange for a salary reduction - in three attempts every employer has said no. It's like overtime is expected as a normal thing and that you can't complain because your salary is so good.

But of course if you are putting in just an extra hour each day and you are contracted for a 37.5 hour week, you are actually reducing your salary by around 13%.

And if you are perceived as a troublemaker by your employer for standing up for yourself you;ll find that news gets around other employers faster than you'd expect.

Its that broken dynamic, combined with a lack of ethics that means tech employees need to unionize in order to reign in bad employers.


Reduced salary of 13% —- that 8 week vacation, 37.5 hr hard cutoff gov job is looking not too shabby (to run a bunch of fun side projects alongside )


I think the tech people/artists working on gaming industry , Uber's male chauvinistic culture and the problems associated with that can be a typical examples of "why tech needs to unionize".

So far , the medium.com has been the "systematic problems reporting tool" for tech and that just generates the views and small changes..

In the past decade, i hate to see that the word "unionizing" in itself has become a bad word to hear for anyone from Management.


>Uber's male chauvinistic culture and the problems associated with that can be a typical examples of "why tech needs to unionize"

Why wouldn't the same employees that are setting Uber's culture set the union culture? The union is a collective bargaining unit that acts on behalf of the workers, not the most moral and upstanding workers, or the most progressive workers, or the workers that represent you personally.


> Why wouldn't the same employees that are setting Uber's culture set the union culture?

Company culture comes from the top.


In a union or a cooperative, the members actually have an opportunity to decide who gets to be at the top.


Ultimately, company culture is a product of what the owners and their appointees allow and incentivize. In Uber's case, its culture is directly tied to Kalanick's management.

I agree in that unions give employees leverage in management and decision making, and that a union might have provided incentives for Uber to behave differently towards its employees. But a union isn't going to change who owns the company, unless they negotiate a buyout.


There are some airlines that will not take accept delivery of a Charleston-assembled Boeing 787. The fact that you can speak up with less repercussions in unionized Everett when too many corners are cut obviously has influence on product quality and company culture, even though the union doesn't get a seat at the board.


I don't think management has the ability to shape culture to that degree. Maybe it is different in the US, but I doubt this to be generally true.

Unions are indeed in danger of creating their own ambitions, especially without input from workers.

That said, I think the US could really use some form of employee interest group. Because the business orientation has reached perverse levels.


In a co-op, yes. In a union, no. You only elect your union leaders, not the company's leaders. The board decides who is in charge of the company, and the board is controlled by shareholders.

Powerful unions sometimes have a board seat, but one seat does not let you unilaterally impose who runs the company.


From the public version of the story, a vast majority of the issues seemed to stem from management, not necessarily the workforce. A union would help all workers have a voice (and a union lawyer can be used to identify and validate early on that there is a problem to be solved).


There's always the danger that a faction takes over an organization. (Bipartisan consensus is especially bad, don't run for the hills when you encounter it, instead raise the alarm and protest vociferously.)

Luckily there is institutional experience how to prevent a descent into oligarchic bureaucracy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_Democracy


Sexist/racist people don’t show up to union meetings and volunteer for union committees to push sexist/racist policies.

It’s not like national politics where it’s a prestigious and high paying job, and corporations are throwing a ton of money behind candidates.

Also, unions are usually not employer-specific. No matter how many jerks you have at one company, they can’t overpower all the voting members at all the other companies.


Respectfully, plenty of misandrists and anti-White racists do show up to those meetings and join panels to push their discriminatory agenda.

Why do you think we talk about the lack of women in STEM, but not the lack of men in HR, education, social work, psychology, etc?

Because bigots set the agenda.

Having sports programs for one sex has been ruled illegal under Title IX — but how many universities have special tutoring just for women?

That is, programs to help women in majors where they trail but offering no similar programs for men in majors where they trail.

Again, the reason we don’t talk about that illegal discrimination is because bigots set the agenda.


Not in my experience (2 unions). Do you have any examples of unions where this has occurred? (Recently, not some event from the 1950's or 1960's -- racists and sexists were much more powerful in all forums back then.)

Your example is universities, and I've never heard of any university faculty being unionized. In fact, that's another great example of a system where policymakers have immense prestige and very high paying jobs. Tenure allows senior faculty to set crazy agendas of all sorts, good and bad. That's the main criticism of the tenure system! Having worked a few years in academia and a few years under a trade union, I can tell you the two could not be more different, in structure or operation. I'm not sure how a criticism of academia is relevant in a discussion of unions.

You ask "How many universities have special tutoring just for women?". I don't know. How many? I searched the 3 colleges I've attended in my life, and none of them do (or at least it's not easy to find online -- compared to all the "free tutoring for all" that I found). Are you suggesting that many do?

If you want to talk about illegal discrimination, give me facts, not vague innuendo and rhetorical leading questions. And let's not get distracted by unrelated systems.


I’ve worked in Australian Universities and both the support staff and teaching/research staff where unionised. And sure there are professional with tenure but there are also quite a large number of adjunct professors who are basically being exploited.


There are plenty of men in HR, education, and social work.

Men simply don't go into those fields as much as women do because they pay less than comparable positions in other fields.

Case in point: the number of men in nursing has been increasing every year without having any gender-based outreach efforts, because nurses make good money, get longer weekends, and you don't need 10 years of degrees to become a nurse.

Similarly, the % of men employed as educators increases with salary. Or in other words, very few male teachers at the K-3 levels, more at the middle-school level, and the largest % of male teachers at the high-school level.


> anti-White racists

Please spare the alt-right dog whistle.


Sadly, that sort of thing gets boosted on HN & calling it out for what it is like you did gets your comment turned grey & flagged.


What is discriminatory about taking active measures to ensure that the tech monoculture does not perpetuate itself? If there are programs for women in STEM majors who need extra support, it is because women in STEM majors may have to surmount an obstacle that men do not: namely, that women are not fit for engineering.

This webcomic sums up why so many organizations take active measures to support women in STEM in one panel: https://xkcd.com/385/


It’s illegal discrimination to provide programs only for the majority sex — see rulings on only having sports programs for men. (Women have been the majority of college students since the 1980s.)

There’s nothing wrong with women in STEM programs, but not having matching men-in-social-sciences programs is a Title IX violation... precisely in the way only having sports for men would be.

You can have programs for no one; you can have programs for everyone; you cant have programs only for one sex.

That’s literally the point of civil rights laws.


That's an oversimplification of Title IX. Nowhere does it state that a university must offer the same sports programs or even the same number of sports programs for each gender. It only states that women who desire to play sports be accommodated, which is to say, a school can't only have sports programs for men.

From the US Department of Education website:

A college or university is not required to offer particular sports or the same sports for each sex. Also, an institution is not required to offer an equal number of sports for each sex. However, an institution must accommodate to the same degree the athletic interests and abilities of each sex in the selection of sports [1]

[1] https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/interath.htm...


If you make sexism/racism the focus of your union, it will be very short lived.


I doubt the word "unionizing" was ever something management wanted to hear


Unions have a terrible reputation when it comes to helping people in the minority. They have elections and tyranny of the majority is the natural outcome. Unions and Labor parties have a nasty history of racism. About 15 years ago I was present when a UAW rep called a gay salaried coworker the f-word at 150 decibels and the company could do nothing. He is now the plant union chairman.

I am sure this union will start off nice, but eventually the Bros will run it.


Basically every institution in the U.S. has racism in its history.

But the reason the civil rights movement has been so aligned with the labor movement historically is because racial and economic progress are linked. That's one reason why there's more pay equity in union jobs.

Worth noting that Dr. King was assassinated, he was in the city because he was striking with sanitation workers.

https://www.theroot.com/dr-king-understood-the-power-of-unio...


I am clearly biased based on my experience, and agree with MLK that you can’t make progress if you don’t have a voice. Maybe if the union is setup with parliamentary style representation it would avoid some of the nasty problems I have seen first hand.


I honestly don't know about unions in the anglophone world, but here in continental Europe they did a rather splendid job. I think it might be a mix of propaganda by corporate media and lack of transparency that led to the downfall of unions in NA and Britain, but it really doesn't need to stay that way. Build up the system again, and this time better.

I also don't see why there shouldn't be an international union of IT workers. We are an extremely flexible workforce, generally sharing similar concerns, and usually with a strong urge to cooperate on a number of issues. We could even band together to crowdfund certain open source projects we really want but never get around to.


