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Bye, Amazon (tbray.org)
3816 points by grey-area 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 1097 comments



It's a wake up call, or at least an attempt at that, for the likes of Amazon that if they are looking to have reputable people, like Tim Bray, associate themselves and their name with you, there are certain standards that have to be met.

Amazon, MS, Google, Apple, etc. rank among the most wealthy companies in the world and they've each had to deal with internal pressures where their employees voiced concerns about certain things or where there was some kind of whistle blower situation. And they each dealt with it in their own ways.

IMHO firing whistle blowers is the kind of action that should be called out as very negative and not something to be apologetic about.

So, I admire what Tim Bray is doing here and fully understand that he's having a hard time justifying working for what he's diplomatically not quite calling out as aholes; though the undertone is quite clear.

Of course as he is pointing out, he's in a position where he can afford to do so financially. But then, being able to and actually doing are two things and he's showing some back bone here by 1) walking away and taking a hit financially, and 2) writing about it in the hope that leadership steps up and acts to correct the situation: compensate individuals affected, offer to rehire them, and discipline executives involved in pushing this through. Unlikely to happen, but one can hope for someone with a backbone stepping up. It would be the right thing to do. At the minimum, they've just been exposed for what they are and that might have consequences elsewhere for them.


> IMHO firing whistle blowers is the kind of action that should be called out as very negative and not something to be apologetic about.

Agree 100%. Daylight is the best disinfectant, especially in publicly traded companies. Every CEO, CMO, etc loves white-knighting ("We care about the environment/our employees!") until the shareholders start calling. Then they're the first to start covering up problems.

That's not to say that you can't have your cake and eat it too - the first place to start is that these corporations have to be honest with themselves and their shareholders about social commitments and financial returns.


> Daylight is the best disinfectant

Shame about all the deplatforming then


Sunshine as disinfectant only works if the corrupt parties have some sense of shame; they change their behaviour when exposed.

Providing a platform for vile attention-seekers doesn't make them less vile. They have no shame.


I think there's some truth in that. But it also assumes that the consumer (of whatever crap they're spewing) isn't smart enough to understand or see this. IDK - I think most people are capable of seeing through it _provided_ they are exposed to counterpoints. That's not to say that there shouldn't be some level of monitoring. Obviously someone breaking an egregious law and posting it on YouTube should have their post taken down. Admittedly there's probably grey area in that too.

What worries me about content policing and deplatforming is that now the companies that run the platform become the de facto police. And as we see in this very post and many of the associated comments that is a very, very dangerous thing.

EDIT: clarity


The point of not deplatforming people and keeping them in "sunlight" is NOT that they can keep getting shamed by others.

Its that a dialog can happen and people change there minds.

But sadly like you shown its not about finding a solution but winning, feeling superior and dragging other people down.


It's not about them, it's about the viewers of the content. They don't need to be protected and can decide for themselves.


https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-52164358 Obviously some people can't.


That includes people who think they can control what others decide.


Yes, I agree that deplatforming is a bad tactic. That's how you get a bunch of crybullies playing the victim card and complaining about censorship even in unrelated topics.


You are saying this in a very heavily moderated online forum. So HN would be better without this censorship/deplatforming/moderation?


Not sure why you're getting downvoted. Unfortunately this exists. And before I get downvoted (for obvious political reasons) I acknowledge that it happens on both sides.


Do you think this statement makes sense?


> Of course as he is pointing out, he's in a position where he can afford to do so financially

I'd just want to point out that the workers who are in the middle are the ones who can afford to do so financially and have the power to make management change things. If you're a programmer and make decent money, consider not putting yourself in a position where you must compromise your morals, such as accepting the company you work for firing whistleblowers over poor work conditions. $100k in the bank makes it a hell of a lot easier to decide to organize.


Also why a FAANG anticompetitive stranglehold on tech is so horrifying. If you speak out against Amazon, will another tech giant hire you? Probably not...


There are alternatives though. You tend to get paid a lot if the work is very dangerous, soul-devouring, only very few people can do it, or you're expected to look the other way.

When you pass on working on the new team that uses ML to predict the likelihood of workers knowing their rights based on resume and application cover letter, you may not make the $400k total comp next year, but it's not like you'll be unemployed either. There's plenty of work at pretty normal companies to be done. They won't pay as good, it may not sounds as impressive and you may have to explain at family dinners what your company does, but it's an option.


The DoJ needs to bring it's antitrust division to bear on Amazon.

https://www.justice.gov/atr


I will.


Cool, so don't work for them.

At a minimum, Facebook, Amazon and Google should be split up.

Apple are trying to kill general purpose computing.

Netflix - well, they're just selling sugar water, I suppose they're the best of a bad bunch.


Netflix as opposed to some other streaming service or cable? What makes them bad?


Is it a wake up call?

You can clearly see from the comments that many people here are still very much on the "but they're employees ... why would they have any rights? if they complain just crush them into paste to oil the machines" camp.

The occasional high profile person quitting one of the big tech companies because of their constant illegal employee/whistleblower abuse happens regularly at this point. Is Tim Bray's particularly different in some way I'm not seeing?


I think the next big revolution in political thinking will be the debate over the question of whether money is amoral. If I spend a dollar by giving it to someone, what does that enable them to do? What behaviors does that encourage and reinforce?

I think a lot of people would say that at some level money is moral (don't pay terrorist organizations or render services for them) but that distinction blurs as we get closer to mundane, real-life concerns like spending money at Amazon, Wal-Mart, or Whole Foods. I think it gets blurry because of desensitization and the need for folks to feel like they're not screwing over others during the normal course of their life. But the fact is that capital enables behaviors in a capitalist economic system, so allocating the capital you have control over is necessarily a moral act.


Spending dollars is one thing but I think it's doubly-true for investing. The usual advice about investing if you're not an expert is to invest in index funds like VTI, which I think is sensible as far as prudent investment goes, but on the other hand I feel bad knowing my money is being used to "maximize shareholder value" without regard to the moral choices made by those companies.


"There's no such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism" comes to mind. Even if some folks are in a position to spend all of their money in ways that align with their values (which seems impossible given the extent of global supply chains), it's out of reach for the vast majority until systemic change is realized.


Very true. But it's necessary to make the first point explicit so that we can make the jump from "citizens, vote with your wallet" to "citizens, ensure that the government only deploys capital in ways you agree with".


Totally agree. Realized my earlier comment could be read as suggesting inaction or complacency, which wasn't the point I was trying to make at all. Everyone should be acting with their wallet where and when they can and pushing corporations to behave ethically while keeping in mind the sort of behaviors encouraged by the larger structures at play.


I don't think Amazon is going to have any trouble at all filling open headcount with talented people on account of maintaining a politics-free workplace.

It's become fashionable in tech among a certain crowd to bombard coworkers with divisive messaging about controversial social issues, to leak confidential information to sympathetic external press, and to demonize anyone who objects. This practice must end, and I admire Bezos for having the guts to end it. Companies have every right to ask employees to focus on work at work.

If being one of these "reputable people" you mention requires me to be a cheerleader for this kind of strident and obnoxious internal activism, I don't want to be "reputable".


It sounds like you think that the concern about Amazon is primarily about working conditions in the cushy office jobs. But that's not what anyone is talking about here. They're talking about frontline "essential" workers like those in the warehouses and delivery trucks.


While I agree with much of what you say, I feel that speaking out against serious problems with working conditions and the media should always be an option. For the boots on the ground workers, ever more so.

For those in well paying, white collar jobs with plenty of other opportunities, even in the current climate, quitting with an exit statement is more appropriate than trying to burn it down from the inside.

I respect the exec in question, and the warehouse workers who speak out. The idological opportunists pushing an agenda, not so much.


This quickly begins to sound like a 21st century “we were only following orders” argument, no?


No, because they obviously didn't and quit.


> Companies have every right to ask employees to focus on work at work.

I’m responding to this claim, maybe we’re talking about different things? My point is really: What if the “work” is running trains to death camps? Shouldn’t employees object? If you believe climate change is as big a threat as scientists claim, I think workers building tools to help fossil fuel extraction have a duty by this historical argument to not “run the trains” or not just “focus on work at work”.


> ...discipline executives

Reminds of the classic and very public Amazon exec feud, Kivin Varghese v Munira Rahemtulla: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8600716


I don't think many people in amazon agree with Tim Bray. The pragmatic ones know that these kind of stories have a heavy political overtone , but more importantly amazon probably have better conditions than all other retailers in the world. Granted it is not perfect but a more meaningful way to change the condition of minimum wage or low wage laborers is through legislative changes or basic income schemes.


By "many people in amazon", you don't mean those "minimum wage or low wage laborers" in the warehouses, right?

I suspect most of them who know about it appreciate Tim Bray standing up for them and consider it a "meaningful way".

I don't understand what you are saying is a "more meaningful way" than what. You are saying keeping your mouth shut at work and just calling your legislator is a "more meaningful way to change the conditions"?

That's a nice story to tell yourself when you want to preserve your good salary and safe working conditions that the workers in the warehouse don't have. I couldn't really say if most well-paid employees at Amazon agree or not, I'm not familiar with enough of them.

But if we can't learn to protect each other, we've got nothing. This is not a test.


> more importantly amazon probably have better conditions than all other retailers in the world

That's not possible, the US has the worst worker protection laws in the world, it's really quite an undeveloped country in that regard.


Source needed on that first claim. I've spent a decent amount of time in some developing countries and I came out with no confidence that these types of labor laws are ordinarily enforced, if they even exist. I think you grossly overestimate these protections for relatively low-skilled labor outside of the developed world.

I'm not taking the claim you replied to at face value (it's exceedingly extreme to even be plausibly true) but they at least included a "probably" to allow for some doubt.


he's talking about the firing of whistleblowers though


I think it’s more likely that smart people understand that speaking out or appearing to be in open dissent to the way amazon works is not a wise career move. Seems like a perfectly reasonable place to expect widespread preference falsification.


>It's a wake up call, or at least an attempt at that, for the likes of Amazon that if they are looking to have reputable people, like Tim Bray, associate themselves and their name with you, there are certain standards that have to be met.

Prominent VCs are calling for people to get back to work every day on Twitter. The rest of the world is waking up to these people, but we have a long way to go before Silicon Valley cares.


It is surprising that the rest of the world is already woke, but the software engineers in these companies have not risen to the reality yet. And that has led to their successful manipulation of neglecting anything but money.


"It is impossible to get someone to believe something when their salary depends on them not believing it" and all that.

It's exactly what you should expect.


> IMHO firing whistle blowers is the kind of action that should be called out as very negative and not something to be apologetic about.

do you mean "and something to be apologetic about"? the two clauses in this line seem to be contradictory the way I'm reading it.


"making apologies for", or to be "an apologist", in this context is someone who defends a controversial idea. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/apologist


My read sees an implied "apologies are not enough."


not sure, but maybe they mean apologetic in the sense of being an apologist?


I assume he means not being apologetic about calling it out.


My personal snapping point as a consumer occurred several years ago, over something that's definitely not anecdotal:

When Amazon employees are frisked at the end of their shift (which is a practice that applies to at least some warehouses), they are not paid for the time they spend waiting in line to be frisked. This is not an anecdote; indeed Amazon fought and won a court case insisting that it has the right to not compensate employees for this time. (See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-amazon-com/u-s-...)


Yes for me too. The fact that Amazon is so cheap that they want employees to sit around for 20-30 minutes after their shift unpaid to get searched to make sure they aren't stealing blew me away. It is one thing if Amazon wants to do this and pay their employees, but to not pay is wrong.

And they felt so strongly about this they appealed a case all the way to the Supreme Court... That was the snapping point for me too and I have not ordered from them in a long time.


> they felt so strongly about this they appealed a case all the way to the Supreme Court.

The felt confident that they were right about it and the SC confirmed it. It's classic double standards if you celebrate one winner at the SC and condemn others based on your political/ideological opinion.


You can be satisfied or disappointed with a result in the supreme court without making the court your moral authority.

It can be both legal and wrong. No need for a "double standard".


> The fact that Amazon is so cheap

you mean the company that pays high wages?


You have a very myopic view of what Amazon is and what roles the majority of its labor force occupy.

The bulk of Amazon's workforce are delivery drivers, warehouse workers, and datacenter rats. They are not paid fairly. It's pretty obvious from the numbers. For more supporting evidence, read TFA.



That was a consequence of relentless campaign, but it was not necessarily an raise for the workers. They essentially traded a form of compensations for another.

Also 15 dollars per hour can be high or not depending where you live.


Yes. That one


Where do you draw the line? Should people be compensated for their commute? It's an interesting debate that has emerged in airports as well: https://www.talbottlawfirm.com/does-an-employer-have-to-pay-...


Commute is partially under the control of the worker, where I decide to live has a huge impact on how long my commute is. I can freely decide to trade commute for money, making it my responsibility.

Waiting in line to be frisked is something mandated by the employer. They control whether or not I have to do it, and how long the lines are. Since it’s under their control, it’s their financial responsibility.


That’s a bit disingenuous when short commutes are literally not affordable to some of the people we’re talking about.


But no employer would force you to have long commutes.

It may be impossible in some cases to have short commutes, but if, even by chance, you managed to move in the same building as your office no one would force you to go through the metro.

Commutes are clearly a grey area, waiting times to be let "free" are less so.


Waiting to be frisked is not analogous to commuting at all.

If amazon isn't paying for your time in line, they have no incentive to make it fast. They can invest the bare minimum to protect their own interests, and fuck over their worker who have to wait in line. If they had to pay workers for their time then there is an incentive for them to make the line move quickly.

I can't imagine a setup that is more hostile to your fellow humans as forcing them to waste unpaid time.


I think that reveals the motive: they don't want the line to be fast.

Isn't the purpose of the screens less about catching bad actors and more about cultivating a culture of fear/suspicion, and hopefully getting a few effective informants out of the thing?

If the lines go to 2 minutes, or I get paid while in them, where's my incentive to rat out a coworker?


my mom used to defend chicken plants on this issue - should workers be paid for the time they spend donning and doffing their smocks and hairnets? the law was ambiguous -- I was put through college on the money from these cases!

One of these cases eventually made its way to the Supreme Court [0], but they ruled (in favor of the plaintiffs) about the validity of the collective action, not about whether the Fair Labor Standards Act covered donning and doffing (it does, at least so I believe.)

It seems like donning and doffing is considered as time worked because it's a "principal activity" under the FLSA [1], and that includes waiting time. Seems like being frisked would be a "principal activity" as well - it's essentially doffing - so waiting time would be included too.

Someone could make a pretty penny bringing a collective suit against Amazon over this.

0. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyson_Foods,_Inc._v._Bouaphake...

1. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/field-assistance-bulletins/...


To me, if you are not free to walk out the door and do whatever you please, you have an obligation to an employer, and are therefore working. I worked a college job fixing bowling equipment and they tried to make me clock out for my meals. I refused unless I was then free to leave the building. As if I have to be there on call then I am still working.

Amazon is not allowing these people to walk out the door and go home. That is taking their time for company policies. So that is working.


A worker has some control over their commute. That same worker cannot enact any control over security practices. We do compensate employees for commuting to somewhere other than their usual place of work.


To me, the door of the building seems to be a pretty clear line.

For a fixed location job, the commute is fully under control of the employee and fair not to count as hours.

For variable location jobs like in construction, my view is that potential additional commute time should be compensated.


Should people be compensated for the time they brush their teeth or have breakfast?

Of course not.

Once you step into your work, you should be paid for your time. Especially when you have no control over that.


If your employer mandates that you take a certain route to work? And that route takes you more time? Then yes, a line is crossed and you should be compensated.


To be fair, almost every single major retail establishment has this same policy. Many of which have also been fined. This is no where near unique to Amazon.


Apple did this too, until they lost a lawsuit: https://9to5mac.com/2020/02/13/apple-retail-bag-search-rulin.... Just because it's not unique doesn't mean Amazon shouldn't change their behavior.


So what? 'They're doing it too' doesn't excuse bad behavior, whether in the schoolyard or the multinational business world.


"It's legal, so what is everyone complaining about?"

Law != ethics


> See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-amazon-com/u-s-....

Where is the 2014 Supreme Court ruling mentioned by this article?


Something went wrong with your link, replacing a large part of it with "..". I think this is the unmangled link [1].

Anyway, there wasn't actually a Supreme Court ruling. The workers appealed their loss in the appellate court to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Aside from a few specific types of cases the Supreme Court has discretionary jurisdiction rather than mandatory jurisdiction. This was one of those discretionary jurisdiction cases.

When they decline to take a case they generally do not give a reason. It may be because they think the appellate court got it right and there is nothing more to say on the issue. On the other hand, it may be because they think the appellate court is not right but what is right is not clear and they want to see the issue arise in other districts and see what the appellate courts in those other districts decide before they take a case on the issue. Or they may be ready to tackle the issue, but they just don't like this particular case as a vehicle for deciding the issue and want to wait for a case that would work better.

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-amazon-com/u-s-...



Thanks.


I always think it is a bit odd when a company wins a case like this, but then people blame the company, not the court or the law.

Not saying, that you don't disagree with the courts decisions, but I keep getting this feeling especially from the US. Why do people realistically expect a company to not stretch things as far as legally possible? I get why libertarians would see it this way, but everyone else?


You seem to be conflating blameworthiness and predictability. True story: I know a guy who's a real scumbag, just constantly taking advantage of people who don't know better and abusing those who do know better. I fully expect this person to do a lot of contemptible things. My ability to anticipate his behavior doesn't make me like him any more for it. And the fact that the law doesn't punish a particular misbehavior doesn't shift the blame for his behavior onto the law.

In short: It is not ethical to do whatever you can get away with. You can choose to ignore questions of ethics, but if that's how you choose to live your life, expect to have a lot of people hate your guts. People treating you like a monster is a predictable consequence of living like a monster. This doesn't stop being true just because the choices are being made by multiple people under the banner of a corporation.


A case can be made that making profitable misconduct legal DOES force businesses to misbehave because those that don't take full advantage of the law will be at a disadvantage to those who do.

Furthermore, shaming one company to change its practices voluntarily does little to help workers at other companies subjected to the same thing.

So we really should push to change the law with more urgency than we use to push any give single employer.


First, I agree with your conclusion. The way to address this is to change the law, pushing individual corporation is ineffective.

However, you DON'T have to maximize your profits above all other corporations. There's no such actual fiduciary duty and there never could be. That's the point the poster is trying to make - something being legal doesn't make it ethical and acting in a unethical, but legal, manner does not absolve you of contempt.


If you have no competition, you do have the luxury to choose between profitable and ethical. But if you have fierce competition, there isn't always a choice - market forces will drive out the more principled operators of business in favor of those that are more ruthless.


If you are in a position of power, why should you care whether people hate your guts? And only people that don't depend on you or that don't benefit from a good relationship with you will treat you like a monster.

There is quite the discrepancy for example in European history between royals acting like monsters and people treating them as such. Sure, eventually you'll have the people grab the pitchforks and roll out the guillotine, but you might not want to wait that long.

How much true accountability is there for those people making the choices under the banner of the corporations?

In my opinion, big part of what law should be, whoever is in charge of enforcing it, is a set of rules based on societies ethical compass. If someone can get away taking advantage and abusing others, this begs the question if those acts are in fact unethical, or if the the law needs updating.

It is not about shifting blame for behavior onto the law, but how you decide what behavior is blameworthy and should be punished. And I much prefer having a at least a somewhat transparent formalized system for this over Mob justice.


Lynching slaves was immoral, unethical and "blameworthy" before it became illegal.


And did it stop because people felt bad about themselves doing so or because some people were pointing fingers at them?

Look, I absolutely agree that something can be and often is immoral, unethical and "blameworthy" before it is illegal, and maybe my non-native English is a bit clunky.

But I do not care about having the moral high ground. I care about continued bad behavior having consequences, society protecting itself from bad actors. This can indeed be done trough various means (non exhaustive):

- Create incentives to act in a more desired way

- Call for boycotts and shunning them socially to try to force them to change

- Change the environment so bad behavior no longer provides benefits

- Create / update law

- Actually enforce the existing law

- Having increasingly big protest movements up to revolution / civil war scale

I'm fine with any combination of those depending on context and/or as different steps of escalation. I just think a bunch of people voicing anger at corporations on the internet doesn't do anything and, on the other hand, in a lot of places the situation is not bad enough to justify violence yet. So I lean towards a middle way using the instruments of these supposed democracies to change things.


> Why do people realistically expect a company to not stretch things as far as legally possible?

What I expect people to do, what the standards I hold people to are often different.

I expect Amazon to push things as far as they are able. I strongly dislike them because of it. My standards of acceptable conduct are above "barely legal" conduct. My expectations are below legal conduct.

I also can blame two entities for this outcome. The law and the courts are awful for allowing this to stand as the settled law on the matter. I blame them for the situation. Amazon is also awful for pushing the law to this point and taking advantage of it. I blame them for the situation, too.