Yeah, I think you make a fair point. Unions need to be representative of all parts of the workforce. The first things unions do when they start organizing is try to create a committee that includes all departments, people across race, etc.

But I just don't think you dismiss, say, the concept of banks because of problems that banks have had. Or sports. Or the entertainment industry. Or anything else.


What's to stop the bros from running management where they have all the power?


> 1. Why do tech workers need a union?

1. Fight ageism (every 20 year old today will grow up someday)

2. Fight open office layout (my opinion, may not be shared by everyone)

3. Fight for equal pay, discriminations of various sorts

4. Fight for reasonable share in success and against the massive differential between CxO and others' pay

5. Resist outsourcing where it makes sense

....... the list goes on ....


How about automation?

In Poland, worker unions at various companies strongly block any attempts at automation, because it makes less people are required to do the job so it leads to layoffs. But without adopting automation, in the long run the company can't keep up with automation-heavy competitors, so they go out of business, making everyone lose their jobs.


> 2. Fight open office layout (my opinion, may not be shared by everyone)

This is, I believe, the biggest strike against unions. If the unions decide you don't get open offices, then that decision binds everyone, whether they wanted an open office or not.

You just have to hope that the many tradeoffs you make are worth the things you get in return.


This is, I believe, the biggest strike against management. If the management decide you get open offices, then that decision binds everyone, whether they wanted an open office or not.


That's actually not (necessarily) the case (source: I'm management)

Having management make adaptations specific to an individual's preferences is a feature available in a management-employee negotiated arrangement that might be precluded or more difficult in a union shop.

As examples, I have colleagues working from remote locations, colleagues working in co-working spaces, colleagues working non-traditional schedules (by their choice, not mine). I can't see how having a union policy on work schedules and rules would have helped any of those employees and can easily see how they'd be harmed by having standardized work rules.


Once your firm gets a set office space, what layout plan will it have?


The difference is that, if you have a union, you get to vote on whether you want an open office or not. Without one, you have to do whatever the boss says.


Unions need not ban all open offices from existence, but they can at least provide a more powerful voice than angry blog posts in an industry dominated by open plans.


Many of the most talented or hardest working engineers might rationally be opposed to equal pay measures.


*engineers who are the best negotiators, rather than most talented or hard working


Being talented and/or hard working can provide leverage in negotiations.


Not at all.


You wish


Equal pay referred to between equally qualified men, women and other genders.

Not clear why a talented and hard working person of one gender would be opposed that a similar person of another gender get same pay?

It did not refer to people making unequal contributions.


> Equal pay referred to between equally qualified men, women and other genders. Not clear why a talented and hard working person of one gender would be opposed that a similar person of another gender get same pay?

Because there might not be an even distribution of people with certain skills. For instance, some point to the disproportionately large number of Asians in higher paying roles, and demand a form of equalization.

The issue is not that people don't believe in equality, it's that people don't have the same view of what is equal. In particular, some view equality in terms of equality of outcomes while others view it in terms of equality of opportunity.


Lobbying for equal pay protections isn’t independent of evaluations of merit. It’s about correcting demonstrable systemic bias against a protected class, e.g. if all women were being paid less then men in the same roles, with same experience, merit evaluations etc.


“equal pay” does not mean that all employees are paid the same amount...


"Athletes unionize" is one of the better arguments I've heard for why devs should.

I'm curious to learn more about the origins of the players' union.


Part of the reason athletes unionize, though, is because they play for monopoly leagues; there are no competitors for the top leagues in most American sports, so it isn't like you can just leave and play in the other NBA if you don't like their practices.


Well, not a monopoly, but Apple, Google, and several other major Silicon Valley corporations did collude to keep developer salaries low.


That was discovered and busted by the government. It appears unions aren't necessary to end wage fixing cartels.

And especially, note that unions are wage fixing cartels!


This is survivor bias. That example is only known because it was caught and fixed - there are a myriad of other issues that are unseen by the public that a union could address.


such as ?


I have near 0 trust in the major tech companies (Facebook/Google/Apple/etc.) but amazingly I trust the US government even less. I have absolutely no faith that the US government discovered and solved the salary issues in those companies in any meaningful way


You should see how small my check was for restitution payments. I really don't think that the government fixed the problem effectively.


Well with a union, not only do you get wage fixing, but also union dues!


That's begging the question. You haven't explained why unions would be incapable of preventing wage fixing.


The league monopoly power is probably the primary reason that it happened - before free agency (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_agent#Major_League_Baseba... ) became a thing, a team would own you for life (or until you were traded), so you had no recourse - you couldn't even leave for another team in the same league after your contract was up! White collar employees generally don't work on a contract like that - as at will employees, we can generally leave our work environment with only a couple days notice and have employment elsewhere. The impact of someone like Charles Comiskey (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Comiskey ) is limited in the white collar world.

Besides that though there are a few other things that don't come up in white collar environments. One is career tenure. I think NFL is the shortest average career length for North American sports at something like 2-3 years. In MLB non-elite players who are 30+ are now becoming less likely to get picked up by teams after hitting free agency, meaning the median career for a successful career is something more like 6-7. Athletes in such a situation don't have any leverage to sit out a whole year, which can represent 14%-50% of their lifetime earnings in the primary thing they spent their youth training on. Athletes also have to worry about physical injury that don't exist in white collar environments, which has led, for example, to changing touchback rules in football and adding a 26th man to the roster in baseball this season.


> I think NFL is the shortest average career length for North American sports at something like 2-3 years...Athletes also have to worry about physical injury that don't exist in white collar environments, which has led, for example, to changing touchback rules in football and adding a 26th man to the roster in baseball this season.

You're burying the lede there: the careers, particularly in sports like football, are short because sports actively break people. Athletes can tear their ACLs and alter their ability to walk or run for years, or end up with traumatic brain injuries that permanently alter their personality. After 5 years they're used up and cast aside -- and who in the public remembers a 2nd string Linebacker?

Given the immense amount of training, suffering, and injury... I'd come to the same conclusion re: bargaining.


There is more to athletics and sports than American sports.

Most European countries have a professional football players union, and their contracts are owned by the club, and not within a monopoly like with American sports. The same goes for referees, coaches, managers, etc.

Again, the amount of money these people are paid can be very high, and while many players don't use the union for things like negotiating pay, they rely on the union for other types of representation.


Movie stars belong to SAG-AFTRA.


The monopoly issue is also why most remaining unions are public employees working for some government monopoly.


I disagree. Professional sports leagues are both monopolies and monopsonies (meaning they’re the only ones hiring those specialized athletes). So the market dynamics are very different from that of tech. If you’re a NFL linebacker, you don’t really have an option to switch leagues if you’re unhappy with how it’s run. If you’re a software engineer, you can switch companies very easily.


If this was the only reason to have a union, you would only expect unions to exist in sports leagues that have a monopoly. Yet that isn't what we see in practice. The WNBA and the MLS both have unions. The NBA G League is moving to form a union as we speak. These are all leagues that face stiff competition from abroad and it is common for American athletes to go play in those foreign leagues. However that competition between employers isn't enough to give the athletes the negotiating power that they can command with a union.


what if apple, google, intel, adobe, pixar, lucasfilms all conspire to suppress your wages? great you can switch to another company that doesn't pay you your worth.

https://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-tech-jo...


It’s already illegal for them to do that. The solution to collusion by firms is not collusion by workers.


what's the worst thing that happens to a big business by breaking the law? paying a small fine?


I brought up professional sports unions in the context of having a highly competitive group of workers who make large salaries, and that a union can still be useful in that environment as far as negotiations.

That professional sports are monopolies and monopsonies isn't particularly relevant to this point.

The fact that tech workers can find a job elsewhere is even more motiviation to unionize because you have even more bargaining power and there are smaller risks.


It's really not a fair comparison: we think of athletes as making large salaries, but beyond the stars, many who make the highest level professional league will make a league minimum salary over a relatively short career, as opposed to white collar workers who typically make 6 figure salaries over multiple decades.

That sports leagues are actually very relevant. See for example from https://theundefeated.com/features/all-22-why-decertificatio... :

>Counterintuitively, the owners benefit from the existence of a union as well. The existence of unions allows leagues to operate under rules that are in violation of federal antitrust law, which is why decertifying has been the most impactful threat to leagues.

That same article goes on to explain how unions actually in some ways have acted against the interest of athletes in some way, since the collective bargaining agreements that they entered in to have locked in conditions for years that would not make sense in a more free floating market.