I think, putting acceptable conduct above barely legal conduct for corporations is how they get away with pretty much everything.

A bunch of people on internet being mad at them has in my opinion not proven very effective at changing their behavior and making the people in charge accountable for their acts.


>Why do people realistically expect a company to not stretch things as far as legally possible?

Because doing the right thing is different from doing the legal thing.

If you're only interested in maximizing your profits under the umbrella of law, you are, by definition, not interested in acting morally. Which means you're probably doing many things that many people would consider immoral.

It's a mismatch of motivations.


If the law sufficiently formalizes and enforces a societies moral compass, acting under its umbrella would be, by definition, moral.


And if the real world could even hypothetically fulfill such a requirement, you would have had a point.


Completely anecdotal.

It's possible some Amazon Warehouses are run better than others. A friend who recently got a job (5 weeks ago) at one of Amazons warehouses (NJ/NYC area) has only praise for the way things are run. They take his temperature 3 times a day, provide a mask, constantly monitor social distancing, clean washrooms every hour, enforce social distancing in any break rooms, work areas, etc. He says it's never an issue with breaks, lunch, etc. He has mentioned that they encourage him to keep an eye out for other positions he might have an interest in since he is eligible (after 30 days)to apply (he has some skills that can be more useful to Amazon).

I was always under the assumption from what I have read that Amazon was a sweat shop. It seems that at least his facility is run very well.


Bray didn't quit over the conditions in the warehouses, he quit over Amazon's brazen and dishonest firings of organizers.

It's possible that if every Amazon warehouse were run as well, those organizers would not have arisen, but it's Amazon nastiness toward them that's most alarming.


Even the best run un-unionized factories have unions trying to get workers to organize.

To pretend that unions (leadership) haven't become just as obsessed with growth and power as corporations are, misses a huge part of the various incentives at play here.


> a huge part of the various incentives at play here

Do you have any evidence to support this? Anecdotal evidence will not suffice here. Calling this a 'huge' factor demands empirical evidence.

So what justifies this assertion?


Have you considered the possibility that Amazon actually treats their workers okay and that it's the organizers are dishonest? Why does the presumption of evil only go in one direction?


Well Amazon has a history of mistreating workers. So, why do we think they are likely mistreating workers? It's because they have a long & well-document track record of doing so.

https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/16/17243026/amazon-warehouse...

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/11/amazo...

https://time.com/5629233/amazon-warehouse-employee-treatment...

And the wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Amazon


* cough *

It goes on to give tips to managers for spotting union activity. “Make it a point to regularly talk to associates in the break room. This will help protect you from accusations that you were only in the break room to spy on pro union associates,” the video says.

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/22/how-amazon-is-fighting-back-...

On internal company email lists and chat groups on Thursday and Friday that Recode viewed, Amazon white-collar workers expressed dismay over a report from Vice News that the company’s top lawyer had referred to a recently fired warehouse worker as “not smart, or articulate” and implied that executives should use that to help squelch worker unionization efforts.

https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/4/5/21206385/amazon-fired-wa...


Stop quoting Vox as if they are a reliable news source. They are the ones who mocked tech workers initially for taking COVID seriously: https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/2/13/21128209/coronavirus-fe...


At risk at piling on to something that's already being downvoted, this is an extremely facile take. Nothing in the article you linked was "mocking" tech workers for being worried in mid-February. The word you are looking for is "reporting" on that situation, and also including in that report that officials at that time, in mid-February, said that while there was "always a risk" that these fears were likely overblown. Dragging Vox for accurately reporting what many experts said at the time is dragging them for not being prescient enough to know that the experts were wrong. And to top it all off, that's something that Vox is actively concerned about, given that the last episode of the Ezra Klein Show was a conversation with NYT writer Charlie Warzel about the media's response to the pandemic and how difficult it is to handle this sort of situation.


Yeah - keep on reading Vox and feel enlightened.

You literally are the reason why poor publications like Vox get a free pass. Here, if you don't believe me, read this thread and check yourself (https://twitter.com/balajis/status/1228447944287932416?s=20). And don't tell me now that Balaji is not trustworthy. He is 100x more trustworthy than a random HN user like you.


Well, it's sure great that a random HN user like you vouches for him.


[flagged]


I've watched you comment similarly around here - what if salaries in the US matched the EU? What if quality of life equalized across the globe?

Well, so what? Would we outsource jobs if the entire world was unionized? Doesn't it make sense to promote worker's rights for everyone? If I was a blue collar American worker adopting your position, here is the most rational actions I should take to support it:

> As a blue collar American worker, my not unionizing ensures my company doesn't have to worry about diminishing their massively outsized bargaining position in my labor conditions. The better the labor conditions of my competition, that being laborers in China and India, the less likely my job will be outsourced to those countries. I should either take actions that increase the labor conditions of laborers in other countries, or, take actions to decrease my labor conditions so they stay below those of laborers in other countries.

Do you see how nonsensical, illogical, and perhaps insane that position is?


No thank you. I don’t want every country to look like the EU. Let us be, we are doing well enough thank you very much.


So then you agree, blue collar American workers should actively work to keep their wages low and quality of work environment low?


Maybe it would increase warehouse costs and thus increase automation. That’s good.


That outcome would be good for most of society, but not for the very workers who are the subject of the concerns expressed in this thread.


the entire german country would like to have a word with you


If my two late model Audis are any testament, German engineering and standards of quality are headed straight for the shitter.

Get your extended warranties people lol


This is a classist argument. Labor, blue collar, lower middle class people have just of much right to better wages, conditions, treatment, as a tech worker or anyone else. In fact bargaining power is the only way employees can have somewhat of a say in any sort of negotiation with their employers, without it it's a completely one sided relationship.

Other than getting packages faster, what innovations are working class warehouse employees producing? The innovation of putting boxes together at blazing speed with no bathroom breaks in a poorly climate controlled environment?

How could outsourcing a horizontally consolidated logistics empire be cheaper than upping conditions by a bit? Unions on average only cost about 10% more than a non-organized operation. That cost could be sent to the consumer or taken from revenue, by selling shares, whatever.

Anything that goes against the status quo of unfettered greed, cold profit is all that matters attitude makes sense for the business. But part of why Americans enjoy such labor safety, higher pay, employer health care, etc is because of organized labor. Class consolidation is the best outcome for the most people and there are laws that facilitate it being broken by Amazon, in firing organizers.

It's not just their warehouse workers they treat like garbage either, they steal successful products on their page and drop the original company from their listings and showing up in search. They charge a kickback just to rank in the search, etc, etc.

Bezos is a very clever successful sociopath in my opinion.


> In fact bargaining power is the only way employees can have somewhat of a say in any sort of negotiation with their employers, without it it's a completely one sided relationship.

I truly don't understand this position. Unless we're talking about a company town, every single employee has the option of going to work somewhere else. That they don't means that they find value in the relationship with their employer.

> It's not just their warehouse workers they treat like garbage either, they steal successful products on their page and drop the original company from their listings and showing up in search. They charge a kickback just to rank in the search, etc, etc.

None of this is unethical. Not in the least. Nobody has a right to have their products sold on Amazon.com. Amazon is not the government. Other private parties have no inherent claim to be involved in anything Amazon does.


That's the classic conservative response, well you have a choice to go work somewhere else. That's not really the point.

You conveniently ignore that these workers have a right to organize, and it's illegal for Amazon to say they can't. Just like they have a choice to go work somewhere else, they should also have the ability to organize. Sounds like the free market at work to me, if they would have treated them better maybe they wouldn't have organized.

Also sounds like a cynical position to take given the company's strategy of opening warehouses in poorer southern cities like Memphis.

Also anti-trust law does deem what they do with search unethical.


Amazon is not the government.

Any sufficiently-dominant corporation is indistinguishable from a government. Amazon's not there yet, but it's certainly where they want to be. I buy stuff from them, but I don't hold any illusions about them.

Their practice of forcing warehouse workers to submit to searches without compensating them for their time spent in line does bother me, for example, but not quite enough to get me to shop somewhere else. (And yes, as a matter of fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that this does make me a bad person.)


Why would the workers organize and risk their careers without just cause?

He mentions petitions with thousands of signatures. Are all of those people just…I mean, what?

If they were lying, then Amazon could easily come out and say, "They're asking for regular breaks every four hours and we literally give them that. They ask for PPE and every employee is given X, Y, Z. They want us to reduce our carbon footprint by 10%, here is an independent audit showing 12% reduction." (etc.)

In situations of extreme power imbalance, it's not unreasonable to default trust the person not in power who is taking far greater risk.

Sometimes you'll be wrong! But the burden of proof is on people in power.


>why would the workers organize and risk their careers without just cause

Warehouse stocking is not a career. Most of these people are hourly workers with little to lose. You can't apply the same standards to white, blue, and no collar workers because the nature of both the work, the people, and the culture are totally different.

If that statement shocks or offends you, I encourage you to take a temporary job at a place like Walmart or visit an oil rig and experience the differences yourself.


How on Earth can you think that low-skill hourly workers in America have "little to lose" by jeopardizing their livelihoods? That's precisely what ensures that they have so much to lose. Maybe you or I can lose our jobs, survive on savings for a good while, and easily find another role; they can't.


? Under the CARES act, low-wage workers "earn" more on unemployment than from working.


That depends on whether or not their individual state is effectively processing both regular unemployment and the federal side effectively and whether or not the state side is being contested. Also, that ends in July currently whereas there have been complaints about Amazon warehouses (and other jobs) well before the pandemic.


As I understand it, the 8000 people that signed the petition of support to organize were not hourly workers but corporate white collar workers with high pay that have issues with climate response and worker protections for blue collar workers. Like Tim, the guy who wrote this essay.


Very interesting. Hard data on all this would be much more valuable than anecdotes and presumption that those with power are always the evil ones.

Corporations are at least some kind of good. Otherwise, we would need to all form our own little businesses, and have everyone redo a whole lot of common tasks. Corporations are the economy's approach to DRY.


> Very interesting. Hard data on all this would be much more valuable than anecdotes and presumption that those with power are always the evil ones.

The signatory names and titles are available publicly: https://medium.com/@amazonemployeesclimatejustice/public-let...


Thanks! It does substantiate the point these are mostly white collar workers complaining about their environment agenda. I saw a single bullet about work conditions, and this was couched in a context about not docking pay if there are big storms that wipe out operations.

Definitely not a corporation mistreating its employees. I don't know why this is portrayed as such. If employees want to force their employer to follow some agenda the employer does not agree with, I don't see a problem with the corporation firing the employees.


What hard data do you need? The petition is public, and the number of people who signed it is as hard as you're going to get!


Hard data on all the evil that Amazon is presumably doing. What are all these evil things that makes Amazon so horrible?


Everyone deserves a safe (as possible) job with a living wage, that is not something only white collar workers who went to university are entitled to.


Meat packing and agriculture jobs in the US are presently incredibly dangerous, under-regulated (wink-wink regulated large corporations who have immense political power through lobbyists and trade PACs), and often done by undocumented persons who cannot get compensation if they are maimed or killed. Interestingly, these industries often advertise wages in Central and South American countries' newspaper to encourage migration, legal and otherwise.


Nobody just deserve it, everyone has to find one and keep it. You never get anything in life because "you deserve it and the Universe has to give it to you", not in this Universe.


It's true that nobody gets something from the universe just because they deserve it. Which is why for several thousand years humans have grouped up into civilized societies where we can construct environments that better match how we think things should work. So that people can get what they deserve.

Since we're not talking about somebody adrift in interstellar space, your argument makes less sense. Instead you have to argue some variant on a) not everybody deserves a reasonably safe job, or b) people do deserve that but we as a society can't afford it.

(I don't think either of those is true, but at least they'd make sense.)


You just served a false dilemma. There are also options c and d and more.

Even having a society does not make wonders: we don't have a cure for cancer, we don't have a vaccine for Covid, having a functional society does not mean you can obtain everything, including safe jobs and decent lives, especially when the definitions of safe and decent are moving targets: versus 200 years ago we are living an utopia of safe jobs and decent lives. Just think logical, not only emotional.


If there are options c, d, and following, I'd like to hear them. But your second paragraph is pure option b, the notion that we can't afford it.

I think that's wrong. We of course can't afford everything, and I never said otherwise. But what we're talking about is "a safe (as possible) job". There's no particular reason to think that if Amazon takes proper worker safety precautions, suddenly they'll be out of business. Might Bezos be marginally less rich? Sure. Might Amazon customers pay a smidgen more? Sure. Will society collapse? No. Will some other workers suddenly not have a safe workplace? Also no.

We can afford it.


If "we can afford it" then please explain why 90% of the manufactured goods purchased in USA are made in China; is it because competition and lower wages in China? We can afford to pay more the USA workers to produce it locally, but we don't. Why?

I don't care about how rich is Bezos, it is not my problem (or, more exactly, not a problem for me), but the blanket statements like "everyone deserves X" and "we can afford Y" are a problem: we don't simply deserve and we cannot afford most things.


We're not talking about "most things". We're talking about safe working conditions. We can afford them. And people deserve them.


The universe no. The universe is a cold, hard mf.

But would it not be nice if it were society, us humans, who would provide the right to a safe job and dignified life?


"The society" is a generic term to hide behind; the society does not provide jobs, businesses do (or self-employment). Nobody provides a "dignified life", that is another vague and non-measurable term to hide behind.


problem with your utopia is that in order to provide the vagaries of a "dignified life" you are compelling people to labor for others. We have not yet achieved post scarcity and there is never a guarantee that enough people in your society will participate in good faith to sustain those who are, for whatever reason, less productive.

That's not an argument against a safety net, just the opposing force that makes the correct (and possible) solution somewhere in between [UBI, euthanization), and different for each grouping of people.


we seem to have enough people participating to sustain large scale warfare operations around the globe, bail out entire industries, and pay politicians above average salaries. imagine what we could do for society if not for spending so much money on these pursuits which large swaths of our population find immoral.


Seems to work alright here in Europe tho, even with scarcity.

By the way, I find the notion comical that in a capitalist system, you are not compelled to labor for others. In practice, that is.


Just compare the incentives for both parts to be dishonest and you have your answer. What would workers gain from being dishonest except the risk of being fired or retaliated upon?

And why, if organizers are lying, can't Amazon just disprove them by showing to the public their perfect working conditions?

Finally, isn't it a natural instinct to side with the weaker element in a fight?

Does Amazon really need your support, or are the workers one paycheck away from homelessness in need of it?


> What would workers gain from being dishonest

Union representation and improved compensation and employment benefits.

Not to say either party is being honest or being dishonest. But it's clear there's plenty to gain on both sides by, on the one hand, painting organizers ad bad employees, and on the other hand, painting working conditions as worse than they are.


Peeing in Coke bottles because of a lack of bathrooms and allowances for biological needs might be a sign.


What?!? Now I'm canceling that case of Coca Cola I just ordered on Amazon Prime.


And why would they do it then, had they already good working conditions?


Because 'good' is relative and conditions can always be better.

Software engineers at Google were fired (allegedly) for attempting to unionize (https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/12/06/ex-goog...). Google jobs are some of the best jobs in the industry, in terms of benefits, base salary, and stock compensation.

Unionization isn't always about jobs being good enough. It's also about being able to set up a collective front for the workers to negotiate their arrangement with company owners. That's something every employee can want and can benefit from.


> > What would workers gain from being dishonest

> Union representation and improved compensation and employment benefits.

Getting union representation requires, in jurisdictions I'm familiar with, at least a 50% buy-in from other employees. You're not going to get that by lying to them about their own working conditions. This kind of dishonesty can attract some fist-shakers on the internet, but they don't get a vote.


> Just compare the incentives for both parts to be dishonest and you have your answer. What would workers gain from being dishonest except the risk of being fired or retaliated upon?

Pay raises, more time off, better benefits. A newly hired employee has very little to lose by supporting unionization.

>And why, if organizers are lying, can't Amazon just disprove them by showing to the public their perfect working conditions?

Because when Amazon shows good conditions, everyone says that it's a manufactured scenario or just an anecdote.

>Finally, isn't it a natural instinct to side with the weaker element in a fight?

Which is precisely what organizers want to exploit with publicity that could very easily be taking things out of context. A union organizer has almost nothing to lose by massively exaggerating.

>Does Amazon really need your support, or are the workers one paycheck away from homelessness in need of it?

Depends on whether or not you care about being manipulated into supporting something that could be a lie. It's not even "support" of Amazon, it's just questioning of the accounting of one side of a debate.


> Pay raises, more time off, better benefits.

And those are bad because?

> A newly hired employee has very little to lose by supporting unionization.

And yet, most don't. The mind boggles.


> And those are bad because?

I'm not against these things for warehouse workers at all, but just to answer your question, potential downsides include:

1. The money has to come from somewhere. Since Amazon keeps fairly small profit, this would likely come from passing costs on to consumers, and reducing Amazon's investment in future growth, which ultimately costs their future consumers. This increases cost of living for non-Amazon workers, and since Amazon is a good source of cheap items, it may disproportionately burden poorer people.

2. Where I am, Indeed.com says Amazon warehouse workers are paid slightly above average ($16/hour). If they were paid significantly above average, it can make it hard for small businesses to keep their workers.


> > Pay raises, more time off, better benefits.

> And those are bad because?

They're not bad. But them being good for workers is not an argument for why workers should receive them.


Only bad for the party they are being extorted from. Which is essentially what happens when a monopoly over your labor supply is in place.


Many workers experience monopsony for their labor for reasons that might not make sense to you (switching costs, rational risk aversion, fallible human psychology). A union on their side just levels the playing field. Empirically, societies that support monopoly bargaining by unions (and structurally encourage creative thinking and incentive alignment between unions and employers) have become much better places for their worst-off cohorts. Possibly not better if you're a smart and talented entrepreneur or highly skilled technologist; parts of the US are clearly great for that. But you may have to step over homeless people to get to work.


> Many workers experience monopsony for their labor for reasons that might not make sense to you (switching costs, rational risk aversion, fallible human psychology)

Both sides face similar issues related to terminating their mutually agreed to relationship.


Stop ordering from Amazon if you really feel so strongly about this. No point making all this grand-stands while on the other hand, you will just goto Amazon for your needs. That is the real way to hurt them.


I did that, literally decades ago. That was still at the time when Amazon was selling books only.

They promised the earth on privacy and after a few month suddenly pulled a bait and switch on that.

For me that was such dishonest behavior that I pulled my business from them and never, ever ordered anything else.

A fulfilled, satisfying life is not dependent on being an Amazon customer.


True, but alone I can't make a difference. We must unite, in the workplace and as consumers. That's why it's as important to be vocal about it and convince other people to stop ordering from Amazon.


You can stop doing it and still be vocal about it.


That's what I just said. You on the other hand, assumed that I buy from Amazon with no reason to do so.


Many people do this, especially since ordering anything remotely non-trash on Amazon is a lottery nowadays.


It's also possible that bezos likes to snuggle and is amazing at it. But I have yet to read a story telling me that


> Have you considered the possibility that Amazon actually treats their workers okay and that it's the organizers are dishonest? Why does the presumption of evil only go in one direction?

Yes.

As an example:

> We’re already seeing devastating climate impacts: unprecedented flooding in India and Mozambique, dry water wells in Africa, coastal displacement in Asia, wildfires and floods in North America, and crop failure in Latin America

That is so far removed from a company that provides web hosting and handles shipping logistics.

What does transporting a cardboard box have anything to do with flooding in Mozambique?

While it's unfortunate catastrophes happen. Let's be generous and assume those events are due to lax environmental regulations (0.001% to 90%).

Amazon is just 1% of whatever that is. So, if these activists wish came true - and ultimately a drop in the bucket.

A competitor without the hindrance could likely make up for any pollution they don't create.

If you want to shape ecology, you do it through regulations (statutes). And all countries need to be on board with it.

I'm going to have to go with management on this one - the exaggeration of Amazon's impact on the issue really hurts their credibility. Nothing wrong with climate change - but really against disrupting organizations needlessly.


> What does transporting a cardboard box have anything to do with flooding in Mozambique?

25% of the US's carbon emissions are from transportation.

> Amazon is just 1% of whatever that is.

Everybody works somewhere. Workers have more power over their own companies than they do over others. It's great that Amazon workers are trying to use that power for good.

> If you want to shape ecology, you do it through regulations (statutes).

That's one place to push. And you know who'd be good at pushing for regulatory change? Organized workers. Large companies that have decided to minimize ecological impact. Industry organizations made up of those companies.

But that's not the only way change happens. It's a big problem with many fronts. If you think you can best use your time and money by calling up your reps, go to it. However, these people have decided differently. I'm willing to trust that they know best how to achieve their goals.


1% is huge. You do the world a disservice by ignoring incremental change. If I tasked you wish improving the speed of a processor and you came back with "This 1% improvement is a drop in the bucket so i deleted it" you would not last long. It can start with Amazon and end with more.


Nothing wrong with incremental change. But there's no justification it'd work in this context, and be worth the disruption.