Anyone who thinks that players' unions are suppressing athlete salaries doesn't remember how little athletes made before the unions negotiated higher scales.

Even the best NFL athletes used to have day jobs. The 2014 minimum base salary for MLS players was just $48,500 (which increased to $7x,xxx in 2019 as a result of the union renegotiating pay scales). On average (median or mode), a professional soccer player will make less than an entry-level programmer in the valley, despite a significantly smaller potential workforce.


I agree that unions have done a lot; the point is that the evidence shows it to be a double edged sword. Following the link I posted, it explains how one effect of current collective bargaining agreements enables owners of sports teams to cap the percentage of the overall revenue going to players. For example, collective bargaining has given us free agency in baseball, which has been great; it's also given us a system in which players don't hit free agency until they've been playing for 5 or 6 years, at which point they're usually in their late 20's or early 30's, and have missed prime earning years on the free market (having to settle for whatever comes out of the arbitration process).

Some of the increase in pay is due to the union, and they should be applauded for that, but part of the increase in pay in all these leagues also is due in part to the increase in revenues from media deals


Another thing worth pointing out from this link: when the NFL players were last trying to get serious about negotiating with the NFL owners, they decertified the union. Their ultimate threat wasn't "you can't do this to us, we're part of a union," it was "if you don't give us concessions, we'll get rid of our union so you're on the wrong side of regulations." This is a completely different scenario from what software engineers would face. The analog with sports is just really not very good (whether one is in favor of unions for white collar workers or not).


It actually wasn't until baseball unions that players actually started getting paid well.


> That professional sports are monopolies and monopsonies isn't particularly relevant to this point.

What are you talking about. That’s entirely relevant. What’s not relevant is that the workers are rich. Market dynamics are the entirety of what determines your compensation and working conditions. Being able to leave for a competitor is pretty all the leverage you’re ever going to have.


If that was true, Kickstarter wouldn't have fought it as hard as they did. The workers just gained additional leverage. What's the evidence that these workers have zero additional leverage?


There’s no evidence that they do have additional leverage either. I could argue that they acted against their own self interest in many ways, but still don’t know for sure how things will work out in one way or another.


There's absolutely evidence that unions increase wages. 100%.

I suppose you could argue that's happening out of employer generosity? And that they're more generous when there's a union?


> There's absolutely evidence that unions increase wages. 100%.

Does that hold for unprofitable VC-subsidized companies? They might go bankrupt if VCs are turned off by a unionized workforce in the next round.


Yes there is evidence that unions increase wages. But none for this specific case.


There can't be evidence of unions increasing wages in the tech industry because, as this article points out, prior to today there were no unions in the tech industry. Ever.

However, there is significant evidence in blue-collar and white-collar industries, and in artistic and athletic fields, that unions increased members' earnings.


Tech vs non-tech. Blue-collar vs white-collar. That’s not what matters. What matters is market dynamics. That’s all I’m saying here.


Then look at movie stars instead of athletes if you feel the analogy isn't apt. They're all card carrying members of SAG-AFTRA.


Baseball players unionized in the 60s for the same reasons any other group did - poor wages, poor working conditions, and owners who operated as feudal lords due to the reserve clause.


Wish I knew more about it.

Here's what the NFLPA has on their website: https://www.nflpa.com/about/history

One of the reasons I like it as an example is it shows how much more a union can do than simply negotiate raises, and that they don't even have to do that part at all! You can collectively bargain over anything, and also a union can theoretically serve as a type of association that has other benefits. There's room for a ton of innovation and creativity here.

You don't see people argue that their union means mediocre football players can't get fired. The values of the workers can absolutely be shared by the union (the players are the union) -- and if you want to negotiate for even higher pay rather than making it harder to fire folks, you can do that.


Athletics is not as luxurious you might think: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/aug/07/olympic-games-...


Right but when someone says "athletes unionize" in this context they're almost certainly talking about the NFL and NBA. Not semi-amateur olympians.


Speaking of which, it just blows my mind that US olympians routinely win a ton of gold against government-supported olympians from e.g. Russia or China. There wouldn't even _be_ any olympians from there if the government didn't fund it.


Hollywood actors and screenwriters are also unionized.


Marvin Miller is the man who created these. There are some good accounts of his life.

When he started, MLB players hated hearing him out because they thought he was a communist. Talk about a situation where people cut off their nose to spite their faces!


[flagged]


> They don't unionize though, they have a player's union.

These are LITERALLY the same thing.

There's nothing that stops ANY type of union (including public employees) from negotiating caps or rewarding top performers. The NFLPA union works this way because the union represents the values of the workforce. A tech workers union can do the same if they wish.

If a tech workers union wanted, they could negotiate for things like user privacy, or whatever else the people at that specific workplace wanted. Doing so would be a trade-off in a negotiation, of course. So if the workers cared more about that than layoff protection, then they could try to trade one for the other.


Sports does have a collective bargaining process and NFL players are part of the AFL-CIO. There have been two NFL strikes in recent memory.

I'm flagging the above comment as it is misinformation.


> If we focused on the bigger issue

We can do two things at once.


A quick google search will explain that history and will also tell you why it makes no sense to compare athletes with developers.


But even athletes have a clear distinction between management and "employee". The line is very blurry in engineering, esp. for senior devs which might go in and out of management frequently.


Just in terms of salary isn’t an union somewhat contradictory to the engineering ethos of meritocracy? I mean we’d like to think that the good ideas win and impact and outcome matters. We hold up the 10x engineers and those that make an outsized contribution to the industry / company / product right? Shouldn’t they get higher compensation compared to the rest of the work force? How do we square that with collective bargaining that has set salaries and annual increases?


> the engineering ethos of meritocracy

You know what's pretty inarguably a real "meritocracy"? Professional sports players. And they're all unionized.

Tech does not meaningfully or significantly adhere to any ethos of meritocracy; it is exactly as political as anything else. The part that really melts your brain is when you realize that the "meritocracy" myth is peddled so the people who don't realize they're bad at politics are losing.


I agree that meritocracy is more a talking point than reality on the ground. I just mean, right now there is a disparity in income. Think of it as the income inequality that's common in many countries. In principle the tech world seems to agree this that setup; that some engineers should be paid significantly more than others.

In my previous experience with unions in North America, incomes tends to be compressed towards the middle. You get rid of the very low and very high income earners. Maybe this is just an implementation problem and isn't inherent to unions, but in practice here, it does seem to be common.


Pay is more of a function of where you work than skill. There are mediocre engineers being paid $300K at FAANG and great engineers being paid $100K at Random Small Company. FAANG pays more because it's better able to monetize what its engineers are building.


That’s true but the engineering pay at the same company varies a lot too. Probably not 3x for the same level and role but I’ve seen difference of 2x in total compensation for the same title.


So do all tech companies have legal monopoly where they share revenues and where you have to enter a draft to get a job?

Sports leagues have nothing to do with how most companies operate.


Of course there's no monopoly. But tech companies are pretty happy to collude, both at an executive level (we've had court cases about this) and at the memetic "this is what we think about management" one, in order to work against workers' interests. We, too, are allowed to work together to combat this.

Wage suppression, limiting our ability to grow and expand into different areas, and controlling the ability to exert control over what the work we do is used for--these are reasons to unionize.


There are only 20-35 “companies” that a professional athlete can work at. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of places employing “tech workers”.

If companies are colluding, that’s the issue where the government needs to intervene.


The tech collusion case involved most of the industry leaders, and thus presumably the highest payers.


And instead of correcting the actual issue - fining the companies for collusion and enforcing consent decrees - unions are the answer?


There can be multiple tools used to solve a single problem. Both a root cause can be addressed, and additional fixes added for the sake of future-proofing.


Because unions have never been corrupt in the history of America.....


Non sequitur. The corruptibility of unions does not prevent them from being viable tools, it simply means they are a tool that must be handled carefully.


Sports is about the farthest thing from a meritocracy you can get. Only 25 NBA players in the history of the league have been below 5 foot 9 (175cm) [1]

Professional athletes are genetic freaks first and foremost - look at the dropoff from college football players to professional players. It's not talent that determines who makes it, it's genetic ability. The absolute worst NFL team in history would decimate the best college team in history just because of the difference in size, speed, and strength of the people on the professional team.

The NFL uses the standing vertical jump as a test of athletic ability because it's one of the only tests that can't be trained. No matter how much stronger or more explosive you get, your standing vertical jump pretty much stays the same. And guess what, people who make it in the NFL are the ones with the highest standing vertical jump.

1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_shortest_players_in_Na...


"Meritocracy" is being judged on ability. How that ability originated is unimportant. Why does it matter that athletes' merit has a strong basis in genetics? Top-level athletes make it to the top level by being better than their peers.


> It's not talent that determines who makes it, it's genetic ability.

Sorry, I meant "meritocracy" in the way that the tech crowd does, not a, y'know, actual one. Because they rarely if ever exist in practice.

It's funny, because I would hold that a good bit of what we consider "technical aptitude" is innate, if not strictly "genetic". I don't mean stuff like that old Dartmouth CS study, though. Speaking for myself, I have a level of general memory recall that, while not what you might call "eidetic memory", is very, very good. "Remember the behavior of an API I used cursorily five years ago" good. And from a pure value perspective, that I can dredge weird stuff like that up, that I can make connections between disparate stuff based almost entirely on having too much junk in the drawers of my brain, are why I deliver value in tech roles. If anything, my ability to quickly and with self-discomfiting detail remember the failures of code I've written are more valuable than the code I write today. ;)

And I have had that kind of weird memory recall since I was a kid. I don't know if it's "genetic", but I didn't do anything to make it happen. Which leads me to think that if "being tall" rules one out of a meritocracy, stuff like that, or the weird permutation of brainscape that makes one better able to latch onto stuff like algebra or able to better visualize systems--all of that stuff functionally should, too.

Which, to me, is yet another ding in this idea of "meritocracy". It's all a dart board.


I don't think you understand what a meritocracy is.


You can train to improve vertical jump, there are specific work outs developed for NBA players for this purpose. https://www.amazon.com/Vertical-Jump-Development-Bible/dp/14...


In what way are those fitness-for-purpose measures not a meritocracy?


The way I'm reading it, your argument assumes the mental aptitude we train into the ability to write code is not genetic.

Is that your position or did I read too far into it?


It always depends how the union works and what they negotiate for. Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Charlize Theron and Tom Hanks are all members of a union (SAG-AFTRA) and it doesn't seem to have prevented them for making 10x the money of an unknown actor.

That said, there's a risk - even a high one - that Union Executives, over time, become rent seekers instead of advocates for their members. It's like government, every Union gets the executive it deserves.


> Just in terms of salary isn’t an union somewhat contradictory to the engineering ethos of meritocracy? I mean we’d like to think that the good ideas win and impact and outcome matters. We hold up the 10x engineers and those that make an outsized contribution to the industry / company / product right?

Not necessarily. I'd imagine that a union could negotiate its pay-scales any way it likes, which could take into account "meritocracy" in many different ways. That could include ideas that are totally foreign to existing for-profit company practices, such as a peer-controlled meritocratic bonus implemented via the union itself.

> Shouldn’t they get higher compensation compared to the rest of the work force? How do we square that with collective bargaining that has set salaries and annual increases?

Here's a hypothetical: In a non-union shop, regular engineers get paid $100k, while 10x engineers get paid 120k. In a union shop all engineers get paid $150k. Should the engineers reject a union so the 10x engineers can get paid more than regular engineers, even though that means everyone makes less?

Also: Are the 10x engineers the people management chooses to pay more? Is management good at recognizing merit? When they recognize it, do they choose to compensate it accordingly? Or do they make the good business decision, and pay the meritorious employees the minimum amount of money they'll be happy with. For some 10x engineers, that could be 2x salary. For other 10x engineers, that could be 1.05x salary. For some 10x engineers, that could be 0.75x salary.


Of course if everyone gets higher pay (if we just look at pay) then that's a good thing. In your hypothetical of course I'd want 150k for everyone. Do we have data to show that this is the effect of unions in white collar jobs?


While I agree if the 10x is making 120 and it moves to 150 that is good for everyone. But what if there is a 10x who actually makes 200. Would you ask them to take a pay cut so everyone is on that same 150? I think people will have a hard time with that. I feel people will always want more money for performing better, or get incentivised to perform at the exact right level of that compensation and not more. I am curious what other people think on this. Is there some desire that most people have to be that stellar performer and get that extra compensation, which might make them not want to Unionize so they can try? Would also be curious as to how the breakdown in these votes go. Are the people already better off (well above mean compensation) less likely to vote for Unionization?


> While I agree if the 10x is making 120 and it moves to 150 that is good for everyone. But what if there is a 10x who actually makes 200. Would you ask them to take a pay cut so everyone is on that same 150?

I think that one key aspect of your comment is that you're taking about a 10x. Which can be generalized into a question: should a solution be rejected if it leaves a well-off minority less well-off than they are now, regardless of how much good it may do otherwise?

I, personally, think the answer to that general question is no. That answer may be hard to swallow if you're part of that well-off minority, but I don't think that changes the truth of the matter.

However, that doesn't mean that a union would or should force that guy to take a pay cut.

> I feel people will always want more money for performing better, or get incentivised to perform at the exact right level of that compensation and not more. I am curious what other people think on this.

I feel that people will always want more money regardless. I also feel that compensation is actually a poor motivator for performance. I think the real motivators for performance are internal factors (such as a desire to improve oneself, to avoid annoyance with badly made things, or to be challenged rather than bored).

Personally, I think once you make enough money, the extra compensation is more a form of recognition than anything else. Recognition doesn't have to be in the form of money, it's just that a souless corporation only cares about money, so money is the only way you can extract recognition from it.


Generally I think I agree. The well-off minority should not hold back changes for the betterment of the majority. I just wonder how that gets executed cleanly.

And you are right, compensation is definitely a form of recognition, and perhaps there are better ways to do it. Just not sure how you bestow that recognition in some reasonable way. So what other form of recognition conveys your actual value to a company? What else can be done here?


Actor’s guilds don’t specify a ceiling to wages, only floors. We could do the same here.


True, is that how people are attempting to form these sorts of unions as well? I honestly don't know what one would look like here. Are there documents from existing Software Engineer unions out there that can be used as a good model? Does the Kickstarter Union already have some form of docs in place, or is that what starts now?


It is good to incentivise stellar performances with higher pay, but for me personally, it isn't the reason I aspire to be good. I think I would do exactly the same thing in a "Star Trek-like" economy where everyone basically has the same standard of living. (Probably because I was born wealthy and am not pressured by fear of subsistence)

One thing people would probably stop doing is chasing wealth and career to the detriment of their private life, and that might be a net negative to corporate spreadsheets and economic growth, but probably a net-positive for society.

I say to both my leftist and rightist friends to please spend some time analyzing Scandinavian societies. They are much more advanced than us on a lot of social issues, and a lot of their successes are directly applicable to our societies, too.


It's amusing in some ways.

We already have an informal FAANG guild: 1) their salaries are higher 2) FAANG on the resume = already vetted 3) mastered the interview rigmarole

So it seems that efforts by employers to collude in the job market led to something that resembles a professional guild.


Why should a person take a pay cut to help someone else who is less skilled or chose different priorities above their jobs? I expect a person who is willing to devote 60 hours a week to get paid more than me when I go home after 8 hours.


> I expect a person who is willing to devote 60 hours a week to get paid more than me when I go home after 8 hours.

Apart from the fact you get diminishing returns on work quality for those sort of hours...

That person is neglecting their family and/or partner, or at the very least their own health if they're working those sort of hours. Where do they find time to work on personal relationships or do exercise?

It also skews job expectations by creating an atmosphere where other employees are pressured into working those sort of hours, with the same resulting problems.

If someone has no attachments, no outside interests, no interest in maintaining their health, and genuinely has that sort of energy and desire for work, let them pick up a part-time gig separate to their main job.


Why? If I had a choice to make more money working one job and make the same amount of money doing two jobs. Of course I’m going to choose one job. I wouldn’t do that now, but people have a right to prioritize their work life balance as they choose.

How many startup founders have worked 60+ hours a week to get their business off the ground?

Law is famous for getting ahead by having more billable hours.


That person devoting 60 hours a week is almost certainly committing trash that someone else will have to refactor or discard entirely at a later date.

Real 10x programmers spend most of their time levitating, anyway.


> Just in terms of salary isn’t an union somewhat contradictory to the engineering ethos of meritocracy?

I've seen that other commenters have already pointed out that the two are not incompatible.

However, with the risk of getting some downvotes, I would like to challenge the primacy of meritocracy itself.