And the burden of proof rests on the organizers to prove why this is worthy of prioritization above other problems.

While I like the sentiment and aesthetic of being courteous, I don't see anything demonstrating a binding rule or contract could come out of it. And what's the benefit again? If Amazon followed through, would the flooding and droughts cited in the original post stop?

The problem is - it just seems contradictory to me. I can't put my finger on why. I think supporter's heart is in the right place. But people are struggling a lot in life and this world in various ways, is this really the most optimal way to alleviate suffering?

Why not save the pay check and put it into lobbying, or NGO type stuff to advocate the cause? Or maybe even into studies or stuff more urgent that climate. For climate stuff to work, people in society have to have more harmony / generosity / collectivism universally.

Until people start getting along and addressing universal human needs and fixing those, it's really hard to do cooperative endeavors like this at scale. Just my opinion! :)


Read the article, please. Author said nice things about his workplace & its leadership (AWS). But he could not bear to see unfair treatment and so he quit.


What would the organisers have to gain from lying about bad conditions in their warehouses? It’s very obvious what Amazon gains in the reverse. The organisers are putting their livelihoods on the line, you’d have to imagine they have a good reason for doing so.


[flagged]


Not here, please.


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You're poking holes in people's comments in this thread for generalizing while making wild generalizations yourself about HN membership? Why pick this hill to die on?


No one is dying here. It is a general observation about what is going on with HN users. And if you can't see the overtly anti-corporation nature of the users here, I can't say much.


Well your comments been flagged now so I can't read it again. My point was that you made a low effort generalization about the economic and geographic situation of HN readers while calling out others for doing the same thing.


But as a corporation, every poorly run warehouse reflects on Amazon. It doesn't matter if some of them are good, Amazon is allowing the sweat shop level ones to exist and continue to be run that way. This implies they're ok with this or at the very least don't give a shit about how their warehouses are run or whether their employees are treated properly.


Which warehouses are "sweat shop" level?


https://nypost.com/2019/11/30/amazon-warehouses-are-cult-lik...

>I soon learned that only difference between an Amazon warehouse and a third-world sweatshop were the robots. At Amazon, you were surrounded by bots, and they were treated better than the humans.


Are there 3rd world sweatshops that pay $16 USD/hour and provide benefits? I'd wager there are a few more differences than just the robots.


This is a No-True Scotsman. You asked for examples of Amazon sweatshop conditions, and once given, you're now redefining the semantics of 'true' sweatshops to being both in the third world and making less than $16/hour.


No it's not. The very definition of sweatshop implies very low wages and long hours.


According to Wikipedia, a sweatshop is semantically a workplace with very poor, socially unacceptable or illegal working conditions. The work may be difficult, dangerous, climatically challenging or underpaid. It's true that workers in sweatshops may work long hours with low pay, but it's not limited to that.

If you read the article with the example that was asked for, you'd see the examples of how it's sweatshop conditions.


I read through the article, I don't really see how it fits that definition.

Long shifts on your feet, physical labor, short breaks and no cell phones. Precise tracking of performance. Does it sound like fun? Hell no. But it seems like decent pay for unskilled physical labor, and I haven't read anything that sounds like sweatshop conditions.


The idea that physical labor being unskilled work has been perpetuated for thousands of years in class based systems despite the fact that any kind of work can involve both physical and intellectual skill. If you've ever worked in a warehouse, you would know that there are plenty of skills to learn and refine.


12 hour shifts on your feet with no access to chairs, consistent 150 F work conditions, 30 minute lunch breaks that take 30 minutes to get to, no paid bathroom breaks, etc. are a few of the examples from this one article alone that are in line with the semantics of sweatshop conditions.


consistent 150 F work conditions

If she told you there were sharks with lasers on their heads would you have believed that too? The article is literally unbelievable.


No, but if multiple workers at multiple locations said the same thing, then it is more believable:

>"I was really upset and I said, 'All you people care about is the rates, not the well-being of the people,' " she said. "I've never worked for an employer that had paramedics waiting outside for people to drop because of the extreme heat."

There were so many reports of workers overheating that OSHA had to get involved: https://www.mcall.com/news/watchdog/mc-allentown-amazon-comp...

That, along with other conditions reported, make it a literal sweatshop.


$16/hr is decent pay in those conditions?

They risk bringing the coronavirus home every day to their families. Their bodies are chewed up over the course of months until they start falling apart from the stress and wear. "short breaks" usually means something like "you're only allowed to go to the bathroom twice" which is technically illegal but Amazon spent a lot of money asking consultants and lawyers how to circumvent that.

Not to mention they don't get paid while they're standing in line for 20+ minutes to get frisked before they leave.


Here are a few examples of "sweatshop" conditions in the Amazon factory from the article:

- No chairs for a 12-hour shift

- Time spent going to the bathroom gets removed from your break time

- 30-minute lunch includes a 30-minute round trip to get to the lunch room


Everyone looks at it through their own lens. To an employee that goes to the bathroom twice per day at work, monitoring bathroom break time sounds ludicrous. But what should Amazon do with people who want to take 20 ten minute bathroom breaks per day? The answer is you set a policy that everyone is equal under and stock to it.

Other things seemed like unrealistic exaggerations. Like a 15 minute walk to the lunch room and barely having enough time to eat a sandwich, drink a soda and smoke a cigarette during the 30 minute break. Doesn’t add up.

And stating it felt like 150 degrees and no fans were allowed because “robots don’t like the cold”. What robot works better in 150 degrees than 70 degrees?

The stories don’t ring true to me and the pictures through the article from labor organizers tell me at least why the stories are being told.


I'm not sure about Amazon exactly but 30 minute lunches with barely enough time to eat is pretty realistic. There's many places where lunches are from buzzer to buzzer period, whether you've eaten or not. If these places are large enough, and it seems they're pretty large, then yeah, every minute you've got to walk to your food is a minute taken off your lunch break.


Rent is different in different countries. You cannot just quote $$


The ones that have been in the news for years for being sweat shop level. The ones that 60 Minutes did an exposition on, and that activists have been trying to draw attention to. I don't understand what you want by asking this question, an address?


I think all of them, given that workers are severely underpaid compared to the value they provide, and have no means to influence the future of the company, other than to speak up and be fired.

Though it's possible that the parent was referring to Amazon warehouses where workers had to pee in a bottle to keep their productivity points above the cutoff level.


They're paid at the level they will accept for the job they provide. Amazon couldn't hire 100,000 people in a month if they were underpaying anyone.

Also, why should they have means to influence the future of the company? They're hired voluntarily to do one job, not to lead the company.


Hiring 100k people a month is only half the picture. Their turnover rate is absurd, and folks wouldn't be quitting in droves if they were paying adequately to compensate for the working conditions.

Why should they have means to influence the future of the company? That's been repeatedly proven in court and enshrined in law.


They accept the job because they need it to survive, but that does not mean they are happy with what they're paid, see all the crushed unionization attempts. Nor does it mean that the company cannot afford to pay them more and still make a nice profit, just because they'd also work for less.

Yes, workers should be able to influence the future of a company they invest their lives in, the same way citizens can influence the future of their countries. The incentives of workers and shareholders can be aligned, when greed is kept in check.

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/14/politics/bernie-sanders-w...


Why should a worker who voluntarily accepts a contract be allowed to renege on that contract and suddenly have control of other people's property?


Because contracts aren't the highest form of value, they are just a construct we agree to follow as a tool to help create a society that aligns to our values? If contracts are creating results that are not aligned with our values as a society, we should be willing to modify them or do away with the concept of a contract entirely if that allows us to get to a better outcome that we collectively agree upon.


Seems to me like this ideology was soundly rejected twice by an extremely large margin in Sanders' losses in 2016 and 2020. I don't think the country wants to eliminate the idea of a voluntary contract as you suggest.


It's not an ideology that I'm expressing, it's the opposite. We shouldn't be bound by ideology in trying to find solutions to social problems, but be willing propose major changes to fix badly broken systems. A big part of the problem the US has is that it's become a norm to view any proposal through the lens of ones own ideologies or the assumed ideologies of ones interlocutor and dismissing it on the basis of improper ideology rather than proposing an alternate solution.


It's a solution to a non-existent problem. Nobody in the country wants to end voluntary contracts as you suggest.

You want people to be able to renege on contracts they explicitly agreed to under no duress. This position is not supported by the country and has been rejected countless times. Even unionism as a whole has been rejected. I would not join a union even if it was free, absolutely never.


Why wouldn't you join an union? What's wrong with them?


maybe the conditions vary from one warehouse to another, but the fact remains that Amazon smeared and retaliated against whistleblowers at warehouses with terrible conditions


Same with the St. Louis facility, it is a marvel of working in the age of COVID. Trainees kept breaking the 6' mark so they installed physical barriers. Automated systems track social distancing and warn people. I have family at that facility and it sounds like an incredible place to work - especially in the age of COVID.


Bray acknowledged that much.

> On the other hand, Amazon’s messaging has been urgent that they are prioritizing this issue and putting massive efforts into warehouse safety. I actually believe this: I have heard detailed descriptions from people I trust of the intense work and huge investments. Good for them; and let’s grant that you don’t turn a supertanker on a dime.

> But I believe the worker testimony too. And at the end of the day, the big problem isn’t the specifics of Covid-19 response. It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential.

He concluded the piece with:

> ...it’s all about power balances. The warehouse workers are weak and getting weaker, what with mass unemployment and (in the US) job-linked health insurance. So they’re gonna get treated like crap, because capitalism. Any plausible solution has to start with increasing their collective strength.


Exactly. Too many people are refuting the protestors' claims about warehouse conditions, when that's not the point of his argument.


I view this as an "8 hour workday" deal.

It would be like it is now, if it hadn't been workers organizing and speaking out.


>> from what I have read that Amazon was a sweat shop.

It depends where you read. HN, and a lot of places that might be reporting/commenting on amazon normally comment on tech companies. Amazon runs warehouses alongside a tech shop. Comparatively, a warehouse is a tech shop. It's the clash of worlds driving the notoriety.



Completely anecdotal.


By definition, so are the incidents that are reported by NYTimes. Amazon has hundreds of fulfillment centers around the world, and it's possible that the sufferings of some workers are exceptions, not the norm.


If that were the case, you would think that Amazon would address the issues raised my employees instead of firing them.

By firing them, they discourage others from coming forward so it’s not really possible to get a good picture of the situation.


Perhaps there's more to the story and we on the outside are in a really poor position to actually know what's going on?


So we are supposed to sit here and act like Amazon doesn't have a notorious rep in the street for how it treats it's employees, even it's software devs? And we are supposed to act like the US in general doesn't have a strong anti-labor tilt since Reagan in the 80s?

You are begging the reader to throw out any knowledge of the company and the country it's in so that they can arrive to a conclusion of "We don't have all the facts!!!!". That's not going to be very effective.


A default position against Amazon ignores some important considerations, in my opinion:

1. News outlets have a huge incentive to report on anti-Amazon facts, but little to no incentive to report on pro-Amazon facts. "Megacorp is imperfect, but mostly okay" is not a headline that generates clicks.

2. Amazon has a huge incentive to ensure that they comply with the law. Every labor lawyer in the country wants to take them to court and extract a settlement. And there are plenty of politicians that would love to make their career by bringing Amazon to heel.


> News outlets have a huge incentive to report on anti-Amazon facts

You are aware that Bezos owns one of the world's most influential news organizations, right?

Also, no, they don't. There's more money in sponsored puff pieces about how Amazon is tackling this or that recent controversy.


I dunno about you but my "default position" on Amazon fled circa y2k. Since then I've met numerous amazon employees and heard their stories, I've observed amazon/bezos's behavior in the public sphere, etc. Now my opinion on amazon is not "default" but "informed."

Your implication that the media is an anti-amazon conspiracy is absurd. The truth about bad actors is not kind to them. That doesn't turn truthtelling into a conspiracy. I seem to remember some positive reporting on Amazon recently, when they promised higher wages and more PPE for warehouse employees -- how does that fit into a conspiracy?


By that logic, wouldn't Vice President Tim Bray then be positioned to know more of that hypothetically hidden story?


He worked at AWS, not retail


Seems like he is privy to more than just AWS as a vice president, no? FTA:

>At that point I snapped. VPs shouldn’t go publicly rogue, so I escalated through the proper channels and by the book. I’m not at liberty to disclose those discussions, but I made many of the arguments appearing in this essay. I think I made them to the appropriate people.


We don't have all the context but it's safe to say we have about 80% of it.

End this solipsistic tripe. Or else drive down to your nearest fulfillment center and start interviewing folks.


I have contact with the warehousing industry. Most workers are neither making $15/hr nor receiving any sort of benefits.


Yep, it's the Streisand effect that Tim Bray talks about in the article.


How many activists are really get fired? It sounds like there are hundreds of protestors, but only a few people got fired. Should protesting making you immune to being fired?


Whats completely anecdotal-- your counterargument here?


> 5 weeks ago

Still in the honeymoon period, give it time.


It speaks volumes that you think that actually deserves any sort of praise. Wow, they aren't running sweatshops in America? Hand them a fucking medal.

Tim Bray quit over the way Amazon treats labour organizers, not the fact that they protect the health of their workers during a pandemic.


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You can't post like this to HN without evidence, because the vast majority of such accusations are pure imagination. I know that because I've spent countless hours over many years poring over data on this. There is lots of previous explanation at https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20astroturf&sort=byDat... for anyone who wants it.

HN has millions of users on all sides of every major ideological divide. When a community is that large and divided, the appearance of a comment you don't like is evidence of nothing more than that the topic is divisive. To go beyond that in terms of accusing or suspecting others, you need something more to go on, and if you have that, you should be sending it to hn@ycombinator.com so we can investigate. You should not be tossing internet dross like these one-liners into the threads.

Generally speaking (not picking on you personally), when it comes to internet tropes about things like astroturfing, "pretty obviously" macroexpands to "entirely in my imagination", since if the users who post such accusations actually had anything to go on, they would be the first to mention it.

All this has been in the site guidelines for quite a while. Could you please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and stick to the rules when posting here? Note this one: Please don't post insinuations about astroturfing, shilling, brigading, foreign agents and the like. It degrades discussion and is usually mistaken. If you're worried about abuse, email us and we'll look at the data.

Notes for the troubled: (1) I'm not posting this because I love Amazon, hate warehouse workers, or for any ideological reason; it is routine HN moderation and the other side gets it just as well; (2) I'm not saying astroturfing doesn't exist—I'm saying we have to look at it with facts, not just loyalties. Running into comments that offend our loyalties is something we all experience on the internet, especially on a non-siloed (https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que...) site like HN, where people can't self-isolate among the like-minded. There's a strong tendency to defend ourselves against the painful experience of the offensive by accusing the other party of being an abuser, a manipulator, a foreign agent. All sides do this, but it's fatal to the curious conversation that HN exists for, so we all need to coax ourselves out of it.


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Amazon has hundreds of thousands employees. Please, before calling someone a liar, just consider the possibility that anecdotes on both sides are correct.


> At the end of the day, it’s all about power balances. The warehouse workers are weak and getting weaker...

Whenever I speak to someone working in a "low-skilled" job, I'm always astonished and embarrassed by how different their work environment sounds to the kind of offices I work in. There seems to be a consistent theme of employees being treated with suspicion, condescension and outright hostility.

This gets to the heart of the idea of "privilege", and why it can be so difficult to see yourself as privileged. Because it often involves nothing more than being given a basic level of trust and respect that, once you have them, can seem like a bare minimum, not something that you would need to fight for.


All the example replies to this I’ve seen so far are where the power imbalance between business owner and worker is huge. So I’ll give my anecdote which is from the other side.

I grew up watching, and often helping, my parents as they ran their own business. We were at best lower middle class. The economic gap between us and those we hired was far smaller than any of the examples given here. My parents treated the workers well, paid them fairly[1], and kept the business running as long as possible even after 9/11 + the recession killed the business.

The workers in response didn’t cheat hours, they were flexible when the times got really tough, and in the end, they greatly respected my parents for running business the “right way”.

People don’t default to cheating the system. It’s action-reaction. If there is a huge imbalance, if people think they aren’t being treated fairly, if they see that it’s very much possible for the system to be improved, that’s when the thoughts of “this is unfair” begin to emerge.

[1] My dad was by title the owner while my mom was in the union the workers belonged to. His salary was lower than my mom’s. Not lower than the workers, but far lower than could have been possible had they attempted to fight the union on pay to nickel and dime them.


You're totally right on the action-reaction bit. And it's the same way at much bigger scales. This American Life did a story on NUMMI, a Toyota/GM joint venture. Toyota took one of GM's worst plants and made it well run and productive, in large part by treating the workers like people. It's very moving: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/561/nummi-2015

The heartbreaking part is that even when GM saw it happen, they couldn't really get it. Manager-labor hostility was too baked in on the management side for them to really change.


>Manager-labor hostility was too baked in on the management side

Don't forget that it's baked in on the labor side as well. NUMMI was not a 'fix' of a GM plant. It was a new venture started where a previous GM plant had closed.


A new venture that rehired a lot of the same workers. If you listen to the TAL piece, you'll hear how they changed. It wasn't an overnight transformation, but ultimately the workers changed where GM managers couldn't.


The plant was open until GM went bankrupt. What do you mean the managers couldn't change?


I mean that the purpose of the joint venture was for GM to learn Toyota's methods. That one plant was fine, but the broader purpose was for GM to learn how to do it everywhere. They never did. If you'd like to know more, I suggest you listen to the story linked above, or read the transcript which is linked from that.


I'm aware of the story of that plant. You're trying to make generalizations and aren't being clear about which GM managers "failed to learn".

Back to my original point, GM couldn't adopt the changes everywhere despite what they "learned" without firing everyone at the existing plants to start with a clean slate like they did with NUMMI. Once the relationships are poisoned, both sides need severe restructuring (i.e. leadership changes) to fix it.


Buddy, I'm pointing to an existing article. It's not my job to explain the whole contents of it in my pointer to it; I was just giving a quick summary of the piece. But just to indulge your apparent inability to get what I meant: When I said GM, I meant GM, not the joint Toyota/GM venture. And I didn't say managers, I said management, meaning the the whole of the GM managerial structure.

I disagree with you that this (or anything) proves "both sides need severe restructuring". It's not like GM's managerial apparatus had a spiritual breakthrough, made deep internal changes, and then worked hard to change the worker-labor hostility that they had spent decades building up. I do agree that starting with a closed plant and bringing back workers made this easier for Toyota to sort things out, but there's no reason to think it would have been an impossible task if they'd started before the plant closed.

As the TAL piece explains, GM never really tried. They ultimately preferred their poisoned relationships and lower effectiveness, just like they had for the decades that Toyota kicked their asses. Toyota's higher per-worker productivity and greater quality goes back to at least the 1960s (per Rother's Toyota Kata), and this became a keen problem for the big 3 starting in the 1970s. GM's managerialist culture means that the managers had all the power to fix this. They never have, even though they were on the road to bankruptcy.

You can't take a system like managerialism, or any system whose purpose is the creation of a power imbalance, and then blame "both sides" its failures. With power comes responsibility.


I live near that plant. It got shut down 10 years ago after the financial meltdown. Now its a Tesla plant.


I grew up pretty close to NUMMI, and heard a lot about it in the news in both good times and the eventual bad times. My first car at 16 was a Pontiac Vibe, a GM rebrand of the Toyota Matrix (which in turn was a hatchback variant of the Corolla), all of which were built at NUMMI. It was kind of cool knowing that the car I was driving was built just a few freeway exits over.

10 years later, I totaled it and despite being a lot better off financially than I was at 16, I decided to buy another one. It's just such a solid car, maintenance is easy on it, etc. It's sad to me that there aren't more of the solid, low-tech, low-cost cars that NUMMI was so great at churning out.

Maybe one day Tesla can get electric cars to that type of economy of scale, but I think it's going to be a while.


> The workers in response didn’t cheat hours, they were flexible when the times got really tough, and in the end, they greatly respected my parents for running business the “right way”.

The best way to get people who show up for work on time, don't steal from the register and don't call out sick is to pay them enough to have a life that isn't sent into a stress spiral by an electricity bill thats 10% higher.

Corporations especially in the service industry (Fast food, etc) have tested and to their bottom line workers stealing and missing shifts and calling out every 3 days isn't worth more to them than paying people less. Not because they're unprofitable, but because they can, and there's enough desperate people EVEN WITH FULL EMPLOYMENT to not raise wages as long as none of the other corporations do.

So now you have cargoculting amonst the business administrators that pay as low as possible is the only way to run a business. Except of course, when it comes to business administrators and those who interact with them.


>>there's enough desperate people EVEN WITH FULL EMPLOYMENT to not raise wages as long as none of the other corporations do.

There is evidence to the contrary, as these companies have infact (or did pre COVID) raise their wages beyond the minimum wage they were doing. Some of it is in response to Retail raise wages (i.e Walmart when to a $11/12 nation wide min wage) in response most fast food also had to raise their wages.


I don't disagree that there is some wage pressure - its the fact that wage increases only started to outdistance inflation only have 3 sustained years of basically no unemployment, which is likely a once in a century event, that there are more factors at play holding wages down.


Of course there is more than just the unemployment rate the effects wages but Fast food will always be the lowest paid job in the economy and the idea that work is entitled to a high wage simply because it exists is not something I can get behind

Fast food requires almost no skills, and most likely as wages increase it will simply be automated out of existence completely, given that literally almost any human that is breathing can fill the job there is not going to be much that will push those wages up.

These jobs are not intended to be long term employment where a person would support a family on, hell they are not even jobs that should be filled by people supporting themselves, they are tailored to people for their first jobs normally while they are a dependent of another person


> These jobs are not intended to be long term employment where a person would support a family on

There's no intention provided by these jobs - I'm not sure where that would actually come up. 50% of fast food workers have more than one job. That alone indicates that at least half of those workers aren't dependent on another person. Average fast food worker is 29, 50% are over 25. 26% of fast food workers are parents with children.

I just wanted to say that to establish that there are many people who work fast food jobs that depend on it to live. Given that - and that there is no functional safety net to prevent someone from becoming homeless were they to lose their income, and that the minimum wage isn't a living wage, I'm advocating for it to pay a living wage. Its sort of strange to me that people prioritize the needs of dependents and children over unskilled people who are working as much as possible to keep a roof over their head.

If you need to work 2 jobs to make rent, you are not spending much time at all gaining skills to get a better paying "real" job, assuming they're available at all. You're trapped. A living wage would allow people to actually have the time to develop skills rather than trapping them in subsistence poverty. Because one person in 5 doesn't need the money, the other 4 should suffer? Should they not be treated for a flu that could kill them? Does their life have any value at all?

And if that means robots are suddenly economical? Why are they not economical elsewhere, where workers are paid a living wage? https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/28/business/international/li...

> Fast food will always be the lowest paid job in the economy and the idea that work is entitled to a high wage simply because it exists

I'm not making this argument. It is not a high wage, by any first world measure. That most people making that wage are both below the poverty line and get food stamps tells you its not a high wage.

Now, is it most efficient for the economy to be flooded with no-skill workers? Probably not, if there's some sort of floor on human dignity. In any system there will be leeches, people who game a system, etc. I'm concerned about them, but we should start by tracking actual outcomes. This is one of the reasons why the US is one of the least socially/economically mobile countries in the first world. We're closer to Russia than we are to the UK.


And I think it's important to realize that this is all under a managerialist culture, where companies construct internal class distinctions. It's pretty obvious from history that a significant fraction of humanity really likes to have people to look down on, to control, to mistreat. To feel better than.


> The best way to get people who show up for work on time, don't steal from the register and don't call out sick is to pay them enough to have a life that isn't sent into a stress spiral by an electricity bill thats 10% higher.

Are you speaking from experience here? There is plenty of poverty that doesn't lead to theft of money and time to disprove this as a general claim.

There's more to it than paying people enough.


> People don’t default to cheating the system.

Some people don't. I think you may be underestimating the degree to which A) your parents were good judges of people, and B) having ownership close to the metal can make things work well.


And being a small business. Things run very differently when there are ten people and you know everyone vs when there are ten thousand people and you only vaguely know what 1/10th of the departments actually do.


If it means that more employer-employee relationships are as strong as the one described, I'm more than happy to give small businesses a leg up over major corporations.


In my experience, it very much does. It's usually not as profitable though, and even laws & taxes are often set up to reward large corporations.


> People don’t default to cheating the system. It’s action-reaction. If there is a huge imbalance, if people think they aren’t being treated fairly...

One of my HR friends was dismayed at the treatment of warehouse workers at Amazon: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21217969


That URL to search "Ring" on r/privacy is broken. This will work, for now: https://www.reddit.com/r/privacy/search?q=ring&restrict_sr=1



No one who runs a business that hires multiple employees can reasonably call themselves lower middle class.

Showing my work:

> My parents treated the workers well, paid them fairly[1]

>His salary was lower than my mom’s. Not lower than the workers.

Let X be a fair wage, Y be your dad's wage and Z be your mom's wage.

Then Z>Y>X, so Z+Y>2X. Any household that makes more than twice a "fair wage" is not lower middle class (many lower middle class people don't even make 1x a fair wage).


This comment was edited without saying so, which explains why some of the replies don't make sense.

If you're going to make an edit that changes the meaning of what other people have already replied to, please say that you're doing that. The best way is to make the edit append-only.


How feasible would it be to actually enforce that in the code? Would be great if edits were append-only after some period of time. So you could correct a typo immediately after posting still, but after a few minutes you'd just be able to append. (Replying to your own comment doesn't serve the same function, since it could be lost under other replies.)


There is a 2 hour edit window, after which you can't edit the comment. Editing a comment to change the meaning is usually noticed so I think social convention takes care of this (relatively uncommon) problem as it is.


It would probably be better to just disallow editing to any comment with replies.


Or have an auditable edit history.


I like that suggestion even more than mine. Could be a link beside the timestamp, like "4 hours ago (edited)" and clicking the edited stamp would give you a history. I edit my comments all the time and wouldn't want to lose the ability to improve my wording or fix typos or whatever, but I don't see any harm in that transparency. The ability to completely delete a comment (along with any history) should probably be preserved though.


That might work if you could link individual comments to a version of their parent, otherwise confusing over comments not making sense in the current context would still occur, since most people aren't going to read an edit history first.

The very least they could do is add some visual cue that a comment has been edited, like showing the header in italics or adding an asterisk.


I think a visual indication that a comment was edited, then diffs of all their edits, would be very nice to have. I have run into (and caught) people that make provocative comments and then edit them to make the people responding to them look foolish.


What's the best way to escalate this? Or rather, how do we make this recommendation to moderators and/or devs?


hn@ycombinator.com is the way.


The names of the classes are not economic; they're political†. They have to do with one's ability to influence politics.

The "middle class", i.e., the borgeoisie, are the class of business owners (and/or people who have the ability to start a business, i.e. who have a professional skill that could be sold freelance or with a one-person company "wrapped" around it.) What do you call a lowest-income-bracket-for-business-owners business owner, other than "lower middle class"?

Meanwhile, a laborer—even a rich laborer (e.g. a waiter who makes a lot in tips; or a unionized dock-worker; or a soldier)—is, definitionally, in the lower class. If your professional skills are only in demand in the context of a capitalist organizing and value-adding on top of them, then you're in the lower class. (For example: dentist? Middle class. Dental hygienist? Lower class. The dentist can start their own dental clinic, whereas the hygienist cannot. Even if they both took home the same salary from said clinic, one has access to corporate profits—capital—while the other does not.)

People don't say "upper lower class", but the French equivalent "prolétariat riche" does make sense. (There are whole sectors of the economy that cater mostly to the prolétariat riche. Anything referred to as "bling" is marketed mainly to the prolétariat riche. Nightclubs cater mostly to the prolétariat riche.)

† In English, the terms are mapped to positions on a city's height map (lower/middle/upper), because cities used to be basins of smoke and filth, and the people who could, would move to the outlying hills to be away from it. But this is still a political distinction, not an economic one. No matter how wealthy you are, you can't get away from city life entirely until you no longer need to work for a living at all. Once you don't need to work at all, you unlock the time+energy+liquid assets required to influence politics. It's all part-and-parcel.


well said. well said. boss, you seem like the only one who understands the dynamics of capitalism in this thread. political power is determined by money. & political power also determines money. seems a lot of people miss the historical context with these issues etc.


$50k/year where? And where did you get that number? I know someone who made $23k last year, less than any of their several employees. If not for his partner's job, he'd be flat-out poor.


> Then Z>Y>X, so Z+Y>2X. Any household that makes more than twice a "fair wage" is not lower middle class (many lower middle class people don't even make 1x a fair wage).

That's terrible math that proves nothing, besides that the owners as a couple is making more (including by a tiny margin) than a couple of workers


This is definitely not true.

Literally drive down the street and look at those little no-name shops and stores: each of them have owners who employ other people.

The lady who owns the salon and has 10 other ladies + receptionist working there is not wealthy, and is probably taking on a lot of risk.

'Small business owner' is one of the most precarious positions to be in - it's like all the low pay and crap of 'working class' life - but with all the risk and stress of capital class.

I don't know why people do it.

I wonder maybe if this class just 'gave up on it' it'd be interesting to see how we would all cope.


As you point out, the risk is what people often forget.

My parent's have run a small business for over 20 years. Between 10 and 20 employees depending on the season and the economic situation.

When everything goes great, they can sometimes clear a few hundred thousand in the year. They are doing well and appear wealth.

But then a bad job comes around, and they can lose their shirts. 3-4 times over the last 20 years, a big job has gone south and they have actually personally lost money for the year. One year in particular, they had to remortgage their house to meet payroll because conditions out of their control lost them a big contract. All the employees still get paid, but my parents have to go into debt and deal with the repercussions.

The stress they deal with is immense. I've worked some high-stress corporate jobs, and it still has no compare to what I watched my parents deal with.


> I don't know why people do it.

I can't answer this myself, but I've gotten some hints at it over my lifetime of hearing my dad's stories (repeated over and over...)

One is that it's part of the American dream. As immigrants, being able to say that you made it and are self-made can mean a lot.

Second and probably more importantly, successfully running a business, along with all the financial risks included like loans, can give you a leg up in one crucial area that is very hard to acquire as a poor immigrant - high credit score. This let's you get far better loans, mortgages, etc. Having that history where you can prove that "yeah, I make good on my debts" goes a very long way. Especially if you're as savvy as my dad.


> I don't know why people do it.

Because it's the most common and consistent gateway to actual wealth, which is also non-coincidentally the gateway to independence (at least from a singular boss, there's always some dependence on the system in some way).

This is slightly upended by startups and getting shares for signing on early, but that's really not all that different of a situation (partial ownership for partial risk), it just happens that at this particular point in history it's also applying towards people with a lot of prospects and/or resources so there's less on the line for them if it fails.


You should speak to a few more cafe and restaurant owners if you believe that.


In general, you are correct but it is very location dependent. Low income in SF is anything below $82k according to HUD


>I'm being angrily downvoted...

Your claim regarding others' emotional states sounds like speculation based on insufficient information.


I disagree. Lower middle class people can open businesses propped up on loans, in which their drive to hit their margin is even higher.


I guess it depends on where you live. I'm going by the definition based on the income ranges in the city/state where we grew up where "middle class" is significantly higher than the rest of the US. If you prefer to average across the entire US, then sure, I'll be happy to edit that to say "middle class". However, I don't see how this is anything but a nitpick without addressing any of the content I wrote in my comment.

Also, others have pointed out many examples where it's possible to hire many workers but still not be in a high income bracket.


Interestingly, esoterica replied and then deleted before I could respond, but since this is actually bothering me (I know it's the internet, it shouldn't), I'm going to post this reply with the quote anyway.

>> My parents treated the workers well, paid them fairly[1],

>>His salary was lower than my mom’s. Not lower than the workers.

> Let X be a fair wage, Y be your dad's wage and Z be your mom's wage.

> Then Z>Y>X, so Z+Y>2X. Any household that makes more than twice a "fair wage" is not lower middle class (many lower middle class people don't even make 1x a fair wage).

Like I said, I'd be happy to edit it (can't because of the time limit). However, you're nitpicking on a single part of the comment that honestly means very little. You're also doing that without even using any numbers or locations.

My question to you is, do you have anything constructive to say in response to the spirit and content of my comment with regards to the discussion thread?

Edit: Also, remember that the "fair wage" is based on what the union negotiated (including raises). We paid on the higher end compared to others in our industry. "Fair wage" does not automatically mean that the workers are middle or even lower middle class. So your calculation is already making a huge mistake there.


Bad math. Two people making a "fair wage" in a single household does not make it suddenly unfair... unless your point is that people shouldn't be allowed to live together.


I've owned a cafe and was able to pay myself and the head cook roughly $1000/week (each) when things were great. If that's not middle class, I'm not sure what is.


$1000/week is higher than the median American personal income. That's by definition not lower middle class.


First, they said "when things were great". Considering they stated that ownership as past tense, I would assume things didn't stay great, and just because you make $1000 a week sometimes doesn't mean you make anywhere near that consistently.

Secondly, it's much more important to look at local median income and local cost of living. $1000 a week in many areas won't get you far if most of it is taken up by taxes and housing. And before someone pulls out the "well, move to somewhere cheaper", there's no guarantee that a cheaper to live location would necessarily still support $1000/week to the owner, or if there was a commute, that it wouldn't eat significantly into that income (fuel + toll + car payment which may not be required if you live locally could be well over a $1000/month).


If wikipedia is any indication, the definition of middle class is nebulous.

My hunch is most people don't base it on dividing the population in to equal fractions, which is kind of how I read your comments.


I think your hunch is right, but economists' definitions do tend to be tied to numbers. Pew Research and others -- although I doubt this is a universal definition—usually treat "middle class" as being two-thirds to double the median income in an area. That seems like an unusually high range -- I would have assumed two-thirds to four-thirds would make more sense, but I suspect it's to account for how sharply incomes rise at the high end of the scale (e.g., the median salary in the top quintile compared to that of the middle quintile is many times greater than the median salary in the middle quintile is compared to the lowest).

Even with that there's an awful lot of caveats, though; as folks have noted, regional differences can be huge. The median income in Silicon Valley as of last year is just under $100K (despite the picture that Hacker News can sometimes paint!), but in Tampa Bay, Florida, it was just under $60K.


Depends on the area. The national median doesn't really give you insight into whether someone is middle class or not.

I'd also point out it's 15% higher than the median. How small do you feel the middle class is? You mentioned "lower middle class"; I only see them mention "middle class".

But even for the lower middle class, it rather depends on how you choose to count it, no? I've seen some economists define middle class as the middle 60%. Given that range (~$46k - $140k), they're in the lower end, if you want to hold them to that statement (that they never made).


I never said "lower middle class". From this article [0], ~$50k doesn't seem like a stretch for middle class.

[0]: https://www.businessinsider.com/middle-class-income-us-city-...


It is in SFO.


Food service, maintenance, landscaping, small tetail.. plenty of possible examples come to mind.


You are not "angrily" downvoted, you are downvoted because your statement is completely wrong.


I once had two employees and was definitely not in a high income bracket.


Lower middle class in America is 30 to 50k.


I think this is a two way street. If you've never been involved at a management or ownership level of a business that has "low pay" labor (e.g., food service, warehouse, retail sales).

For every 2-3 decent workers there is one that just takes pure advantage of the environment (e.g., stealing product, stealing time, etc). Sometimes this occurs at great cost for a period of time before it is discovered. EDIT: This was meant to be illustrative, not an exact ratio.

This makes companies take extreme policy measures for the few instances of this that impact everyone, because the financial impact is so disproportionate.

Now, the argument can (and is) made that pay is a factor. "If you pay me more I won't act like this". But depending on the business (e.g., a local pizza place) there is no affording that.


I have been involved in both working in services and in the management level of a restaurant business. It is still my opinion that the pay, disposability, lack of dignity, lack of future, lack of community, and disrespect are the primary drivers for bad workplace behavior. Treat people like animals, and they will act like animals. It's just exploitation, and I work my current job with fear of having to go back to that.

> But depending on the business (e.g., a local pizza place) there is no affording that.

This is maybe a radical argument, but I make it in good faith; if your business can only exist by paying workers at or below poverty wages, and/or enacting dehumanizing controls, it probably shouldn't exist. If the demand for the product or service is sufficient, price should follow accordingly to make that business viable and profitable. Saying a business can't afford to pay workers a living wage and treat them right is equivalent to unintentionally saying 'the business can't exist without worker exploitation'. I do not believe that is a defensible position if you don't axiomatically accept worker exploitation.

Maybe any given business model doesn't have a god-given moral right to exist. It does suck if we lose that local pizzeria, but clearly we didn't want the pizza enough to pay what it cost to ethically support such a business. If you're worried about the job loss or availability of services caused by such a position, there a whole sea of political and socioeconomic thought on how to solve that. It's probably beyond the current conversation.


> This is maybe a radical argument, but I make it in good faith; if your business can only exist by paying workers at or below poverty wages, and/or enacting dehumanizing controls, it probably shouldn't exist.

The problem is that once you close the business and fire the underpaid employees, they don't disappear. Now they're unemployed and make $0/hour.

This blind spot fascinates me. The best explanation I've seen is "The Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics". It says that "when you observe or interact with a problem in any way, you can be blamed for it".

So in this scenario, once you've fired your employees, you are no longer connected to them, and their further destiny is not your fault.

I suspect this is a deep part of our moral instincts, and we have to be aware of it to get to a more rational approach.

https://blog.jaibot.com/the-copenhagen-interpretation-of-eth...


Thanks that blog post was really opened my mind on the topic


Thanks for the link. I have some thoughts after reading it, mainly entangling with scale of the solutions, optics, and higher-order effects, but I think it's still an incomplete thought. It does drive people crazy to think about the things we can do for people who need help, the optics of how to help and how much can we help. Do you have any more books/articles related to this?


I don't have any more material I've vetted.

If you google "The Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics", lots of things come up though. Happy hunting!


> This is maybe a radical argument, but I make it in good faith; if your business can only exist by paying workers at or below poverty wages, and/or enacting dehumanizing controls, it probably shouldn't exist. If the demand for the product or service is sufficient, price should follow accordingly to make that business viable and profitable. Saying a business can't afford to pay workers a living wage and treat them right is equivalent to unintentionally saying 'the business can't exist without worker exploitation'. I do not believe that is a defensible position if you don't axiomatically accept worker exploitation.

I respect your sincere intentions here, but I do object to that proposal, and I hope that there can be a constructive dialog on the subject.

I think my primary objection is to the description of the small pizzeria as being exploitative. Sure, the workers are not payed very much, but the power differential is very small. It seems much more likely that the economic relationship is genuinely one of mutual benefit, and I have a hard time finding a moral objection to that.

My other objection is to the ramifications of such a policy on a broader society. It seems inevitable to me that in such a society, everyone would be forced to be clients of large, faceless entities, be they private corporations or governmental entities. That we could rely on either of these institutions to protect individuals from exploitation is highly dubious. To my mind, it is the very existence of intermediary institutions (like small businesses) which are the best safeguards of individual autonomy and well-being.


It's possible that the owner is being exploited too, but the franchise corporation, or financial interests. That doesn't make it ok for them to exploit others.


> It's possible that the owner is being exploited too, but the franchise corporation, or financial interests.

Irrelevant. I'm not talking about the owner being exploited. We could just be talking about a independent small business that's trying to get by on small margins.

> That doesn't make it ok for them to exploit others.

You're assuming that low pay is exploitation when that is the very notion I'm challenging. The exploitation comes from a power differential that is leveraged to the benefit of one party. If neither party has much power over the other, and neither is benefiting unduly from the relationship, then there is not exploitation.

It may very well be that neither the business nor the employee has much to offer each other. The point is that they're still willing to work together for mutual benefit, however small that mutual benefit may be.


> This is maybe a radical argument, but I make it in good faith; if your business can only exist by paying workers at or below poverty wages, and/or enacting dehumanizing controls, it probably shouldn't exist.

Yeah, I agree, but I think another false general assumption people might make is "every retail or food service job is minimum wage" and that every owner is just shortchanging their workers to pay themselves more. That isn't the case across the board.

Best Buy doesn't pay minimum wage, heck even when I started there as a part time computer tech in 2002 I was paid $9.50/hr. That being said with the 1 year $80/share price they can damn well afford to pay more.

My friend who owns the pizza business pays more than his franchise based competitors, he has employees who have worked for him for years because of this. So he's not paying close to minimum wage but the "meta market" for a pizza keeps his prices in a certain range. As I mentioned in a below comment there are other market forces at work here (e.g., a national franchise has buying power for food price reductions, etc).

So knowing his very loyal customer base, if he had to increase prices to support extra cost, they'd probably stay to a certain extent, but maybe that results in less employees or hours. Who knows.

> If you're worried about the job loss or availability of services caused by such a position, there a whole sea of political and socioeconomic thought on how to solve that. It's probably beyond the current conversation.

Yeah, that's my whole point. Any legislation that increases wages has a disproportionate impact based on your business, and SBA says small business makes up 48% of jobs[0].

But like you said, the conversation is a level up from this.

[0]: https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/advocacy/2018-Small-...


The idea that they "shouldn't exist" doesn't make much sense to me.

As long as you treat your employees with respect and pay legal wages, who are we to say that the wages are "poverty wages".

Many of these low wage, entry level positions are/were meant to be filled by young people, still living with parents, or part time workers who may have a spouse that is the primary earner.

The problem is that due to lack of other options, many people are crowding out these type of workers and using these jobs as full time, primary income.

If the alternative is no job at all (i.e. "shouldn't exist") then poverty wages sound better than nothing.