I don't mean to say that people shouldn't do a good job at work or that they shouldn't try to continuously improve. But I think that an environment and a mentality of continuous competition between individuals is not necessarily beneficial. For one it can cause tensions, frustration, anger, alienation at an individual level, but I think in the long run it can actually harm the company itself.

I'm curious what you guys think about this point of view.


> I don't mean to say that people shouldn't do a good job at work or that they shouldn't try to continuously improve. But I think that an environment and a mentality of continuous competition between individuals is not necessarily beneficial. For one it can cause tensions, frustration, anger, alienation at an individual level, but I think in the long run it can actually harm the company itself.

IIRC, the authors of Peopleware [1] (fantastic book, btw) agree with you. They identified some pay for performance ideas for knowledge workers as "teamkillers" (e.g. tempting management ideas that end up destroying the social fabric that makes an effective team stronger than the sum of its parts).

https://www.amazon.com/Peopleware-Productive-Projects-Teams-...


Thanks for the recommendation, I'll check it out.


Actors are unionized (or “guildized”, which is basically the same thing), but their pay varies wildly and seems to be more or less relative to their objective value.


That's because the actors' guild has a clause in the union constitution requiring a big supermajority (something like 2/3 of the vote) to impose a pay cap or to remove the supermajority vote requirement. The people who created the SAG understood very well that unions oppose meritocracy and specially crafted the SAG to resist this effect. I have no idea whether Kickstarter's organizers did the same, but I expect that they did not.


That’s a good example. I don’t know much about it, what benefits does the union in this case provide that isn’t achievable without one?


Here's a brief list:

1. Non-competes. If you're an actor, the studio that you did your first film with doesn't own you for the rest of your life.

2. Getting paid for your time if you're called out for a shoot, and the shoot doesn't happen, because the director's dog ate the script, or some other non-sense that you have no control over.

3. Getting paid for your time if you're called out for a shoot, and told to hang around for 8 hours, so that you can do your 5-minute scene.

4. Getting paid if you're a theatrical understudy, have learned your part, and are sitting on-call, ready to step in if the main actor is sick/vacationing/etc.

5. Getting paid more for understudying more roles. Someone who understudies two principal roles has to be paid more than someone who understudies one other chorus role.

Prior to unionization, violations of these were incredibly prevalent across the industry. Studios who took advantage of actors were rewarded by the market, and anyone who tried to push back on these practices was black-balled from the industry.

Despite having to pay actors for their work, and not treating actors like chattel, the entertainment industry has not yet fallen apart.


Two examples of actor union rules that come to mind are employers paying for journey to location of its more than a couple of miles, and the (very strict) rules about filming nude scenes (only essential people on set, people standing by with bathrobes etc)


> That’s a good example. I don’t know much about it, what benefits does the union in this case provide that isn’t achievable without one?

This seems like an important benefit:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Residual_(entertainment_indust...:

> Residuals are royalties that are paid to the actors, film or television directors, and others involved in making TV shows and movies in cases of reruns, syndication, DVD release, or online streaming release. Residuals are calculated and administered by industry trade unions like SAG-AFTRA, the Directors Guild of America, and the Writers Guild of America.

Per the wiki page, these rights were won and have been maintained by striking and union-lead contract negotiations.


Before the actors union stars were made by a studio and forced to work for that studio for long hours and little pay. If you spoke up you were out. Lucy Ball was smart enough to start her own studio only to see it get sold a few years later.

If they didn't have a union movies would look different. Maybe better for the customer because you get to see your favorite star in 10x more movies.


Actors don't die on set any more, so that's nice. From the SAG-AFTRA site:

"SAG-AFTRA members are entitled to a variety of benefits, including contracts/collective bargaining, eligibility for the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan, SAG-Producers Pension Plan, the AFTRA Retirement Fund, the iActor online casting database, and much more."

https://www.sagaftra.org/membership-benefits/member-benefits



Keeping in mind that an actor's objective value to the movie studio is proportional to their subjective value to the audience.


The engineering ethos of meritocracy is a flawed model for management / employee interaction because it assumes a level playing field.

If anything, employees who believe their workplace should be a meritocracy can protect and provide force to that belief via a union.


Tech work isn't a meritocracy, though. Even putting aside the issue of diversity and bias, there's a large gradient of working conditions and pay across the industry. There are plenty of really smart engineers online who have a popular following, and people are often shocked when it comes out that those people are severely underpaid relative to some college new grad churning out boilerplate for an ad company.

Also, do companies really value 10x engineers? Sure, the people who are truly at the top, well known, and know their worth have great negotiating power to work on interesting things and get paid a lot for it. What about everyone else? I'd say that most "10x" engineers aren't getting 10x the compensation. Most people who perform well will get a promotion or something, and that's it. The way tech companies manage workers and handle performance reviews isn't all that different from everyone else. Tech workers are capturing a fraction of the value they generate, and there's no reason for management to admit that.


How does one go about measuring productivity in software? Because you can't have a meritocracy without an objective measure of performance. I think we all know by now that number of features shipped / commits / lines of code are not good measures, just the most visible. Also, I have come to learn that "10x developer", just means "OK developer with a greenfield project". Maybe I am just salty because my productivity is being impacted greatly right now because the software developed by our 10xer of 10 years past breaks every week and I have to fix it to get my job done.


Unions can negotiate things other than salary, like health benefits, paid leave, policy issues, etc.

(Though in practice you're correct: unions rarely exist for jobs with more individualized pay.)


It is worth mentioning that if the Senate bill version of Medicare for All becomes the law of the land, then previously employer-funded healthcare becomes one less thing for union leaders to have to negotiate with employers.


Why? It just raises the bar for the unions: negociating co-pay, dental plan... Plenty of healthcare things will not be covered by Medicare. Unions will negociate about this.


Medicare for All covers pretty much everything.

"All Americans would have coverage for comprehensive health care services, including hospital stays; emergency room visits; doctor visits; substance use disorder treatment; dental, vision, and mental health services; long-term care; and reproductive health care. Depending upon income, prescription drug cost sharing would be capped at $200 annually." -- https://www.webmd.com/health-insurance/news/20191120/medicar...

Obviously, there might be some edge cases. This is where private insurers could still fill a role. I can't imagine that extra/supplemental private insurance could be too expensive, if it had to compete against a unified 350 million+ person insurance pool.

Edit: It is worth noting that the US is pretty unique when it comes to the separated dental insurance coverage plans and main health insurance plans.


That's actually great! But what will the actual terms and conditions be? Some existing examples: a maximum number of psych visits, (medical) dental work up to xxx$ per year (if you had a checkup last year), limited coverage for experimental treatments for like cancer.

The US is not (wont be) the only one which seperates dental (as in infections, teeth removal) from orthodontic like braces and fake teeth.

Maybe important, I'm not American.


Would nationalized healthcare cover orthodontics? I could see an awful lot of union members being interested in supplemental family dental from employers.


Yes.

"All Americans would have coverage for comprehensive health care services, including hospital stays; emergency room visits; doctor visits; substance use disorder treatment; dental, vision, and mental health services; long-term care; and reproductive health care. Depending upon income, prescription drug cost sharing would be capped at $200 annually." -- https://www.webmd.com/health-insurance/news/20191120/medicar...


I don't see any mention of orthodontia in there.


Not immediately. Universal health coverage means employers lose the ability to use health plans as a benefit and/or part of an employee’s total compensation. So unions will likely then be negotiating to see that turned into cash.

Although, universal health plans also mean employees, unionized or not, win the freedom to change jobs because they’re no longer tied to jobs they hate just to remain insured. I don’t think many people are considering or discussing this at large in the conversation about MfA. This will be a huge social and employment benefit for people with families/children, as well as those with existing—especially serious and costly—conditions. It could be something unions will temporarily grapple with in defending their importance.

I have no doubt, however, that something will replace healthcare at the negotiating table. Capital and labor are forever locked in conflict.


> Although, universal health plans also mean employees, unionized or not, win the freedom to change jobs because they’re no longer tied to jobs they hate just to remain insured. I don’t think many people are considering or discussing this at large in the conversation about MfA.

Really? From where I sit it's been a central point in discussions about universal coverage as a goal, regardless of mechanism being debated, at least since it was an issue in the Clinton campaign in 1992.


I absolutely recognize it has been a goal for those who support universal coverage. I have yet to hear anyone against or unsure about MfA even bring it up. I probably could have worded that much better.