> As long as you treat your employees with respect and pay legal wages, who are we to say that the wages are "poverty wages".

When working those wages leave you in poverty its poverty wages.

> Many of these low wage, entry level positions are/were meant to be filled by young people, still living with parents, or part time workers who may have a spouse that is the primary earner.

This is not the case, and has never been the case. The economy is not set up for the benefit of teens on summer vacation.

44% of all workers aged 18 to 64 made a median of $10.64/hr and an annual income less than $20,000. Its hard to overstate how many people across the country are living on poverty wages - the "young people" theory to me frequently only comes about from people who've grown up in affluent areas and had evening jobs at grocery stores. Most low wage workers in this economy are invisible.

https://www.brookings.edu/research/meet-the-low-wage-workfor...


> the "young people" theory to me frequently only comes about from people who've grown up in affluent areas and had evening jobs at grocery stores.

You've hit the nail on the head. This position is privilege exemplified, and indicates a lack of empathy for people who do not have the skills, opportunity, or desire to obtain higher-paying positions. Everyone in our society should be able to live with dignity, regardless of their vocation. No one needs to scrape by in the wealthiest country on earth, especially when minimum-wage jobs make so much of our society possible.


I don't think calling out people for having privilege is a good way to win someone to your side unless the person has had the opportunity to hear other perspectives and has chosen to ignore them. It turns an otherwise productive educational conversation (on both sides) into combat.

I don't blame anyone for having a (relatively) sheltered life, as there's plenty in our life that all of us being on this forum are sheltered from. I consider it a good thing to be sheltered from a lot of traumas growing up. Our children need not feel the same pains we did. But by using a combative tone you're lessening the change for empathy to win out.

Finally, thats not to say that combat (rhetorical, physical) isn't the solution in some cases.


Totally agree with your point, my comment was lacking the fact that I also have a very privileged upbringing compared to many Americans. I wasn't trying to speak down, but laterally. Tone is hard to convey online, but I can do better. :)


Then I'd say you don't know much about poverty.

I grew up in one of the poorest counties in America.

I now live in one of the wealthiest. And while the occasional affluent family has a teenager or two that works at the grocery store, in poor areas, lots more teenagers have jobs to supplement not only their own income, but that of their parents.

That's not to say that there are more teenagers working these low wage jobs, it's just to point out that "privlege" in this case is merely a straw man and sidesteps the main thrust of my point, which was, what is better, "poverty wages" or no wages at all?


Your second sentence asserts that poverty is some nebulous concept, and that if wages are "legal" then they must be "moral".


It is nebulous from the point of view of a single employer. If someone only wants to work 10 hours a week and you pay them $12 an hour and their spouse works full time and makes $100k a year, is the $12 an hour employee living in poverty?


This part of your your comment hits on the one thing I try to teach younger people, "It's just exploitation, and I work my current job with fear of having to go back to that."

The difference between a job and a career is portability. If you have a career, you can switch employers and they will value your experience. You will make the same or more. If you have a job, when you switch employers you start back at the bottom. Sometimes there is a small premium for experience, but it's nowhere near what you can make at a good employer for longevity.


I can confirm this, having first hand experience with it. We hired many low-skill workers at a big tech company that you've heard of about ten years ago. These workers received a couple of weeks of training, and then were set to do a rather simple, menial, repetitive job.

These workers didn't sell products, but did very low level tech work, but the entire operation was mired in drama. For example, we had a strict no drugs policy, and no weapons policy on campus, zero tolerance. So, say that one of your employees comes up crying that she is getting fired because she did heroin during work hours, and she needs to money for her unborn child (this happened!), or a guy gets angry at being fired because he was pulling out his new .45 from his waistband to show his cubicle neighbors. We had a LOT of this stuff, and as a result, many zero tolerance policies.

It's difficult to understand how many hard living, disadvantaged people there are in this country, even in wealthy areas like the Bay Area of CA, who bring their rough living to work with them. What do you do as an employer? Do you tolerate this to be friendlier to the employees, and someone gets killed, making you liable? Do you come down like a hardass and dehumanize them even more, but cover your butt? Neither choice is good, but it's the latter that usually happens.


It's amazing how this thread got derailed so quickly from "The power disparity between low skill workers generates worse working conditions" to "If we treat low skill workers well, don't we have to support them doing drugs and bringing guns?"

Of course not. Allowing needles and guns at your workplace isn't friendlier to employees in general.

The discussion went from "Maybe we shouldn't fire them for trying to organize so they don't die in a pandemic" to "Whats an employer to do with 33% time thieves and drug users?" embarrassingly quickly.


Why is it embarrassing? This is really a problem which employers must deal with.

I think what Tim Bray did is heroic, I think that Amazon exploited workers way too much, all in the name of thinner overheads and lowering prices, which is the only thing their customers care about.

Tim Bray's resignation won't change things, but if we decide that Amazon's unfair and refuse to patronize them because of their employee treatment, then perhaps there will be change. However, I think there are enough people living paycheck to paycheck where that is a secondary consideration after price, and Amazon does have good prices on many things.

I, for one, will be curtailing my use of Amazon. I only used them sporadically anyway, preferring to support others, but still liked the convenience of Prime for some products. For work, I spend six figures a month with AWS, but there's no employee mistreatment there that I'm aware of.


It's embarrassing that the flow of the conversation went from "The power disparity between low and high skill labor is causing terrible working conditions" to "But the employers have to deal with theft and time theft" to "And sometimes drug use and guns" in two comments.

It's a massive derailment from the point that makes it seem like employers are unduly burdened by their employees. It reads as 'Point', 'Counterpoint' but it really isn't -- nobody is going to argue that employees should be allowed to bring drugs and guns or steal from the company.

(Although I imagine "Time theft" mentioned above includes behavior that if high skilled labor did wouldn't raise any eyebrows.)


Come on, HN is about weaving a tapestry from tangents to tangents :)


I'm curious why you believe this type of behavior is only found in "disadvantaged" workers. In my brief career, I've encountered several white collar workers drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis on the job, and I even stumbled across a lawyer doing cocaine in a bathroom. I've seen desk workers get canned for bringing knives to work and leaving guns in their car. I've known office workers who have stolen both time and money from our employer and who have harassed and assaulted our coworkers. I even saw someone get escorted out of the building for downloading and printing off porn from the internet. I've seen all of these from white collar workers, and I've even perpetrated some of these acts myself! So, I'm having a really hard time swallowing the proposition that "hard living" people have some monopoly on being bad employees.


I never said it's found only in those workers, my experience happens to be with workers who come from the more disadvantaged strata of society. You find many, wonderful people with a strong work ethic among them, but the rough living part is much more rough and visible - like doing heroin at work or pulling out a gun. This happens in all echelons of society, but it's just much less subtle in certain groups of people. On the upside, the people with good work ethic were promoted, got raises, and better benefits.


Maybe its because scooping up 100s of people at random from the population all at once and putting them in a box is asking for trouble.

Tech companies don't understand culture. The same assumption that you give a bunch of kids laptops and they'll just automatically learn to program is the same that if you give people cubicles coffee and water they'll act like docile office workers. There are things that you needed that you didn't have a line item for.


I can see how dehumanization could be a common occurrence when "coming down hard" or "covering your butt", but I don't think it's intrinsic. Having and enforcing standards isn't intrinsically dehumanizing. Going too far in the other direction could also involve dehumanization, in the form of denying people's agency and capacity for personal responsibility.


Maybe you can work on your hiring practices? Even for low-skill jobs, you can hire for soft skills.

edit: I am being downvoted and don't know why. Can you please explain what's wrong with this idea? I think the parent paints a false dichotomy.

For example - another option is to deal with problematic individuals on an individual basis. You don't have to ruin the entire company culture.


For some really annoying grunt jobs, you're not going to hire the most disciplined, most educated people with a good work ethic. People willing to do tedious, crappy work have no other options usually, and you also can't be too picky, or you won't hire anyone. These jobs typically have low value as well, so if you tried to pay more, the whole project may not be cost effective and won't happen.

You definitely need to treat people with as much respect as possible, but in some jobs, you have to have all these rules in place knowing you'll get people who aren't model citizens. I was never in the HR org chart here, never saw finances, but I suspect the people that I mentioned were paid near minimum wage. Few stuck around more than six months, and those who did, moved onto better jobs. It was all very structured and regimented. I would never fire anyone for trying to make their workplace better, assuming they did it in a non-disruptive way.


>Can you please explain what's wrong with this idea?

This may have more to do with the phrasing of your first sentence, which could be interpreted as flippant, or presumptive, or maybe even victim blaming.

[After reading other comments, I think the behavior you noted is most likely to be the result of people engaged in ideological battle. If this is true, I would just keep engaging in good faith, there's little you can do.]

Separately, in the future, you might frame your follow-up inquiry as:

>edit: Can anyone please explain what's wrong with this idea? I think the parent paints a false dichotomy.

Or similar. That is, leaving off explicit mention of your motivation for asking as [discussion of this specific motivation] is frowned upon in the site guidelines.


<sarcasm>Those stories sound nothing like the stories you hear about highly compensated employees at tech companies. You never hear stories of them ignoring strict company policies, engaging in drug abuse on the job, or displaying behaviour that makes other employees fear for their own safety.</sarcasm>


<sarcasm> No you don't understand. Cocaine is totally different from crack. </sarcasm>

But I couldn't think of a 'danger' equivalent off the top of my head. What are some examples?


Well, for starters, you hear from a lot of women who feel like their safety may be at risk because of behaviour of certain individuals they work with...


Being compelled by poverty to continue working elbow to elbow with a peer who flashes deadly weapons strikes me as fairly dehumanizing.


Honestly just sounds like lower middle class in America and nothing to do with the job. We don't do a great job taking care of people. Drug user, violence, psychological issues and domestic problems are rampant.


Well, you can't behave in an uncivilized manner, and then expect someone to want to pay you for the privilege of having you around. Particularly if you are also low-skilled or only have skills which are extremely common and therefore low-valued. Menial or "low-skill" labor is not low paid because we don't need it. It is low-paid because the market is perpetually glutted. If you are unable to differentiate yourself to even the tiny extent of just behaving yourself while at work, then you are of course disposable, because literally thousands or millions wait to replace you. Why would any employer want to pay you to come do drugs at work, endangering everyone there and causing them liability? They are not your Mama.


> we had a strict no drugs policy

I have news that might surprise you about how widespread hard drug use in SV programming, finance, or any "startup" area.

Zero tolerance for the phone banks but not for Elon Musk, right?


Thankfully no "high pay" labor ever just takes pure advantage of the environment (e.g., stealing product, stealing time, etc) ;) And never at great cost for a period of time before it is discovered.

Pay might be a factor. I think people are people, and their behavior and beliefs vary.


Anecdotally, my friends in finance say that their chats are monitored with extreme scrutiny. You'll be written up for anything that can be perceived as screwing over your clients, even if it's an obvious joke. If this happened in any other sector, society would be quick to call this draconian. However, few people are aware of this form of micromanaging, and if they do, they recognize that it must be done.

As for people stealing time, Amazon puts people on PIP all the time.


>If this happened in any other sector, society would be quick to call this draconian.

Believe it or not, finance is under extra scrutiny.

That company has to log all chat messages in order to keep their FINRA certification, but that also means a court can subpoena and display the messages in a public trial. If they're a serious shop they will monitor and keep comms clean to the point of being Orwellian.


I completely agree, but we, as a society tend to look down more on the low paid people who do this versus the high paid ones.


yes, that's the whole point about privilege.


Exactly, and the high paid thieves are those who can wreck the lives of millions vs the low paid thieves take an infinitesimal bit away from the bottom line of a multi billion dollar company.


"We hang the petty thieves, and appoint the great ones to public office" -Aesop


Hanging the petty thieves satisfies the crowds that are unhappy because the great thieves are robbing them blind.


Death by a thousand cuts. It is just front of mind.

People "see" the low paid thieves and their impact on themselves and others on a semi regular basis. The once in awhile "white collar crime" you might see if you turn on the news isn't top of mind.

"That guy stole $5 from ME" versus "Wal Mart uses welfare as a way to get corporate welfare and pay their employees less"

One is in the moment, and a purely emotional and potentially traumatizing experience based on circumstance.

One I may not even experience (e.g., I don't work at Wal-Mart).


The higher paid thief and the lower paid thief both steal from their companies (both of which are owned by people). Yet the higher paid thief is afforded more privilege and trust and respect. Do you see the problem yet?


I'm agreeing with you, but I'm putting a reality spin on it. It's OK to have macro views, but you can't change anything without understanding psychology of the two scenarios for the average person.


I worked at a major pizza chain in high school. One of the assistant managers would use his access to update his time sheet so that his login time was 12 hours off from his real login time. So if he logged in at 4pm, he would update it to really be 4am. At first glance his clock in times would look correct, but he was stealing 12 hours of wages. This went on for months before he was caught and fired.

That was the biggest thing I saw. There was a TON of smaller theft in the form of drivers faking customer complaints so that the order was freed out, even though the driver had been paid cash for the order.


I've seen a lot of the same stuff.

A of my acquaintances from my hometown worked at a large retailer through highschool. They would hide merchandise under skids in the outdoor garden center during their shift, then come back at night to recover it. They would stuff small expensive items (ie: iPods), into the advertisement trays at the front of shopping carts, then recover them once the carts were pushed out into the parking lot. They built a "fort" between two aisles in the back warehouse to take naps during their shifts.

I could give stories like this for a long time. They never got caught (to my knowledge).

Not all low-level employees are thieves. But more of them are then most people realize.


You're claiming that 1/2 to 1/3 of employees are criminally stealing time or product from their workplace. I need some robust citations for that, because it's ridiculous on its face.


When I worked at Kmart, on more than one occasion they were forced to first to fire a large number of cashiers (10+) due to stealing. And the Kmart I worked in was definitely in the 'good' part of town.

Now Kmart also paid literally the minimum wage, but it still shocked me the number of people who would steal when they clearly had video, and regularly fired people for doing so. And some of the people who stole got caught for stealing bottles of soda to drink while at work...

As for stealing time, that was much more common, but I actually never saw anyone fired for that, no matter how often they took half hour long bathroom breaks, or spent an hour putting away 5 items. I guess Kmart understood they had to put up with something when paying literally as little as possible.


Maybe if Kmart paid their employees a little more they could afford to buy themselves something to drink at work.


We had water fountains in the back, you can always bring your own drinks, etc. It's hard to make an excuse for someone stealing a bottle of soda, a luxury.

It's not like anyone was stealing TVs, and that's what blew my mind about the stealing. It tended to be drinks and candy bars, stuff that not only was low value, but just simply wasn't necessary. It was stealing for the sake of stealing, because they thought they could get away with it.


That's an employees way of saying just how much they care about the job. It's a two way street.


I think the total amount of people who steal would go down if paid more, but I think there is just a "base amount" of the population who will always do this regardless what job/how much they get paid.


If thieves figure out that stealing incentivizes the employer to pay more (in an effort to reduce stealing), they now have a new motive to steal. That is, to increase the pressure on the employer to raise wages further. This new motive can even 'feel righteous', as it benefits the other low paid workers as well.


Why pay them more when you can offer some of what they're stealing as a benefit for working there. It's probably a lot cheaper and creates goof faith.


If Kmart paid their employees more, people would shop at Walmart.

And they did. Sears paid their employees very well, and consumers rewarded sears by shopping at their new competitors that offered lower prices.


Ironically enough Sears paid their employees well until they were bought by Kmart. When Lampert (Kmart CEO) took over he cut wages and jobs at Sears and then proceeded to run the company into the ground. Customers didn’t stop shopping at Sears because employees were paid too much. Sears had more customers at the time they were paying higher wages. Customers stopped shopping at Sears because extreme cost cutting efforts by a former hedge fund manager with no retail experience eroded the company’s customer-oriented quality brand.


I think it was inevitable that Sears would lose customers to cheaper merchants. Sears was offering employees expensive defined benefit pensions and healthcare. The 80s, 90s, and 00s saw the spending power of the bottom 4 quintiles drop. Even if people wanted to support a Sears type store, they can’t afford to.

Lambert didn’t help, but I think we’re still seeing the hollowing out of the middle class causing a loss of customers for places like Sears that could have paid middle class wages and sold decent quality goods.


I don't think that logically follows. Costco is well-known for generous compensation and are doing well.


Costco serves a limited range of items to middle and upper middle class areas only. As it already fulfills this segment of the population that can pay a little bit extra for quality, no competitor to Costco exists.

The same dynamics exist with Nordstrom/Apple/Trader Joes. There’s a few brands that can afford to offer more quality and better paid workers, but they don’t exist in poorer parts of any city, and there’s only one of each type of store.

Everyone else has to offer the lowest prices.


Not to be nitpicky, but wouldn't Sam's Club be considered a competitor to Costco?


It is, but last I heard Walmart was downsizing Sams Club operations. I also don’t think it’s known for quality and treating its employees well like Costco is. If you put a Sams Club next to a Costco, I would bet people choose to go to Costco.



They can't afford to bring an empty bottle from home and fill it with the free water from the water fountains? You surely jest. Soda is not a life necessity owed to employees. Particularly if part of your business is selling soda. Every K-Mart I every saw had an employee lounge with fridge where you could bring your own drinks or lunch and store them as well.


I worked with a gas station chain and they had a similar approach. They cumulatively lost thousands of dollars from cashiers stealing from the registers, but I guess it was less than having to pay them more? They usually recouped the stolen money through store surveillance, but still, it was a surprisingly high amount of time and effort; I figure an easier solution would be just to pay people more.

Now working with grocery stores, they commonly tell me how difficult it is to find cashiers. Pre-COVID, I was at one, and they had 10+ cashier openings, and no applicants.


My comment was pure anecdote from years spent in retail (Best Buy) and co-owning a pizza restaurant. I'll update it if it helps.

A quick google finds a number of stats referencing what I'm talking about, but probably nothing scientific. Here is an example: https://losspreventionmedia.com/theft-by-employees-more-comm...

Reliable help in "low skill" jobs (although I don't believe they are low skill) can be notoriously hard to find.


And yet wage theft (by employers) seems to be the largest form of theft in the US by far. Is it really a wonder that people would steal / slack off when they are so consistently getting screwed at their workplace?

https://www.nelp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/BrokenLawsRe...

https://www.deseret.com/2014/6/24/20543670/wage-theft-how-em...


Yep, the most egregious daily example is Wal-Mart and basically showing their employees how to apply for welfare versus paying them a livable wage. Corporate welfare at its best.

But how does an individual combat that? I personally just don't shop at Wal-Mart...


Walmart advising employees to receive benefits they are lawfully eligible for is not theft.


Neither is downloading a car, and yet, we have a highly patronizing video prepended to a lot of home video releases that disingenuously equates copyright infringement to theft.

Intentionally paying an employee less than a living wage, with the expectation that someone else will be charitable enough to make up the shortfall, is indeed not theft, but it is unethical. There is a popular movement to make that behavior illegal, via reforms to employment law.

The obvious impediment here is that poor employees have little lobbying/campaign cash, as compared with the mega-corporations that underpay their laborers. So I feel confident that "Fight for $15" and similar movements will fail without more unionization.


What? Feel free to disagree with copywrite law, or whatever.

But at the end of the day, I don't see anything wrong with helping workers take advantage of benefits that they are legally entitled to.


There's also nothing wrong with a man who rides a horse to the point of injury calling in a large-animal veterinarian to treat it, a vet whose services are paid by someone else.

But there is some question as to whether the availability of treatment allows the man to ride the horses harder, with less regard for their welfare, than would otherwise be possible.

Metaphorically, the vet should refuse to treat injuries brought on by recklessness or cruelty, unless the person responsible pays.

Unwinding the metaphor, Wal-Mart should be forced to pay the cost of entitlement programs to the extent that its employment practices make administering those programs to its workers more necessary. There are many ways that goal may be approached.

It's not "theft" by any definition of the word, but when the situation is described to the modal individual, they are likely to say "they're stealing from the welfare system!"


If you think that minimum wage should increase, or whatever, then just do that, lol.

We have that for a reason. But it should apply across the board.

Also, doing the thing that you are suggesting is basically equivalent to saying that all poor should be fired. Because that is what would happen.

I don't think it is a good idea to give companies a huge incentive to never hire poor people. What you are suggesting would just ensure that poor people get screwed over, because they would never be hired.


Opposing political positions have complicated the issue of poverty wages far beyond what is necessary. What we have, in law, is the result of a century of unproductive struggle, that branches out into other parts of the economy.

We are still living the legacy of the Great Depression, then the New Deal, and then also the attempts to unravel the New Deal.

To address your comment more directly, companies can't fire all poor people. They are needed to run the businesses (until their automaton replacements are built). But one of the reasons poor people are poor is that they cannot afford to not work for long enough to make potential employers hurt enough to offer them higher wages.

One point of a minimum wage is to put a stop on the race to the bottom for wages. Raising the minimum wage will certainly put some people out of work, many of them permanently. All those who cannot generate enough labor value to pay for the cost of their employment will lose their job, if they had one, and be unable to find other work.

But companies that require wage laborers will have to pay them enough to live on, without the fear of being undercut by someone more desperate.

But then you still have the problem of all those people who are unemployable economically, because they're just not productive enough to work for an employer, and lack the capital, credit, or capability to support themselves with self-employment.

So you have to pair minimum wage with something, so that those people don't resort to crime, the career of last resort. Whatever that is would certainly be sustainable, if and only if the employers that are setting the prevailing wages were somehow made to pay the costs of the externalities they force upon the society in which they operate, mostly brought on by ruthlessly cutting their labor costs as closely as possible to the bone, and diverting a greater proportion of their revenues to owners and managers. For the most part, for non-luxury goods and services, labor cost funnels into customer disposable income. You can't sell mass-market consumer-grade goods and services unless someone pays their workers enough to afford them.

And that's what the minimum wage does. It forces all employers into a cartel, such that everyone must pay their workers enough to survive on, plus a little extra disposable income to spend on stuff that no one needs, but requires economies of scale to exist. If the rich owner of a business likes blockbuster movies with big production budgets, they can pay the hundreds of millions of dollars all by themselves, or they and all their rich buddies can pay their workers enough that they can all afford a $10 movie ticket once in a while. If the rich owner of a business likes fine dining, they can pay for a personal chef and the upkeep for kitchen and pantry, or they and all their buddies can pay their workers enough that they can all afford a $50 meal once in a while. When Wal-Mart pays poverty wages, they are reneging on the cartel agreement. Their lowest-paid employees can't even buy a Big Mac without budgeting for it in advance, much less go to the movies or eat a steak dinner. Those employees cannot support other types of business when all their pay goes to rent, utilities, public transportation, and food.


I think that you missed the point a bit.

There is no need to do some wierd complicated scheme regarding social benefits of people who are working.

Instead of that, if you think that people aren't getting paid enough money, then you should probably just advocate for increasing the minimum wage.

I think you even kind of admitted this when you said "And that's what the minimum wage does".

If this is the case, then that is the solution. Just advocate for increasing the minimum wage.

> When Wal-Mart pays poverty wages, they are reneging on the cartel agreement.

This agreement is called the minimum wage! They are not renaging on that.

If you think the minimum wage is to low... Then the proper response is to advocate for increasing it.


Sure, but for all the talk of socialism, Walmart is a state-subsidized entity. How is that a free market?


Call it whatever you like, they're using it as a crutch to pay their employees as little as possible.


Wal-mart already pays well above the minimum wage. By your logic, they're actually saving the government billions of dollars in welfare that the government would have to pay to take care of their own citizens.


Both can be true at the same time


I suspect that those of us who worked our ways through school at menial jobs can think of many examples right off the top of our heads.

In my experience, "1/2" is too much (depending on how you define stealing). But it was quite common for both employees to steal from their employer, and for employers to steal (wages) from the employees.

It was also quite common for employees to simply walk off when they felt they'd had enough.


If you consider employee and employer a resource exchange (time and abilities for money) then theft can also be tucked in as underemployment. If a task takes 10 minutes to complete an employee intentionally draws it out to 4 hours, is that theft? They were there, they were working, but didn't do it at maximum efficiency. If an employer can afford to pay an employee $20/hr and was even expecting to but was able to get labor at $10/he, is that theft?

Those in power define the rules and define things like 'theft.' Theft in the traditional sense is taking physical tangible resources that aren't yours. When we move to intangibles like time, businesses have defined all the rules around theft, not people.


In the US at least, businesses do have more power to get things written into law, yes, but certainly not all of the power. Minimum wage laws, for example, certainly aren't the work of business interests.

In practice, the situation is rather gray. Employers will virtually never call the police in a case of theft (or "theft")--they'll simply fire the person involved. Likewise, most employees won't do much if they're stolen (or "stolen") from by employers, they'll just quit.

We're not even consistent in the ways that we think about the topic. There has been talk of a "rent strike" during the pandemic, which amounts to stealing resources from one's landlord (who might be "rich" or might be quite "poor"). Few people would go along with the idea of a "grocery strike", in which those who need food but cannot pay simply shoplift from their local store. Somehow the former sounds more okay than the latter, even though the former would typically involve theft on a much larger scale.

And of course, most of us posting here are "stealing" from our employers in some sense. The better employers typically realize that they're better off looking the other way.


There's a handy chart out there that plots change in worker productivity and change in purchasing power by income percentile over time that answers this in a single graphic.

If a task normally takes 10 minutes, and an employee completes it in five, is that a donation of effort?

Is it theft to titrate the productivity of your labor to fit the rate of pay you receive for it? Employees do not get paid more for effort that exceeds par.

If I get paid $7/hour, I can easily reduce my productivity until one hour of my labor produces $21 for the employer. Or maybe I work two hours to produce $160 and slack off for six.

Two consecutive generations of not being rewarded for contributing additional effort for the benefit of the company has taken its toll, culturally. Nobody is willing to uphold a string work ethic for an unethical employer.

The employers burned through all their credit with labor, and are trying to refinance by redefining all the rules. It won't work. It's time for them to pay up.


> Two consecutive generations of not being rewarded

Only two? Someone skipped history class. :-)


There is an inflection point around the late seventies and early eighties which marks a huge expansion in the depredation of the upper class upon the middle and lower classes.

Prior to that point, increases in worker productivity positively correlate (at least weakly) with improvements in the purchasing power of worker wages. Afterward, working class purchasing power went flat or dropped even as their productivity shot through the roof. The owner class acquired the ability to capture everything, and they chose not to let it trickle down, by the terminology of the time. They didn't spend it. They loaned it or invested it, such that it never fully left their control.

After the abolition of slavery and advent of industrialization, labor movements have occasionally been able to claw back more of the workers' share of trade in the specialist economy, and then keep more equitable sharing of revenues going for a while afterwards, but the working class hasn't caught any breaks for a solid 40 years now, and unions are now relatively weak, compared to their historic peaks.

Prior generations got peanuts for their extra efforts, but they did at least get something.


> If you've never been involved at a management or ownership level of a business that has "low pay" labor (e.g., food service, warehouse, retail sales)...

You'd think Amazon treats its "high pay" engineers on-par with other FAANGs? It is not just the warehouse workers that they are paranoid about. They're paranoid about the human nature to slack, to rest, to err, to relax, to let their guard down for a moment, to not care enough at times, to deal with life's other problems, to fail... to live.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19751016


If you can't afford to pay employees a decent wage, you shouldn't be in business. Minimum wages should be raised and nonviable businesses should adapt or go under.

Amazon is not in this category


> Minimum wages should be raised and nonviable businesses should adapt or go under.

That's a recipe for significantly increased unemployment which would affect the most vulnerable workers the most.

For most people in a low-paying job, the alternative is no job. If they were able to get higher-paying jobs they would have already done so.


Then why have a minimum wage at all?


Because, before minimum wage, we had people being paid the price of a loaf of bread for an entire day's labor. We had people being paid in "company scrip" only spendable in the company's own store at inflated prices, instead of real national currency.


Why, indeed.

In a society with a functioning safety net, minimum wage wouldn't be necessary. That wouldn't only be better for those who can't work at all. All employees would benefit, and eventually most businesses would as well. Here in USA I'm not sure if such a safety net is possible, but I hear good things about other societies.


Because, unlike what you suggested, policymakers are able to calibrate the minimum wage so it doesn't cause companies to go out of business.


Only about 2% of hourly paid workers earned federal minimum wage or less in 2018 in the US [1]. This percentage has been dropping over the past few decades. I think this implies that minimum wage has been calibrated to be low enough that it makes little difference overall.

[1] https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/minimum-wage/2018/home.htm


That's misleading because the federal minimum wage is lower than more than half of state minimum wages.


Right, because the federal minimum wage is calibrated to be low enough that it doesn't make much difference.

In Texas, where the state minimum wage is the federal minimum wage, there are still only about 3% of hourly workers earning minimum wage or less.


Large corporations are making bigger profits than ever and the minimum wage isn't being calibrated to actually ensure a decent standard of living.


Right. Everyone who lives in that world knows and understands this.

People who only read about the non college degree people can have some very clueless ideas.


Purely anecdotal, but my dad has a story around this--his company wasn't doing great, and they needed to increase factory output, so one of the best ideas was to create a factory profit share amongst all the factory employees. They called a random group of employees together to run the idea by them, and after they presented, they asked them what they thought. One guy then asked, "So does this mean I have to work harder?" My dad replied something like, "Well yes, but you'll get a share of the factory's profits if you work harder." Random guy, "Well I don't want to work harder..."

I think it just puts a voice to what a lot of people think, but never say.

[edit] Sorry, to add details, they were trying to increase throughput with the same number of workers. The factory already went 24/7 under EU guidelines, so more hours were out of the question.


Sure one way to read this story is "I don't want to work harder" and criticizing that attitude.

Here's another way. As the worker, already working full-time, maybe you have better things to do with your life than working harder. Furthermore, the worker is probably thinking:

"If they want me to work more hours, why not pay me for more hours, including time-and-a-half overtime, per the law? Why offer a profit-share? Answer, mostly likely because the profit-share costs them less, and therefore, pays me less".

In that light, unless the factory management can explain how the extra hours they want people to work is likely to work out better for them then just getting paid for more hours, why should they accept?


In the example you are replying to, the employees are literally being promised they will be paid more for increased work.


Profit sharing at a company that "wasn't doing great" is not a promise to be paid more.


I'm not sure what you're trying to say with this story. But the whole "work harder" is a business euphemism for "put in more hours". It probably wasn't the words that were used. Your dad was asking someone to put in more hours, maybe miss dinners with the family, maybe work some weekends, for an unknown "share of profits". But it seems like you're presenting a worker choosing better work/life balance over higher pay as proof of laziness.


That story describes random employees being asked to become investors, speculators, silent partners in the business. Here are the conditions:

* you do lots of work now, up front

* you have no say in the business

* you have no say in the investment returns, for example, if profits are made, management can just give themselves higher salaries that come straight out of your share of returns

* your investment isn't portable or recoupable, if you leave it's nothing

* if management is bad, it's also nothing

* you're skeptical of current management

Should you invest your time in this business?


I think we all need to re watch the Office Space meeting with the Bobs!


This is why cooperatives are so much better for food service. Set up the incentives to align the success of the business and the honesty of the employees.


> This makes companies take extreme policy measures...

Governing to the lowest denominator is just poor management.

> ...because the financial impact is so disproportionate...

For who? Bob "steals" an hour of overtime worth $25 but he's still in your facility at your disposal. God forbid...

> "If you pay me more I won't act like this"

This I agree with. You get what you pay for. Period.

> But depending on the business (e.g., a local pizza place) there is no affording that.

So why is it alright to allow a failing business who can't create value in the workforce is allowed (and enabled) to stay open so it can ruin more lives and create more misery? Surely there's a decent pizza place around the corner that's well managed, creates value for employees, and deserves the business. Instead we crutch along shitty businesses for no reason. Case in point, at a debate in 2016 a woman asked Bernie Sanders how she would continue to grow her business if she had to offer her employees health insurance. She would have to scrap plans to open a second location.

I'm sorry, but if your first location can't sustain itself and create a meaningful work environment maybe nobody needs that second location of yours. Get health coverage for your existing workforce before you go hiring more.


> Instead we crutch along shitty businesses for no reason.

The cost of healthcare to employers has more than tripled over the last 17 years[1]. We're not "crutching them along," we are passively watching as opportunities to grow are eroded by rising costs.

[1] - https://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/BF-AU065A_INSUR_9...


Have you owned a margin strained small business before? Or had any experience working in a margin strained retail environment where your only competitive lever is price?

> Governing to the lowest denominator is just poor management.

Nevertheless, this is what happens. If you're running a low margin store of 50 employees, as a store general manager you notice one bad employee more and complain upwards about it. Hiring/retraining costs money. Granted this is a long time ago but I recall our training/hiring cost per employee at a Best Buy store to be in the thousands of dollars.

If you're Best Buy you can afford to pay people more (they just are also being responsible to their Wall Street numbers), but an independent restaurant can't just turn the price lever without other impacts, and no, in the cases I'm familiar with, the owner is not making high wage. Some of them are lucky to make over $50-60k/yr and correctly re-invest in their business.

> For who? Bob "steals" an hour of overtime worth $25 but he's still in your facility at your disposal. God forbid...

Depending on the company, yes, one employee stealing anything can have more of an impact on your company than you realize. Especially if it goes on awhile without anyone noticing.

> I'm sorry, but if your first location can't sustain itself and create a meaningful work environment maybe nobody needs that second location of yours. Get health coverage for your existing workforce before you go hiring more.

First, health care is expensive. I work for a $4B company and my benefits are not great. My healthcare is expensive per-paycheck in my opinion.

Let's discuss your Bernie example/quote further. Let's say you enforced what you're talking about. Say an independent Pizza shop charges $20 for a large pizza, Pizza Hut/Dominos charges $18. But I can charge $2 more because of my quality, but I still have high food costs because I don't have franchise buying power. But I already have less sales because I don't have brand recognition and/or the marketing power that a national franchise does.

Also, at least in my friend's cases, they also pay their employees more than minimum wage out of the gate. IIRC they get paid fairly well for a pizza place, he also has employees that have been there for years and he pays them accordingly.

OK cool, I'll increase my wage, and I'll buy everyone health insurance. Now I have to charge $22 or $25 for the same pizza. Maybe my customers are loyal and just deal with it, maybe not. What happens if not? Then I close my business, now not only are my employees unemployed but so am I.

Say you make the same change to the big franchise, their costs only go up to $19-$20 for the pizza that cost $18 before. At the extreme still $5 less than I was charging.

Obviously the example gets more complex if everyone gets the same wage increase, right? Then you're just sort of raising the water line.

I think it's super complex, honestly. Especially having managed this on the "Big Business" and small business sides.

That being said:

> This I agree with. You get what you pay for. Period.

Not in all cases is my point, some people are just awful humans. He's had some of his employees (whom he pays well in comparison) steal food and money straight out of the register.


I agree with this. It's not about business owners needing to be more moral (although at the top of the economy maybe that would help a little). The problem is the economic system is based on competition, which means that in the workplace, anything that is good for ordinary people is ground down forever in the name of efficiency. If the boot is ever taken off when there are viable competitors present, the company will be destroyed and the competitor will buy its equipment and hire its staff at rock bottom prices.

This is why structuring the economy based on competition is brutal and inhumane.


My contemporary example since quarantine started is exactly Amazon. Have you tried the e-commerce experience ANYWHERE else? Haha.

I tried ordering things from Home Depot for instance (I have extra time on my hands, might as well fix up the house). If it's not available in store, they quoted week+ shipping time.

Amazon had it to me in 3-4 days.

Obviously Home Depot had little to no incentive to do better shipping until now.


If pizza costs more than a certain amount, I am eating at home, and so are a lot of other people, leaving a lot of restaurants, who exist on thing margins already, to close.


so basically the invisible hand will take action and adjust to this more sustainable conditions (and now don't tell me, that a system, where a lot of people are obese and opioid-dependent, is sustainable...)


Even worse is when you evaluate hiring. It isn't unusual for a high-turnover entry-level type employer to have 15% or less of candidates who agree to fill a position still employed with the company 6 months later.

The pure drag of having to deal with this, especially when it comes to all of the paperwork required, by law, to be completed with every single new hire makes this alone a huge expense.

The vast majority of those employees left of their own will, not because they were fired. Usually when the leave, there is no notice. They just don't show up leaving management short handed and wondering whether the employee will show up the next day. Consequently, the policy can be to over-staff so that whenever some percentage isn't showing up the employer can still meet production needs.

The employer cannot simply increase prices and pay people better. For the most part, employers already have prices at the highest their customers are willing to pay. Setting prices higher will result in loss of customers, less profit, then layoffs or business closure.

Employees at this level are astoundingly uninterested in performing well, or, in other words, there is a reason they are working entry-level positions. This makes management yet more difficult because managers may have to become near micro-managers of cat herds trying to get the company to produce whatever it is supposed to produce.


[flagged]


Come on. Forgive me if I don't take "low wage workers are inherently immoral by HR standards" seriously. Or whining about downvotes, for that matter.


I downvoted your GP and I will tell you why: it wasn't the observations of the way that businesses are run. It was this: "there is a reason they are working entry-level positions". This is Just World Hypothesis or "people are miserable because they deserve it". I flatly reject any hypothesis that the world we are living in is fair. You can consider any number of anthropological examples of societies that are not organized like capitalism in the West to see that the portion of the population that are "freeloaders" is not as high as the number of people who are stuck in "low skill" jobs. Just to take an example, the Amish do not experience this high level of stratification and wage slavery misery. They have their own problems, for sure, but humans are not en masse lazy. Most of us want to contribute to society and our system is exploitative.

And before you accuse me of being upper class, I grew up on food stamps, didn't complete college because I was working full-time to pay my way through it and it just didn't work out, and I worked plenty of terrible, low-skill jobs before I landed a job in tech.


> I downvoted your GP and I will tell you why: it wasn't the observations of the way that businesses are run. It was this: "there is a reason they are working entry-level positions". This is Just World Hypothesis or "people are miserable because they deserve it". I flatly reject any hypothesis that the world we are living in is fair. You can consider any number of anthropological examples of societies that are not organized like capitalism in the West to see that the portion of the population that are "freeloaders" is not as high as the number of people who are stuck in "low skill" jobs. Just to take an example, the Amish do not experience this high level of stratification and wage slavery misery. They have their own problems, for sure, but humans are not en masse lazy. Most of us want to contribute to society and our system is exploitative.

> And before you accuse me of being upper class, I grew up on food stamps, didn't complete college because I was working full-time to pay my way through it and it just didn't work out, and I worked plenty of terrible, low-skill jobs before I landed a job in tech.

There is no judgment in my statement, and from being the person who interviewed them and looked at their work histories, I can tell you that they are not what you think they are. They have a lot of problems. A lot of the people we hired not only because we needed the entry-level bodies and they were all that were applying, but also because we hoped they would turn a new leaf.

You have inserted some long rant that is hard for me to consider as having anything to do with my statements, as I made no claims about humans being lazy. Some people, say in their 30s and even 40s, born in the U.S., graduated high school, have kids, can't hold a steady job, can't show up to work on time, always take long breaks, disappear and no one can find them for hours, mess around on their cell phone all the time, never get the job done right, show up to work not more than 3 consecutive days, take too long to get the job not done right, and it's got nothing to do with religion or other countries.

If you haven't managed a business that relies on entry level employees, then I'm not clear you have the perspective, regardless of your other work experiences.

As a side note, the mention of Amish seems rather silly, given that anyone who doesn't want to be Amish can leave, and anyone who wants to be Amish can join. So everyone there is where they want to be.


You said:

> Employees at this level are astoundingly uninterested in performing well, or, in other words, there is a reason they are working entry-level positions. This makes management yet more difficult because managers may have to become near micro-managers of cat herds trying to get the company to produce whatever it is supposed to produce.

which very much sounds like an indictment of all low skill workers. If you didn't mean that, perhaps you could reword that paragraph.

I haven't managed a business employing low-skilled workers because--and the reason that I grew up on food stamps--my father owned his own small business employing two to three such workers digging ditches or running electrical and construction type work. And the margins were incredibly thin and he paid them almost nothing and we still didn't have enough to eat. At various times throughout my childhood, those workers would inevitably have a heated argument with my father or otherwise steal from or slight him in some way. I think about that time a lot. Part of the reason that I think he continually failed as a manager/owner was that he had worked for medium sized companies when he was younger and went about replicating their management style in his own business. I often wonder if he would have done better if he made and treated these employees more as co-founders in a venture and allowed them have a sense of ownership and self-direction. I'll never know.


It’s not a statement about fairness: it’s a statement about filtering / sampling bias.


Wait, so the complaint is that not enough people are getting stuck in your low-paid dead-end job? They're finding a better job and leaving?

Is it less expensive constantly hiring and training new people than it would be to pay enough to retain employees you already have?


No, they are usually not finding a better job. They usually got too high, slept too long, had a family incident, or just "didn't feel like it". They usually go to another very similarly low-paid job. At this level of the employment market (Wal-Mart stockers, gas stations, big fast food chain kitchens), employers and employees both see each other as disposable and interchangeable. It is a two-way street.


A while back I helped a startup that was doing managed video services, specifically internal surveillance. A very logical "service" for them was to have actual humans review and verify various incidents and so they staffed up a small team of hourly video watchers.

It was a culture shock. Things like acceptable workplace attire were issues; and there was no store-front or exposure to customers, it was just what's acceptable in a professional office. Someone quitting with no notice wasn't uncommon. I think the most shocking aspect was most lived in this sort of land of grand illusion, they had no concept that there were non-hourly jobs or workers building the system they used. All of them lived in a fairly delicate balance, a small inconvenience like some car trouble was potentially life altering for them. We did these somewhat terrible Thursday night deployments (think 4 hours most of the time) and more than a few times some of these guys wanted to "help" to get some overtime pay, they were incredulous at the idea that we didn't get paid extra for that. Everyone deserves dignity and respect but it's also easy to see how these untrusting sorts of institutions come to be.