I’m referring to what media coverage I’ve seen—and perhaps it’s heavily related to the area I live (US South) and the media coverage that dominates here—but whenever I mention it and try to discuss that point with others, people often stare blankly. It takes time to even get the concept to click. And there’s a lot of, “I never even thought about that!”


Single payer specifically does this, not universal healthcare in general. You can have a universal healthcare system in which private healthcare is a thing, including employer-provided healthcare. Many countries do just that.


Partially. It will take basic medical care off the table, allowing unions to focus their negotiations on better wages and working conditions. M4A entitles everyone to a common set of benefits, but doesn't preclude extended benefits (medical or otherwise) outside that set.


> Just in terms of salary isn’t an union somewhat contradictory to the engineering ethos of meritocracy?

Not to sound dismissive, but if you actually believe that working in tech is akin to a meritocracy, you're either fairly young or you haven't spent a lot of time in a corporation. Both of which being ok.


No, your salary depends on how well you negotiate, not how good a worker you are. Whenever I’ve shared salary information with coworkers (at non-union tech jobs) it never correlated with value or quality or productivity.

If you really want to go the “meritocracy“ route, drop salaries altogether. Make employees bid on features and maintenance, and pay them for accomplishing these specific tasks. Paying salaries at all (the same amount every month regardless of productivity) is anti-meritocratic.

Open source is a fantastic counterexample to this. Lots of people produce huge collective value to the industry for $0 incremental salary.


>Just in terms of salary isn’t an union somewhat contradictory to the engineering ethos of meritocracy?

Only if one assumes that management pays based on the same ethos of meritocracy. They generally do not, which is why a force to oppose the management 'union' can result in a return to meritocracy. As with any balancing force, it is possible for the reaction to be far too strong and swing in the opposite direction, but that isn't reason to avoid any attempt to balance.


The two ideas are not incompatible. You can set a company-wide curve for promotions.


What about outside of promotions? I’m not going to get promoted every year and I certainly don’t want to only be able to get a sizable increase tied with promotions.

Although I do agree they are not fundamentally incompatible. You can have a large number of hands within a job level and have the ability to jump bands for example. But then this somewhat goes against the typical union (at least in the US) thinking where there is typically a step progression “up”.

Fundamentally, at least in terms of compensation, this seems to be about how we view money in general rather than specifics of unions. Ie should everyone be paid more or less the same for the same job or should there be wildly different compensation. For unions I typically see salaries clustered, that every senior engineer for example does more or less the same job. Currently in tech the view isn’t that. It’s more the one senior engineer can dramatically out perform another and should be compensated accordingly.


If a senior engineer can outperform another dramatically, he will get promoted to principal sooner than the other and is probably getting higher bonuses, even if their base wage is currently the same.

If a "10x" senior engineer moves to another company he will probably seek a job as principal engineer and get a higher base wage than older employees that have less technical aptitude than him.

Negotiated salary bands do not go against meritocracy.


Don't most jobs have a range set by the company? Something like between 80/120k based on experience. A union wouldn't change that. I've never seen someone go in with 10x skills at 150k and make it past the recruitor filter.

The number of places that will pay you more than they decided beforehand is very small not matter if you are 10x better or not. You will get top of pay range.

Startups wouldn't fall under this because usually you need 20+ people. This would apply to get giants who have systems in place. If you are truly worldclass they invent a position. But for regular developers where there are more than one person sharing the same title this is who the union is for.


> I've never seen someone go in with 10x skills at 150k and make it past the recruitor filter.

The real crime is that employers have convinced you that only rockstars should be making $150k.


Movie stars with multi-million dollar contracts exist in the same union as B-list actors you've only ever seen in the backgrounds of infomercials.


You need to define meritocracy.

There's plenty of excellent software engineers paid pennies to work on difficult problems because they live in countries with very low wages.

And plenty of people in silicon valley being wildly overpaid to copy paste javascript from stack overflow.


>I mean, no. But even if so, high pay doesn't stop athletes from joining a union.

I think athletes are more in unions because when the NFLPA was formed most of them had to go get real jobs to support themselves combined with the fact that sports like American Football have a history of causing life-changing injuries including pretty severe TBIs.

The wiki entry for the NFLPA even points this out

>The new association's initial agenda also included a league-wide minimum salary, plus a per diem when teams were on the road, a requirement that uniforms and equipment be paid for and maintained at the clubs' expense, and continued payment of salaries when players were injured

Even then they didn't get that great of a deal

>Rather than face another lawsuit, the owners agreed to a league minimum salary of $5,000, $50 for each exhibition game played, and medical and hospital coverage

Inflation adjusted from 1956 that's a minimum salary of $47,421.14.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Football_League_Pl ayers_Association

So there was a very real reason for that specific union to form and once a union forms, it's pretty unlikely to go away.

Trying to compare that to office workers needing a union doesn't really translate.

I'm not saying office workers need, or don't need, a union. I'm simply saying I don't think this is a fair comparison. I've never been part of a union and can't really speak to the benefits and downsides of them.


> some issues are systemic

I would unionize just to get rid of open offices, for example


The number 1 reason to form a union in the tech world is so a company can't pull a Disney. Replace all your full time workers with imported 'contractors' and force you to train them.

Getting rid of the 'contractor' loop hole in tech will be better for everyone.


I'm interested in someone setting minimum quality requirements for code, and I've no faith in my government to do that well. No, I said that wrong. I have every faith in my government screwing that up spectacularly.

From what I understand from other industries, the safety guidelines are often, at least initially, heavily informed by the professional bodies of those industries. Later on watchdog groups start to propose more stringent rules.

We haven't really discussed any of this stuff very concretely and we'd have to start somewhere (other than legislation please).


> The number 1 reason to form a union in the tech world is so a company can't pull a Disney. Replace all your full time workers with imported 'contractors' and force you to train them.

How do they force you to train your replacement? There are plenty of jobs in tech right now, you could (and should) just walk out the door if something like that occurs.


Some people have bills to pay and mouths to feed, and don't want their kids going without health insurance for potentially months between jobs. The individual market for health insurance is terrible and COBRA is another expensive liability for someone without a job.


IIRC, they literally included a clause in their contract that they wouldn't receive their severance pay / layoff benefits if they didn't train contractors.

This is also something a union can help with, you can't negotiate that clause out of your contract, but collectively you can.


You really aren’t aware of all the union factories that picked up and moved their entire operations to another country to avoid unions?

As far as the contract “loophole”. Every time I’ve worked as a contractor, my net income including taking into account the loss of benefits was hire than I made as an FTE.


> But even if so, high pay doesn't stop athletes from joining a union.

Most of athletes aren't high paid. You don't hear about them and the high-paid athletes via players unions do everything possible to prevent newcomers from joining their ranks -- that's why there are deadlines when the teams must bring the number of people on a team down to a certain number.

Most of SAG/AFTRA members only dream of a principal role again after using the exceptions while collecting tips slinging drinks in bars or carrying plates in restaurants.

If you are making over 100-250k while working in tech unions will push your compensation down. The companies won't be negotiating with you about your special deal when the union shows up in your shop.


> Most of SAG/AFTRA members only dream of a principal role again after using the exceptions while collecting tips slinging drinks in bars or carrying plates in restaurants.

And yet, they get healthcare through the union. Minimum rates for when they do find work. Residuals to get them through lean years.


> And yet, they get healthcare through the union.

If they meet eligibility requirements. Most don't.

> Minimum rates for when they do find work.

Those rates are terrible. One cannot support oneself on it. SAG day rate is ~$335. SAG week rate is ~$1166. That's 2020.

> Residuals to get them through lean years.

You are thinking of people who "made it" -- managed to land a long term gig on one of syndicated TV shows. Those are equivalents of $550k/year Staff Engineers.

Source: Dated two. Used exceptions to do SAG/AFTRA show arriving at the must join status.


> If they meet eligibility requirements. Most don't.

You have to earn $15k/year to qualify for the lowest tier health plan. At the minimum rate you quoted, that's about 12 weeks of work. That doesn't seem unreasonable - hard to call yourself a professional actor yet if you can't book 12 weeks of work. Dues are only $220/year, so it's not like you're giving a ton of money to the union while you wait for a break.

> Sag week rate is ~$1166. That's 2020

That's still better money than waiting tables. About 2x California minimum wage.