The big difference between ordering on Amazon and walking in to a Walmart is you have to look some of those people in the eye in Walmart. Credit to Tim for shining a little light on this. I've sort of thought that we might be in for a wave of 21st century unionization, I think the floor is a lot lower than that though. It's hard to imagine what could spark a cultural shift that would unite workers in today's world.


> It's hard to imagine what could spark a cultural shift that would unite workers in today's world.

It would have to be a huge cultural shift away from profits being the #1 goal of companies. We need something to replace it.


> Things like acceptable workplace attire were issues

That's the norm for many (most?) high-paying jobs, even more so than the typical low-paying job. Tech is kind of the outlier, if you're a banker or lawyer or consultant, you're expected to wear a suit everywhere.


I briefly worked on a timekeeping system (the one that records work hours). When I started running it against real data, I hit some bugs. The system was reporting that people had worked a few hours rather than a full shift. I had no idea how this could happen.

When I started digging into the data, it became obvious. People were punching in at 08:00 on Monday, and wouldn't punch out until something like 12:00 on Friday (change days as required). This meant that they were clocking 24 hours / day. The only way this could happen is if they were colluding with their store manager, as the manager was meant to close out the time keeping system at the end of the day.

The stores with employees that abused the system tended to have lower margins. This often led to them being closed down. It's not so much the individual being bad that's bad, it's that in industries where profit margin is razor thin, an individual can have an outsized effect on the group.

I expect over time (10s of years) the computer industry will get closer to other professional industries as opposed to being the wild west it is today.


If you think clocking will make people more productive, you are terribly wrong.

I've seen companies where this happens, and people have Friday afternoons off because they already did their hours that week. They have 0 loyalty to the company.

Relationships work in 2 directions. If the company treats you like lazy scum, you will treat the company as an oppressive thing you want to avoid.

If the company trusts you, you are less inclinded to breach that trust.

This also works for blue collar workers, just look up Ricardo Semler of Semco.


I think both individual employees and companies are guilty of one thing: greed. I've seen it personally happen on all levels of many companies.

The scale of the employee's greed make it's actions seem tame at a small scale (punching false times...). They justify it by saying they are getting their dues and for once they are the ones screwing and not getting screwed.

The scale and visibility of a company's greed make it much more apparent that it's incentives and moral compass are way off (mistreating, exploiting...). They justify this behavior as helping the bottom line and making the numbers look good to investors.

Until ALL the actors, both companies and individuals start adjusting their 'morality' and integrity this will continue happening.


> I've seen companies where this happens, and people have Friday afternoons off because they already did their hours that week.

How is that a bad thing?


Not saying it's a bad thing, just saying that it might not improve productivity compared to their peers that still want to finish that one thing on Friday before the weekend starts.

But indeed those employees (programmers, etc) saw that as a benefit of doing no more than 40 hour per week.


> finish that one thing on Friday before the weekend starts

Sometimes you might fix that one bug that would haunt you over the weekend otherwise, I grant you that. More often than that, feeling that one has to enable oneself to finish stuff at the end of the week leads to fewer plans on Friday nights, too little socializing outside of work, less restful weekends. And those kill productivity and company culture in the medium term.

In the short term I have seen my share of lost productivity because people feel like deploying hardly thought through changes (if only to internal system) on Friday afternoons to get it done that week.


Boeing tracked the projects people worked on to the tenth of an hour when I worked there in IT as a salaried employee.

It was a disaster and lead to all sorts of undesirable behaviors and malicious compliance.


They are required to do that by law because they work on government contracts. I have worked at a couple of contractors, they are all required to do that. IN my experience it has all been self reported, but I wouldn't immediately assume that Boeing is being nefarious.


It's well established timesheets are an utter failure when concerning knowledge work and derived output. There have been times where every hour had to be accounted for, allotted to projects, cost centers/departments and various general types of allowed "hours". This is more unusual today because it provably reduced productivity and sometimes even led to pointless discussions where to "punch in your hours", employees stopped caring as the time was not theirs anymore anyways. In the end, data quality would be destroyed, and the entire system a time-consuming pointless exercise in C&C futility.

The system of building on trust is a more basic form of reporting, actually more in line with business thinking. Trust is currency and life blood throughout organizations and across them. There's surely some people still doing the agonizing detailed reporting of timesheets, but even consultants are given same benefits of doubt nowadays, as companies tend to use the same system for everyone.

I'm sure the cycle will restart at some point. That situation will be one where employees have much less say in the day to day work and operations again.


> It's not so much the individual being bad that's bad, it's that in industries where profit margin is razor thin, an individual can have an outsized effect on the group.

If a business isn't capable of supporting it's labor at a rate where their employees can maintain their cost of living, then that business has already failed. It means the business subsidizing the cost of goods and services with the quality of life of the employees providing those goods and services. That's not a sustainable economic model, because it means those same workers are effectively excluded from the economy; they're only able to participate with essential goods and services, which harms the markets for anything else by artificially constraining demand. That means economics of scale won't pay off, which increases the effects of overhead on business.


The correct solution to that would be to hand some collective ownership and responsibility to the employees of a store. Make schedules public, or if that's a privacy issue (I don't think it should be), at least discuss overall statistics at some regular meeting.

"Hey team, we worked x hours this month, and our best employee worked 96 ours of overtime! Amazing!"

In your example, the "individual [having] an outsized effect on the group" is the store manager. They need some oversight to ensure they're correctly wielding their power over the timekeeping system and their employees. You could have the next manager in the chain conduct oversight, but then you might end of with the same issue. Better to distribute power to the employees, so no one person can ruin the store, and everyone feels a little more responsible and important.


> Because it often involves nothing more than being given a basic level of trust and respect that, once you have them, can seem like a bare minimum, not something that you would need to fight for.

This is exactly why privilege is not an accurate or constructive term to use in these conversations.

Privilege implies something undeserved. So it sounds like an argument for taking away those bare minimums, so everyone is equally treated with suspicion, condescension and hostility.

Better words are "oppression", "discrimination" and "bigotry". Make it clear that the goal is treating everyone with a basic level of trust and respect, as a bare minimum, and nothing less than that is acceptable.


When I switched from mechanical engineering to software engineering people would ask me how the switch went, and I would tell them it was like I became a new class of citizen. The pay was better, I didn't get drug tested anymore, management was friendly, the rules were lax.

This made a lot of people uncomfortable (software engineers didn't want to acknowledge the privilege they've been living with and non-software folks interpreted it as bragging). I think it must be pretty tough to understand the gap unless you've been in both.


> This made a lot of people uncomfortable (software engineers didn't want to acknowledge the privilege they've been living with and non-software folks interpreted it as bragging). I think it must be pretty tough to understand the gap unless you've been in both.

I agree. Anecdote: The difference in treatment between a permatemp ('seasonal' worker at an entertainment facility working more than 9 months per year, later round-the-clock) and F.T.E. is massive.

In the former, you are guilty until proven, if not innocent, then merely suspicious.

In the latter, you are innocent until proven guilty or more commonly incompetent.

I'm glad I work at one of the latter places now.


I've known of DBAs who had drug-testing.


>software engineers didn't want to acknowledge the privilege they've been living with

Maybe people would be less hostile to the idea if you didn't dismiss the fruits of their labor with accusations of "privilege." It's kind of insulting to be told that you effectively didn't earn part or all of your success because of your race and/or gender.


Maybe privilege is the wrong word (I never used that word in these discussions), and race/gender is completely tangential to this conversation.

I'm not trying to say that the status is unearned, either, but I see why developers wouldn't want to agree with me. It's not humbling at all, and can appear arrogant.


> There seems to be a consistent theme of employees being treated with suspicion, condescension and outright hostility.

I'd suggest working with or managing a place with low-skilled people. They of course aren't all like that but it seems it attracts low-motivation, low-effort, or low-caring. I can only provide 2 anecdotes, but I can see why people get treated this way after time.

I highly doubt there are many people that just start their management role in a hostile, suspicion, condescension kind of way. Normally it takes something repeated over time to build up those kinds of traits of dealing with something

In college I used to work for RPS (they got bought by Fedex or UPS, I forget) sorting packages. To get the job you had to lift up to 50lbs and memorize the first 2 digits of the zip code (just the region so it was like 20-30 numbers) and you'd stand in front of a big chute and sort boxes onto 1 of 3 conveyors. The amount of anger people would take out on other's boxes was insane. Kicking, punching(??), throwing over the ledge (we were like 3 floors up), or just outright stamping of boxes was nuts. After working there I learned what it means to package something well as I could not count on any package of mine being treated with respect.

The other anecdote are my wife's pharmacy techs she has to manage. Some of them will bitch and moan if they have to remake a drug, sometimes outright REFUSE to make a drug if it means they have to gown back up and go back into the clean room. They will disappear for an hour after delivering a drug (up a few floors). They will take well over an hour for lunch breaks. It is a very maddening situation because all of these actions means the kids don't get what they need on time.


> I'd suggest working with or managing a place with low-skilled people. They of course aren't all like that but it seems it attracts low-motivation, low-effort, or low-caring

Pay low wage, get low motivation. No one's going to bust their ass over a mcgriddle for minimum wage.


I sure did. Harder than I worked at some better paying jobs, for sure. Wage itself does not seem to be the determining factor in motivation.

I'd say it's more about barriers to entry and the work environment itself.


> No one's going to bust their ass over a mcgriddle for minimum wage.

I've always done what I agreed to do at every job I worked. And I've had some pretty awful jobs. I'm not a hero. Doing what you've agreed to do doesn't make you a hero. It's the minimum requirement if you want to call yourself an honest person whose word means literally anything at all.

Don't do that for anybody else. Do it for yourself.


Pay higher wages and your customers go somewhere else to save a dollar. Some businesses don’t have the luxury of customers that will pay more than the lowest prices.


I busted my butt as a 16 y.o. minimum wage worker, didn't you?


Give an inch and they take a mile. You could pay a McDonalds worker all you like and he'll still just try to get away with doing less work.


It really depends on the person; for a lot of McJobs, the people doing them never really pursued the job; they wanted / needed A job, any job. They work for money, not for love of the job.

I mean you can learn to love a job, but that kind of loyalty has to be earned - by good pay, working conditions, career opportunities, and being valued.

But there's too many jobs now - Amazon warehouse employee being one of them - where you are a number in a system, and very much replaceable.

Bring back good jobs. Restaurant worker is not a bad job, but it's underpaid and unvalued.


Underpaid, undervalued, exceedingly stressful, and often poorly managed at the shift level. Turnover and variable quality in co-workers aside, there's intense pressure on shift management to cut labor, such that stores are usually understaffed for the workload. Work throughput expectations don't change, however...

I'm not sure what the answer to this is (McDonalds Corp will just introduce more automation if they have to raise wages, and a lot of people will go from stressful, low paying jobs to no jobs at all). But I don't think this occupation is in a good place.


Many people, maybe most, take some pride in their work. You pay people decently, give them trust, and treat them like adults, most of them will give good-to-great effort towards what they do. If you approach them with the attitude you currently have, then your prophecy becomes self-fulfilling.


Then make your own profitable company that takes advantage of this. I don't want things to be this way. It doesn't make me happy to say it, but all of the evidence is on my side. I suppose all companies start out with good intentions like you have. But the successful ones always end up like Amazon. The others are confined to your imagination.


It's good were on the same page: your employees will be motivated to further their work-related skills and efficiency, thus doing less work.

My deployment process at work used to require a ton of work, but I spent a few afternoons to automate it and now I get to do much less work.


> Do you not see how absurd that sounds?

Not absurd at all. The people in the front lines understand the nature of their work better than anyone. When the engineers and the front line workers can actually communicate, and the workers feel like they're being heard, then great things can happen. Not only can productivity go up from making processes more efficient, but the hard-working front line people can feel a certain amount of ownership in their positions. Which will contribute to making them even better.

I've seen this in person. Once worked for a teleco's internal training department. We somehow ended up making quick access utilities for the call center desktops. When we first deployed the tool, it rarely got used. This was because we made assumptions about what they needed. So we ended up talking to the call center reps. The people stuck dealing with the front line calls all day. They had very clear ideas about what they needed and what we should do. We listened. Followed their ideas. Had them give further feedback on the betas. And it ended up probably saving the company many millions per year in terms of efficiency gains. Plus it was a huge morale boost. These people finally got someone to listen to them and helped implement changes that made their job easier. Which gave them a sense of ownership and pride. And upped employee retention.


So you just did your job and went and collected requirements from your user base? I really don't see how this is the same thing. I worked in a large insurance company with its own call centre and we did the same thing. It's great for the business but I just don't see how this is connected to giving workers more money and freedom.


> My deployment process at work used to require a ton of work, but I spent a few afternoons to automate it and now I get to do much less work.

Clearly you're just like the majority of HN readership: living in a bubble a million miles away from what is reality for very large swathes of the population. Do you truthfully believe that someone flipping burgers in Burger King is capable of inventing machines and automating processes, but they refuse to do it because they don't get paid enough? Do you not see how absurd that sounds?


No, but I don't think your response warranted anything serious. You said that any mcdonalds worker is inherently lazy, so I sidestepped that ridiculous sentiment.

Also it's hilarious that you, the guy out there roasting all minimum wage workers, is somehow connected to the average working man.


Now that's just unreasonable. Please don't lump all McD workers together and assume they lack integrity as a whole...


I believe that the In-N-Out experience proves this wrong.


> I'd suggest working with or managing a place with low-skilled people. They of course aren't all like that but it seems it attracts low-motivation, low-effort, or low-caring.

As often as not, this is a failure of management. Of course no manager wants to admit to this. A great example is the turnaround at the NUMMI GM plant after drastic changes to the manufacturing process[1]. The same employees going from drinking on the job and creating tons of defects to a model of efficient manufacturing in North America.

[1] https://www.thisamericanlife.org/403/nummi-2010


That's why people work hard to acquire skills, to be able to work in better jobs.

I have never run a warehouse, but I suspect that many of the strange seeming rules are in place because people otherwise try to exploit the system (like getting paid for smoking on the toilet for hours on end). It may seem inhumane, but perhaps it makes it possible to give people jobs who don't deserve automatic trust. Such people exist, unfortunately.

I found very interesting the book of the guy who founded "The Big Issue", a magazine that homeless people sell in Britain. They also had to put some rules in place that seem strange, for example the vendors (homeless people) had to buy the magazines they wanted to sell. They are alcoholics, gamblers, addicts, so unfortunately some special rules were necessary to make it work.


>That's why people work hard to acquire skills, to be able to work in better jobs.

I know it's a common mantra in these circles to 'acquire skills' and 'learn to code!' And by all means, if you are capable go for it - I know I did.

But it's really hard to do this when your priorities are your day-to-day expenses. When your uncertainties are whether you'll have a home or food. It's also hard when traditional means for acquiring skills, like going to college, no longer have the same returns they used to. All of my friends who work at Amazon warehouses have college degrees. So it's not even a call to learn fulfilling skills, it's a call to specifically learn profitable skills.


> All of my friends who work at Amazon warehouses have college degrees.

Quite a few of my friends who work in dead end jobs also have college degrees, and they have them in the things you'd expect: the fine arts, intricate degrees on languages or theory, and other non-profitable skills. A degree does not equal a job, even if your college recruiter would like to tell you differently.

> And by all means, if you are capable go for it

And that is one of the most disrespectful things I hear applied to low wage earners - that they are incapable of learning new skills, that they're not as capable as other workers or that they they're doomed in be in low wage jobs forever.

That's false. Usually what many of these workers need is help navigating how to get a profitable job, what skills actually pay and where to learn those skills in a way that results in a job. As we've established above, "get a four year degree" usually isn't a great path and these folks know it - but right now our culture is stuck on that phenomenon.


I think the idea that workers need "profitable" degrees to work "profitable" jobs isn't as obvious as you think.

It used to be said that a college degree was a ticket to a well-paying job. Now, a few decades later, we're told to get a STEM degree, because other degrees are worthless. Who's to say that the criteria won't get even narrower in the future?

Degrees aren't a symbol of skill nearly as much as they are a way for the market to allocate well-paying jobs, and the allocation is getting smaller all the time.


> It used to be said that a college degree was a ticket to a well-paying job

I have never actually heard this said. Can you provide some sources or any kind of quote for this? I've heard references to this having been said, but never an actual source.

This is anecdotal, but even my older family members saw college as meeting gating requirements for some jobs, not a promise of getting those jobs.

> Now, a few decades later, we're told to get a STEM degree, because other degrees are worthless.

I don't think a STEM degree promises you a job, nor is a STEM degree inherently valuable unless you otherwise have the qualifications to work in a STEM field.

> Degrees aren't a symbol of skill nearly as much as they are a way for the market to allocate well-paying jobs

They're a form of gating, agreed.

> and the allocation is getting smaller all the time.

That's not clear. For some fields like being a Doctor that seems to be true, but for many fields like being an engineer that's obviously not the case. That being said, I would be surprised if there's a compiled data set that accurately tells us one way or another - the BLS data might be the closest.



> I have never actually heard this said. Can you provide some sources or any kind of quote for this? I've heard references to this having been said, but never an actual source.

This is like asking for a source for the expression "You get what you pay for". There isn't a source - it's a folk saying. That doesn't make it either right or wrong, it's just a thing some people say.


> I have never actually heard this said

I usually heard it phrased slightly differently: "Without a college degree you will be stuck doing low wage work."


>It used to be said that a college degree was a ticket to a well-paying job. Now, a few decades later, we're told to get a STEM degree, because other degrees are worthless. Who's to say that the criteria won't get even narrower in the future?

A degree was never a ticket to a well paying job. Showing that you have critical thinking skills and the ability to learn and a base level of organization/discipline in your life is what a degree might have meant when they were more rigorous and scarce.

Now that there are a billion schools offering a billion bullshit degrees in exchange for money, one way to cut through that is to bet on people who can do calculus and chemistry and physics, as those are better measures of analytical skills and whatever else employers are looking for.


> And that is one of the most disrespectful things I hear applied to low wage earners - that they are incapable of learning new skills, that they're not as capable as other workers or that they they're doomed in be in low wage jobs forever.

That's not what OP said. It's not that they are incapable of acquiring new skills, it's that some people are generally more capable to acquire new marketable and profitable skills than others.

I think it's a matter of interest or natural inclination. Inspiring interest in folks who otherwise would never be drawn to a profitable profession is difficult, and without interest it's nigh impossible to get them to effectively acquire the necessary skills to become employable in that field.

I think the most disrespectful thing to be applied to low wage earners, or people in general, is that they have no passion at all for any craft or hobby. I believe that everyone does, and that those things have intrinsic value, even if they may not presently be valuable to the market.


Completely agreed.

And, I'd like to add a bit more. When I say capable, I absolutely don't mean that in terms of intellectual capacity. I mean it in the context of actual, abject poverty. I'm talking about being incarcerated for a possession charge and having your young life spiral out of control. Or being raised in a homeless shelter while also being diagnosed with severe chronic disease (I've met students like this). Scenarios where there is just so much happening, that the idea of stopping to think about careers, college, or even learning English seems unthinkable. Cases where you have as many jobs as you have mouths to feed (not just children, but aging or sick family).

Peter Temin from MIT conjectures that it takes a person born into poverty nearly "20 years of nothing going wrong" to exit [0].

[0] https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/04/economi...


> And that is one of the most disrespectful things I hear applied to low wage earners - that they are incapable of learning new skills, that they're not as capable as other workers or that they they're doomed in be in low wage jobs forever.

That's not what the GP said at all. Rather, their statement acknowledges that there are low age earning people who are capable. All they said is that the challenges of daily subsistence in a low-wage situation add a significant additional obstacle to gaining the skills and experience needed to get a higher paying job.


When people say the workers are incapable, some folks mean that there are systemic problems with capitalism (particularly in the US). The workers don't have a deficiency, the system is designed to keep them where they are.


That seems a spectacular claim that will require spectacular evidence to support it. I realize it's a very trendy statement, but it does not appear supported by the data[^1].

[^1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income_in_the_United...


Sorry, it seems axiomatic to me. There are pressures on the working class that make it very difficult to "skill up" through no fault of the worker.

Also, the very next graph shows that real household income is virtually unchanged. And rent as a percentage of income is rising as well. One graph does not tell the whole story.


Ah, well I take it to be true that generally complex systems do not have intents, that complex systems do not select against subsets, and that complex systems with no single controller are in fact complex and made up of a multitude of push and pull pressures. That's just my take though.

> Also, the very next graph shows that real household income is virtually unchanged. And rent as a percentage of income is rising as well.