> You are thinking of people who "made it" -- managed to land a long term gig on one of syndicated TV shows

Maybe I'm understanding this wrong, but it seems like anyone who is a "principal performer" is eligible for residuals. Even guest stars that speak one or 2 lines in a single episode of a long-running show will get something. I don't know the sums involved - maybe it's grocery money, for someone with that small of a part. But do you think a one-line performer would have gotten that negotiating by themselves? They'd be told to take a hike.


> You have to earn $15k/year to qualify for the lowest tier health plan. At the minimum rate you quoted, that's about 12 weeks of work.

That's work on a set. 12 weeks/year on a set is a huge number. To get to that point, one probably spent 2x the time on non-paid activities such as pounding pavement going on castings and auditions.

> That's still better money than waiting tables. About 2x California minimum wage.

Exactly! So the great achievement of the union is non-full time at 2x minimum wage with benefits tied to ~ 3 months of days on set.

That would be a massive downgrade for tech workers who are full time, at 4x - 10x the minimum wage. Options and RSUs would definitely go bye-bye.

> Even guest stars that speak one or 2 lines in a single episode of a long-running show will get something. I don't know the sums involved - maybe it's grocery money, for someone with that small of a part.

The best thing to be is an extra who said something on camera, because that automatically upgrades one to a principal by burning an exmeption.

Yes, everyone gets paid residuals but it is all based on the total units and total pay and who gets more units.


> To get to that point, one probably spent 2x the time on non-paid activities such as pounding pavement going on castings and auditions.

You make a fair point, have an upvote.

> That would be a massive downgrade for tech workers who are full time. Options and RSUs would definitely go bye-bye.

Why are you assuming that a hypothetical tech union would negotiate the same rates as SAG-AFTRA? There's no shortage of people wanting to become rich and famous as actors, singers, or other on-screen performers - and they've still managed to negotiate 2x minimum wage. Whereas there's a shortage of people wanting to be programmers.


> Whereas there's a shortage of people wanting to be programmers.

There is definitely no shortage of people who want to become programmers. There may be a shortage of people who are capable of becoming competent programmers, but I don't think so. There is definitely a shortage of people who meet the arbitrarily high bars set by many non-famous companies.


There's no shortage in people who want to work in tech even in the conditions that people of Kickstarter that voted for the union consider to be unacceptable. ( Pay scale, offices, perks )

The reason why general do X for me is so low on freelancing sites is because there in enormous supply which is currently restricted by the arbitrary rules of the employers who pay for those capricious restrictions though the nose. Tech unions are going to democratize this which is going to greatly negatively affect the current tech workers.


You may think you can do without a union if business is good and management OK. When shit hits the fan, that is when you'll learn that you need them.

I work in a German unionized company and I think unions can be quite well-aligned with workers and business interest.

IIRC certain aspects of US law make unions be the way they are in the US on purpose to lower their acceptance among employees. For example work councils which are commonly established in unionized companies aren't allowed in the US iirc, they can be a nice alternative from going all in into unionizing, a democratic representation of all employees.


Well. You can have all the free market leverage on the world, but without a union you cannot participate in regulatory capture and these days it is all that matters :)


It's not clear that these are really tech workers who voted for it. Half of Kickstarter's employees are designers/coders and the other half work with the community [1]. Since one of the unionization organizers worked on Trust and Safety, I wonder if that's also how the vote was split.

[1] https://www.kickstarter.com/team


Athletes need unions because sports organizations are a legal monopoly. All of the employees - the owners - set rules in concert.

When you graduate from college, you decide what company you want to apply for. You don’t have to participate in a draft where different employers have already decided the order they are going to make you an offer.

Also all sports team share some of their revenue streams.


Those may be the stated reasons for a union, but for some reason, in tech, workers just want a union because they want to inject their political views into their company:

> But in 2018, a heated disagreement broke out between employees and management about whether to leave a project called “Always Punch Nazis” on the platform, according to reporting in Slate. When Breitbart said the project violated Kickstarter’s terms of service by inciting violence, management initially planned to remove the project, but then reversed its decision after protest from employees.

> Following the controversy, employees announced their intentions to unionize


And? the workers are the ones producing the platform, not the CEO or board members. It's well within their purview to inject politics if they communally agree upon it.


My point it has nothing to do with traditional motivations for unionizing that everyone is discussing. Also, workers definitely have nothing to do with deciding whether whether some content is appropriate. It has nothing to do with workplace conditions or collective bargaining. They aren't the ones who lose money when Republicans drop Kickstarter.


I ask again, and? Unionization is collective action by a group of workers. It will provide them the ability to negotiate future issues (i.e. not wanting to host Nazi kickstarters). Of course they have everything to lose if kickstarter loses money, the first people laid off aren't CEOs.

No workers = No Kickstarter. That's it.


No they don't lose anything. Kickstarter can't claw back their wages. Unlike, a factory worker, they can easily find another job.

They get paid a salary to do a job, not to protest business decisions. If they want to protest something, they can, but they shouldn't expect any protection from being fired because they're literally refusing to do the job they were paid to do. Do you think a book store employees should receive protection for moving all the books on evolution to the fiction section?


What's wrong with workers protesting business decisions? Ignore the culture war angle for a second; what if they were protesting apolitical business decisions from management that they believe would be calamitous to the financial fortunes of the firm? What if there is mismanagement at play? Then what's the recourse besides organizing for collective action- Speaking up at all hands, just to get rebuffed? Leaking bad news to the press? Breaking the chain of command and reporting to the board directly?

Long have engineers and other workers complained of clueless MBAs. Why go to bat for the pointy-haired bosses? Haven't you ever worked at an org where product leadership screwed up, leading to layoffs anyway? Or management overruled the technical concerns of the engineers? Or pushed them towards something that was simply unsound for the product and the business as a whole? Pursued strategy by fiat, where the only check against their power is the board?

People imagine tech unions will just be a rehash of Industrial Era blue collar unions, but they have the potential to be something more- a way for the rank and file to finally have the clout to push back against bad engineering decisions from poor leadership.

There is at least one example that comes to mind where a union forces corporate leadership to make business decisions that could potentially help the company stay competitive- and thus protect all of their jobs:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13986889

Finally, as shareholders themselves, why shouldn't employees protest against questionable business decisions? What stake do they have in a company if they are expected to unthinkingly carry out orders?


The Kickstarter campaign was worse than I thought: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/282505033/always-punch-...

The back cover (near the bottom of the page) clarifies that "Nazi" includes everyone who is alt-right. It describes itself as "satirical," but you can say that about anything blatantly offensive.


if you want to unionize go ahead, i'm not though. I believe a lot of tech works would prefer not to be union and have to deal with all the BS plus dues. I can negotiate on my own pretty well so knock yourself out but i won't be signing up.


> I can negotiate on my own pretty well

No, you can't. A union can collectively say "no programming will be done on behalf of the company if you don't give us what we want". You can't do that.


Well the union has no incentive to do that individually on your behalf.


Athletic unions are generally there because the top leagues are monolithic, there aren't other places to go with similar compensation. It's sort of a different playing field.


In tech the monolithic nature arises differently.

The Top Companies pay X, and that sets the ceiling for most people's wages. The difficulty of getting into Top Companies means that most other companies know they can pay somewhat less than that.

Although it's claimed there's a talent shortage and in theory that would cause engineers to be able to negotiate for large salaries, most businesses just don't think that deeply about it. You can't negotiate with someone who just doesn't care that the math works out in their favor. Many managers in my experience have anchor points on salaries that they just will not go beyond regardless of the quality of the candidate. The salary spread for junior to super-super-senior developer is only about 50% (100k-150k or 120k-200k), whereas the productivity difference may commonly be much greater.

Lastly, there is de facto price fixing. Human Resources Departments do "salary surveys" of what all the other companies are paying and then try to pay their employees around the same amount. Even though this isn't official "collusion", the effect is the same. And if 1 or 2 small companies buck the trend, it doesn't change the overall market.


Okay, so you have 2 options to make dollar money as an engineer: Google & Facebook.

Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon pay well, but 10-20% less for the same level. There's a handful of others that will pay about 20-40% less. The average startup is paying 40-70% less.

And, sure, you'll always run into some startup that's paying one or two engineers a million dollars.

Stephon Marbury made more money when he left the NBA to play in China. Doesn't mean the average player can or does.

Anyone making league average in the NBA could play in Europe or China for 40-70% less.

Not sure what the difference is...


I don't think those options are the only ones and I think your numbers are dramatically far off for everything.


Those aren't the only options anymore, Netflix is for instance famous for compensating very well, and large startups can be competitive too. https://www.levels.fyi/


> Why not negotiate for a better workplace?

Well, that depends on what the union is negotiating for.

I can think of many things that a union might democraticly negotiate for that I would strong oppose.

Things such as putting of barriers to entry, like requiring a degree, or keeping our bootcampers, might be "beneficial" to the union members, but would be an absolute deal breaker to me.

The moment a union tried to pull up the ladder, and do something like that, is the moment that I attempt to sabotage everything that they do, regardless of the union democratically negotiating to screw over new developers.


A comment on #2 would also be that you should organize and enshrine your rights when you have the power, not when you're weak. Developers are powerful now, can possibly become weak later.


A union also tends to mean that you get paid for the # of years you worked your job, not how good you are.

This is a good thing for the bottom 50% of workers, and a bad thing for the top 50% of workers.

Does this union do anything to address that? Is pay still fully merit based?


This is completely false.

Union wage agreements are based on what union members want.

For blue-collar unions, this usually means seniority-based scales.

For white-collar unions, this usually means experience-based scales (which differs from seniority because it's not job-specific; any job in the field counts).

For talent-based unions like SAG or NFLPA, this means minimum scales with no cap on maximum potential earnings.


Do you know people in a union like SAG or the other entertainment type unions? It seems super not awesome for a lot of people. I know people working their way through the lower tiers. You often get a choice of <work on non-union production for $15 an hour, or work on union production for minimum union pay (which is < $15 an hour), and earn your hours needed to eventually become part of the union>. If you make it all the way through that dance INTO the union, it can help you coast and get a steady paycheck. And yes, it is a fact that lower tiers of people are abused in the US. But I would rather deal with that with universal healthcare, vs promoting unions to argue for better health benefits.

You are technically correct in that unions can be any agreement that the founders. Sure. However I see a union for programmers looking a lot more like a union for autoworkers than a union for actors.

What country has a successful union for computer programmers? Are the top 10% of performers better compensated than the top 10% of developers in the US? As far as I can tell, developers in the US have the best compensation of anywhere on earth. I can't imagine why I would ever want to join a programmer union.


> However I see a union for programmers looking a lot more like a union for autoworkers than a union for actors.

Why? That's your opinion, we're talking about a hypothetical organization that hasn't been attempted in the U.S. until the OP. It's all up in the air and speculative right now, there are many ways in which a tech union might shake out.

> What country has a successful union for computer programmers?

You might as well have asked a decade ago what country has built a successful mainstream electric car, or a program that could replace taxis or hotels, or a reusable space rocket. Like these things before they were invented, a tech union would be a new innovation, a new type of entity, that will need to be evaluated on its own real-world merits in the future. Right now critics prematurely shooting down the idea are constrained by imperfect comparisons to different types of unions created in different industries in different times.

> As far as I can tell, developers in the US have the best compensation of anywhere on earth.

For the time being. Economic tumult and technological change can easily alter this reality. What goes up must come down. So one should seek to future-proof and at least consider long-term safeguards, instead of assuming the good times will always be present.

> I can't imagine why I would ever want to join a programmer union.

Have you read this discussion at all? There's been many, many motivations for why a tech union- or a guild or some other professional association that works on behalf of tech workers- should exist, and compensation is only one of them.


Why do unions have to have seniority rules? Certainly next-gen unions can pursue a different model.


Unions do not like members being graded. I do not run a union, so I am not sure why that is. May be worth asking some of them.


In my opinion, unions are just a way to destroy property. If you want really improve your life, gather people and leave the company, start a business, the same business, why not and put all the improvements there. But unionize is plainly silly.


> Some issues are systemic across an industry.

The biggest problems I have with this industry most developers don't want fixed. So unless a union offers something like a certification, licensing, or credentialing program for its members, like the security industry does, I don't see a union solving the software industry problems most frustrating to me. A license or certification is valuable because it provides a common platform of competencies that raises the value of the union members in the workforce, requires documented continuing education, and ensures a common criteria of best practices that reinforces the business value of the union to business entities.


Developers don't want this because 1) at least in the US, our educational system is prohibitively costly, and your solution proposes putting the cost of that on developers, including not having time off for education, and 2) that's mostly a problem for employers, not developers--I'm quite capable of working with poorly-qualified and poorly-skilled developers and my work looks better by comparison.

You're proposing that developers pay to solve their employers' problem.

I don't think you'd find many developers who object to their employers paying for education and giving them time off to pursue that education.


> You're proposing that developers pay to solve their employers' problem.

Education is completely orthogonal to licensing or certification. If education is your primary basis of qualification then you are at best a beginner.

I am proposing that developers pay to justify higher wages and cut through subjective hiring bullshit as part of their union dues they would pay for anyways to be a member of said union. When have you ever seen software candidate selection be at least partially objective?

The rest of your points don't make any sense. You don't need any education to be a developer. For example, I am completely self taught. I have also worked with some incredibly talented developers who have no college at all. How do you, objectively speaking, determine if that makes somebody less or more qualified? You don't, because there isn't any objective measure by which to rate qualification.

Without some value added quality like licensing why would I ever pay union wages when I could simply jump ship and go work somewhere else? Every time I have changed employers my wages have gone up by 10% or more.

I also suspect the developers who are most strongly opposed to licensing or certification are those who have never completed a certification in any field.


> I am proposing that developers pay to justify higher wages and cut through subjective hiring bullshit

Why is that a problem developers need to solve? A bad hiring process hurts the company much more than developers.

> The rest of your points don't make any sense. You don't need any education to be a developer. For example, I am completely self taught. I have also worked with some incredibly talented developers who have no college at all.

That's good for you and them, but if you have certifications, there are going to be tests for those certifications, and people are going to want an effective way to learn the material necessary to pass those tests. I've taught myself things, and I've learned things from teachers, and the latter is much faster for me and most people. So if you want me to get a certification, I'm going to want you to pay for me to take a class geared toward that certification. Certification classes = education.

I'll also point out that a bachelor's degree in CS is a certification, which you seem to think isn't much of a value added. So which is it: are certifications a value added or not?

> Without some value added quality like licensing

How is licensing an added value for developers?

> I also suspect the developers who are most strongly opposed to licensing or certification are those who have never completed a certification in any field.

I'm not opposed to certification. I'm opposed to requiring certifications in order to work in development, and then forcing would-be developers to pay for it. I learned a lot in my J2EE certification class when my employer paid for it, and while I don't think I've ever even put that on my resumé, the knowledge gained does show up sometimes in these non-objective interviews you're complaining about. :)


> Why is that a problem developers need to solve? A bad hiring process hurts the company much more than developers.

Its not well thought out company policies that interview and hire people. Generally its other developers insecurely biasing their decisions on subjective considerations for their personal preferences. That hurts the company and potential candidates, but this is still how software hiring works in most cases.

> I'll also point out that a bachelor's degree in CS is a certification

No it isn't. A medical degree is not a medical license and a law degree isn't a law license. No education is a real estate or truck driver license, though both of those licenses demand some form of education. Hopefully the education has prepared you for both the real world and for the licensing, but clearly this is often not the case in practice, at least in software.


> > Why is that a problem developers need to solve? A bad hiring process hurts the company much more than developers.

> Its not well thought out company policies that interview and hire people. Generally its other developers insecurely biasing their decisions on subjective considerations for their personal preferences. That hurts the company and potential candidates, but this is still how software hiring works in most cases.

You're not answering my question: Why is this developers' problem? Sounds like a problem for companies, not developers. If you think this solves a problem companies have, then companies should pay for it, not developers.

> > I'll also point out that a bachelor's degree in CS is a certification

> No it isn't. A medical degree is not a medical license and a law degree isn't a law license. No education is a real estate or truck driver license, though both of those licenses demand some form of education. Hopefully the education has prepared you for both the real world and for the licensing, but clearly this is often not the case in practice, at least in software.

Okay, if your definition of a certification is that it's required for employment, then why not just require a CS bachelors for employment as a software developer? If you answer that, you have the answer for why people are against certifications.

Yes, interviews are subjective and ineffective in identifying suitable candidates, but a) I'm not sure why you think that this is a problem developers should solve rather than employers, and b) I'm not sure why you think a standardized certification would be less subjective. If anything, a standard certification is going to be much poorer at identifying candidates suitable for companies, since specific companies have specific needs.


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