There is not a single graph on this page which mentions rent as a percentage of income. You may see Taxes as a percentage of income[^2], but this does not touch in rent. One graph does not tell the whole story, but you must offer evidence for your argument. You can't simply shrug and say "well I disagree with the evidence!"

> There are pressures on the working class that make it very difficult to "skill up" through no fault of the worker.

That's true for all of humanity. You haven't established that there's a special kind of pressure on low wage earners due to or related to capitalism. Whether you're a capitalist, socialist, or an 11th century peasant, you need to eat, work, pay your taxes, watch your kids and generally live life.

[^2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income_in_the_United...


> well I take it to be true that generally complex systems do not have intents, that complex systems do not select against subsets

I'm not suggesting the system has an intent. But they absolutely do select against subsets. For years we had systemic discrimination in this country, from redlining policies to voting laws, that absolutely selected against subsets. You don't just remove the bad policies and declare the playing field is equal.

Heck, natural selection and evolution are clearly complex systems that obviously select against subsets.

> you must offer evidence for your argument

Here's a source for rent vs. income: https://www.apartmentlist.com/rentonomics/rent-growth-since-...

It's especially impactful to lower class folks. There are plenty of other examples available via your favorite search engine.


I'm going to pick on the particular case of redlining, because I'm a bit more up to date on it than some others. The others are important too.

Redlining is abhorrent behavior. It's also caused by people. We can look at a specific city where Redlining is a major problem, and pull the rezoning documents and contracts and actually point to specific people who acted with bad intent. We can say "Bob over there is a jerk and engaging in this prohibited behavior" (and hopefully do something about it like punish Bob).

That's not some particular case against capitalism. Redlining occurs in non-capitalist and less-capitalist (mixed capitalist/socialist societies), it doesn't occur in all capitalist societies or areas, and it's not directly capitalist driven (instead having heavy racial and religious discriminatory elements). That doesn't mean redlining isn't bad, it means that it has nothing to do with capitalism being good or bad.

> Here's a source for rent vs. income...There are plenty of other examples available via your favorite search engine.

There's also plenty of examples for my points which I've been carefully citing as we go, and in general it's poor form to leave finding evidence as an exercise up to the reader. I realize it may be inconvenient to you to have to cite evidence for your arguments, but that's the nature of trying to have an argument about a real world thing and not just a partisan talking point.

You'll notice your source stops at 2014 (which, it was written in 2016, that's reasonable) and it doesn't take into account the significant median income increase behavior from 2014-2020 per [^1] above. Yes, rents do rise, that part isn't very surprising in and of itself. Also note that comparing the increases as percentages of each other is misleading - a 130% rent increase compared to a 110% income increase is not 1:1 given the original 1960s figures are dramatically different [^3]. This also doesn't account for the decrease of family size [^4]. In general family units have shrunk, and we've gone from multiple generations sharing a house to people moving out sooner (which would result in median rent increase).

[^3]: https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/housing/census/historic/gros...

[^4]: https://www.statista.com/statistics/183648/average-size-of-h...


I don't think the argument was that redlining was an example of why capitalism was bad. I think the argument was that discrimination and redlining is an emergent behavior/intent of the complex system that is our society. Clearly the complex social system doesn't have a single controlling entity and is instead driven entirely by the actions of individual participants. Just like redlining is an emergent behavior of our society caused by the aggregate total of individuals acting in the society (the "bad actors" in your terms), so too can aggregate behavior emerge that puts pressure against workers upskilling.


I realize we're both forecasting about someone elses intent now, and the original comment was very brief. In general I agree that a complex system can give rise to emergent behaviors. I had taken the original comment to suggest a particular system was at fault and given the spread of options (capitalism, human labor, democracy, etc) picked what felt the most likely - capitalism.

But even if we back away from that,

> aggregate behavior emerge that puts pressure against workers upskilling.

That seems the tough point to prove and it doesn't seem a priori true except in such a vague sense (time being finite, life being busy, etc) as to be meaningless. There doesn't appear to be any particular pressure against workers upskilling in general. Learning comes at a cost (time, effort, availability) but those costs are generally constant. When we point to that as the main causative factor then we're dramatically over-simplifying the case.

When I talk to my family and friends who are low wage earners (and obviously this is anecdotal and not necessarily a representative data sample) usually the issues that arise are not knowing that options exist outside of college, not realizing what career paths actually are available, and frequently being discouraged from whatever experience with school they had historically.

This doesn't seem like an emergent behavior problem, it seems like a communication issue at it's root.


Umm, you do realize that the top .001% of incomes going up will (with most distributions) raise the median income, even if the mode family income decreases?


Sorry, I don't understand. What you said may be true for mean (aka average), but the graph shows the median, not the mean.


That is not a correct understanding of median, though median will not always show certain kinds of disparities. However you're going to have to provide evidence and data if you're making a particular claim here.


I don't think GP meant that everyone who works in a warehouse should be joining 'coding bootcamps' and striving to become '10x ninja devs' instead.

I took it as referring to people working hard (or to varying degrees) through compulsory education, and sometimes choosing to continue it. We need people working in warehouses too!


We absolutely need people working in warehouses. Our society would collapse far faster without them than if all of us reading this would go away.

And that means we need to treat them with respect, and pay them properly.


I'm not disagreeing people deserve respect. But with automation do we need people in factories? Answer is no.


It probably depends a bit more on how you define “need”. Do factory owners need people in factories when a robot can do the job? Probably not. Does society need people in factories so that the individuals have a job, which creates a sense of purpose and means through which people can provide for themselves? Probably.


I’m sorry but the “day-to-day doesn’t let me learn” always sounded like an excuse to me (not implying anything personal). It can be true for some time, but it’s always a temporal situation.

Adquiring skills has pretty much nothing to do with college, some of the most skilled people I know in sales or executive office didn’t even got a high school degree (they’re old, I live in Spain).


My father works at a warehouse. I've worked in flooring

These are jobs where people work together. Everyone knows who's the slacker & who gets shit done

In flooring the owner would stop by for 10 minutes at smoke breaks & listen to gossip to get an idea of what's going on. He'd shuffle people's schedules around so that he could figure out who was the common denominator of trouble. For the most part there was very little intervention necessary. I happened to take off one day a week at random no questions asked (combination of not being physically capable of doing 5 days a week of that job while also happening to be scraping paint off a house that summer)

So you don't need to keep people on a tight leash. Learn to analyze the noise & intervene when something is clearly going wrong


Unfortunately that's incredibly hard to scale. I've seen many construction companies hit the growth wall thinking that they could grow using that model instead of building process.


This is one of the few voices of sanity I've seen on this thread. Your father seems wise.

With that said, I do understand why companies try and install panoptical surveillance practices in places where it's basically overkill. Competent managers, as you said, don't need to keep people on a tight leash. They do, as you said, learn to analyze the noise and intervene when something is clearly going wrong. The panopticon is put in place beyond a certain size because manager quality cannot be guaranteed. Now, whether that's a sound reason for its existence or not can be debated (I'd tend to agree it's not), but it does seem to function efficiently.


Not just because manager quality can’t be guaranteed, but because when you have 10,000+ employees, the odds that some are fired and subsequently make a false discrimination claim are high — and you need a lot to deal with that.

Look at how Amazon is treated: with nearly a million workers, a few dozen complaining is enough for major media outlets to broadcast that they’re a bad employer.

Can you point to any employer where 1 in 10,000 workers doesn’t have a bad experience?


Right, that's the other side of the equation that needs to be fielded beyond a certain size in organizational scale. Organizational processes need to be in place that protect the organization from bad actors, in a manner which is most resistant to being corrupted. As you say, even a few parts per million is essentially enough to get a large scale PR headache.

With that said, the question of whether the system could improved (and significantly, in a step-wise manner) how it handled this situation remains an open question to me. I don't know well enough what happened in the cases that caused Tim Bray to resign to comment, but it's possible that actions taken by the corporate management, HR and legal have taken backfired in a way that will be looked at as unforced errors. At a company (ostensibly THE company) that prides itself on operational excellence, I'd be surprised if this doesn't end up being the case. High profile resignations like this are sometimes the spark that sets the whole process in motion and the few externally visible signs that you can see later on as evidence. If this was attrition was truly regretted by corporate, and was something that could be prevented ahead of time, it will have been a very expensive black eye, waste of resources and loss of true executive leadership talent. For folks like Tim Bray, the difficulty of filling the organizational void they leave is very high, and potentially not guaranteed.

I guess time will tell.


You don't think there are higher skilled people trying to exploit the system?

I suspect the real difference here is developers are in higher demand. If we feel the checks becomes to unfair, we can go look for a different job.

If a warehouse worker doesn't like his smoke breaks being monitored, there is little recourse, someone else can be hired who will accept these condition out of desperation for a job.


Your explanation seems off to me. Why would lower demand necessarily imply there was someone suitable who was desperate?

It seems like your explanation suggests that the pool of "suitable" would be larger, i.e., the job is less skilled. I think it is definitely true that less skilled workers have bad options, because, by definition, they are easily replaced.

More highly skilled workers can end up in this situation, too... it's just less automatic that they can be easily replaced. In a recession, or after structural changes that render many such workers redundant... sure.


> More highly skilled workers can end up in this situation, too

And the moment that happens, all those nice benefits go flying out the window and the SWE find themselves having to clock out when going to the toilet. Demand (and therefore the easy of replacement) is what makes the difference.


Low or high demand are always relative to supply. So think "high supply" rather than "low demand".


“perhaps it makes it possible to give people jobs who don't deserve automatic trust. Such people exist, unfortunately.”

They may exist, but I doubt there are enough of them, even in Amazon’s warehouses, to warrant the draconian rules for all employees.

I also think people more behave that way then that they are that way. The way you treat your personnel will affect whether they behave like that.


You know that stuff about the human brain being terrible at correctly calculating the odds? I think this sort of rule-making comes from that.

Maybe you'll hire a bad sheep every 20, but you'll be so scarred that you'll make a rule making 19 lives miserable, just to avoid the lone asshole taking advantage. In the same way as we think children shouldn't be left out on their own (because we read about some pedophile at the other end of the country), we then assume employees are assholes until proven otherwise. It's shitty for everyone involved, really.


Another example is renting apartments. One bad tenant can cause a lot of harm, especially if you are a small landlord ie. three apartment house. You can go by years without a single bad tenant but all it takes is one bad one for you to start checking credit reports, references, etc.


The lone asshole taking advantage also makes the other 19 miserable. The effect on morale is crushing. Always think past the first order consequences.


If the lowest tier of job is relatively easily replaced, one assumes the next tier is as well meaning the people who are often making these rules are not well trained veteran managers but people who may be first time people managers or not be cut out to be a manager.

I had an early crappy hourly gig as a kid (as most do) at a major chain and in the span of my two years there we had one manager get caught doing crystal meth, another get caught flagrante delicto and a third who was just a jerk.


>The way you treat your personnel will affect whether they behave like that.

Anecdotally, I have family members that run a business that require low skilled workers. They don't really need full time workers, so they hire part-time and don't pay a living wage to them, even though it is viable to their business to do so.

So what do they get? They get unreliable people. People who steal from them. People who don't clock out. People who collude with the other employees to clock them in/out. People they can claim "make bad decisions" like buy lotto tickets or spend their paycheck on drugs and alcohol. etc.

It gives them a reason to treat them poorly. I've heard things like "if we paid them more they'd just buy more lotto tickets, so why should I?"

I often wonder how they would act and or who they could hire if they made full time roles, offering health insurance and treating their employees with dignity.


That's a pretty common rationalization to justify a certain hands off management approach. It's easier to scale certain businesses by just running them at arms length.

My first job was on a small family farm at age 12 -- we worked very hard but were treated fairly and well. The owner of the business would be hip-deep in the muck with us and was fully accountable for everything that happened on that farm. After that I moved on to different jobs in the mall, culminating in a semi-commissioned sales job that got me through college.

In that environment, you learned very quickly that most of the workers in that mall were completely disposable, and a significant population were discarded when the car that was handed down to them broke down or they were unable to float insurance. No car == bus, and more bus == more late arrivals, which resulted in termination.

The worst employers were run in a hands off way with straw-bosses (ie. people making 7.25/hr vs. 5.75/hr circa 1995) running the place, and the hire/fire decisions were made by an owner or manager at arms length. This was common with the smaller retailers, some behind the scenes jobs, and the food court. The turnover was 50% a week in some cases, and they would just over-hire and fire (or drop hours to nothin). The best paid gigs were janitorial and back of house restaurant workers -- they worked hard, but had steady work and often made off-book money. The easiest gigs were places with a salaried manager, and they usually had a cadre of full-timers backed by a bunch of part-timer people.

In the middle you had places with commissioned people, and there was always a tension between having too few and too many employees. Too many and your best salesmen would leave (and profitability drops, as you need salesmen to move margin enhancers like service plans), too few and you'd lose volume.


On living wages in particular:

"A 2003 Cato Institute study cites data showing job losses in places where living wage laws have been imposed. This should not be the least bit surprising. Making anything more expensive almost invariably leads to fewer purchases. That includes labor."

Also:

"People in minimum wage jobs do not stay at the minimum wage permanently. Their pay increases as they accumulate experience and develop skills. It increases an average of 30 percent in just their first year of employment, according to the Cato Institute study."

Both of these are quotes from noted economist Thomas Sowell, who has done a lot of research into many studies on actual effects of living and minimum wage law.

As for the people you describe, there are plenty of people who make higher wages and are just as unreliable and untrustworthy. And there are plenty who do honest work for low wages, and work their way up.


The Cato Institute, founded as the Charles Koch Foundation, is pro-capital, pro-deregulation, and anti-worker.

Being a noted economist doesn't mean that you aren't full of shit.


>The Cato Institute is an American libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C.

I would be curious if there were any other organizations that came to the same conclusions.


Sure, another example:

“... a number of American cities have passed “living wage” laws, which are essentially local minimum wage laws specifying a higher wage rate than the national minimum wage law. Their effects have been similar to the effects of national minimum wage laws in the United States and other countries—that is, the poorest people have been the ones who have most often lost jobs.”

- Thomas Sowell, referencing the Public Policy Institute of California’s “Scott Adams and David Neumark, “A Decade of Living Wages: What Have We Learned?” California Economic Policy, July 2005, pp. 1–23.”


It's a nice thought. But where would all the unreliable people work then? Or you think they would just become reliable if they would get paid more? That seems unlikely to me. There are unreliable rich people, too. People with gambling addictions or drug habits. More money doesn't automatically cure bad habits.


> Or you think they would just become reliable if they would get paid more?

Quite possible. "Good morals start with a full pantry" and all. Comfortable circumstances may encourage better behavior, or put another way: treat your employees like shit, and don't be surprised if they behave shittily.



> I suspect that many of the strange seeming rules are in place because people otherwise try to exploit the system (like getting paid for smoking on the toilet for hours on end).

There have been large, profitable corporations that preceded Amazon and did not need to implement such draconian tracking systems.

Perhaps these rules are in place because the people creating the rules know that rank and file have no bargaining power and cannot advocate for a less draconian system without fear of termination.


> I have never run a warehouse,

You don't know...

> ... but I suspect that many of the strange seeming rules are in place because people otherwise try to exploit the system (like getting paid for smoking on the toilet for hours on end). It may seem inhumane, but perhaps it makes it possible to give people jobs who don't deserve automatic trust. Such people exist, unfortunately.

... but you're assuming low wage workers cannot be trusted and therefore treated humanely.

I think these biases are the issue being discussed.


> You don't know...

Do you? I've worked in plenty of these "unskilled" environments. It's absolutely the reason for these rules.

Is every low wage worker like this? Certainly not. I assure you I've encountered plenty who are, and the system of un-trust tends to breed untrustworthiness in those who otherwise might be trustworthy.

It's not just the system, however. My grandfather ran a small construction business. He had no such draconian rules (and paid far better than minimum wage). I can't count how many new-hires he had to fire for crazy things like constantly showing up drunk, showing up late or not at all, etc. One guy would only show up on payday when checks were being handed out, work two hours, then leave. (Obviously, he didn't last long; still, Grandpa was too generous.)

I don't defend such draconian systems as just; I despise them. However they absolutely do exist so that large companies can just hire disposable employees en masse, regardless of their work ethic.


> Do you?

I worked retail for a dozen or so years after HS, before, and later during, getting my eng deg. The bad apples (so to speak) were rare. People showed up, worked, went home just fine.

On the other hand, in the 15 years I've been a professional developer, I've seen people spend all their time looking for their next gig and doing the programming challenges necessary to get that gig. I've seen people skirt IT rules so they could access sites they shouldn't at work. I've seen people throw absolute 3 year old style tantrums because they were asked to fix bugs. People routinely show up late to meeting. All things low-skilled workers would get fired for but is somehow acceptable in our "bro" culture.

It isn't an issue with the skill necessary for the environment. It's the people. And it doesn't matter if they're making minimum wage or 150K.


I know that the rules exist, so I can assign a highly likelihood for there to be a reason for the rules to exist.

Also I have read the one or other thing.


I suspect the same percentage of people exploiting the system in warehouses as in office jobs, still you can see very "inhumane" rules only in warehouses.


The difference is that with unskilled jobs, you can immediately find a replacement for the position.

It's not as easy with skilled labor, so there is more leniency.

I think the leniency is inversely proportional to the replaceability.


yeah definitely, but it would still be nice if workers would be treated more equal no matter their profession


I tell people I've never worked as hard as I did the morning shift at taco bell.

Just being treated like a human with independent thoughts and needs is a huge benefit in so many workplaces. There's a level of just violence and mistrust in the "normal" working world that is terrifying if you haven't experienced it, and jarring if you haven't experienced it in a while. The bean-counters who make up the systems where in human labor is a cog are really creating skinner boxes. The larger scale the corporation goes the less emphasis on empathy and human needs. You become a bit that can either do the work or can't.

Our cold "efficient" corporate machines has actively done everything it can to take humanity and empathy away from every process. Consumers are numbers on a dashboard. Workers are line items in an S-1. As much as people like to claim otherwise, the companies actions never take a hit that they know doesn't have a benefit elsewhere. Amazon is a big pioneer in the space - take something and remove all human decision making from it, automate it and then move onto the next thing. Now they apply that against hundreds of thousands of warehouse employees.


> There seems to be a consistent theme of employees being treated with suspicion, condescension and outright hostility.

The reason for that is simple. For jobs with few qualifications, undisciplined people and people who struggle with thinking are in the highest supply. Ask anyone who operates a bar or restaurant what sort of behaviour they can expect from low-qualification employees, hired without significant attention, at the going rate.

It may be a matter of privilege for a lot of people; I know many brilliant and well-intentioned people who have had a hard go of life because they picked up a counterproductive fear, insecurity, or opinion when they were young, but it would not surprise or offend me that their employers would grow to dislike them. I have had some advantages on this, because I was blessed with a referral for my first job, and my first colleagues guided me away from my self-destructive behaviours (I was 17).

That's not to say it's all of them, but if you hire people for work that requires little or no discipline to meet the hiring requirements, you are going to be exposed to a lot of candidates who lack discipline.

There are many people working jobs that have a low- or no-skill entry level, who are incredibly hard-working, disciplined, and passionate; but there are also many who are none of these things.

You can observe a maybe-similar effect with specialized "consultants", who merely have to claim to be able to resolve problems like one you're experiencing; then they get paid for a few months to have a go at it, and it turns out they don't know any more than you do about your problem.


No, indeed this gets to the heart of the idea of class warfare.


> Because it often involves nothing more than being given a basic level of trust and respect that, once you have them, can seem like a bare minimum, not something that you would need to fight for.

To add: from an European perspective, much of US-Reddit/HN and their stories are frankly unbelievable. "Hire at will", bankruptcies because of cancer or people not calling an ambulance even if they are heavily injured because they fear thousands-of-dollars bills, MLMs, robocall terrorism, companies firing people for unionizing - basically unheard of, because there are laws that prevent this reasonably good, and transgressors will mostly be held accountable by courts and public opinion.


It's clear to anyone who isn't mainlining USA jingoist media that USA is failing the current test, hard. It seems likely that expanded unionization would help us make wiser and more humane decisions. We should have laws like the ones you describe. The legislative process seems incapable of producing them, however.


i worked in a warehouse carrying boxes around right after high school.

the amount of brain effort to do this kind of job is close to 0. you need a bit of physical prowess, but this is easily attainable in a couple of week. since the job was basically the least complex job one can ever have, the pay was low. and it made sense back then: you want to move on to a better job/better pay/better conditions? get better qualifications, learn to do a different job etc. of course i can't comment on what happens at amazon, but these kinds of jobs are so easy to do that it's ridiculous they haven't been completely automated till now. i do wonder what will happen to all these people once automation is 100%.


Just because something isn't skilled doesn't mean it's not important or doesn't bring value. The people who do these jobs deserve a decent wage and respect, not psuedo-wage-slavery


That’s a political problem to solve with higher minimum wages/max work hours or universal basic income and universal healthcare.


Well not quite. It’s an economic problem in that if you don’t pay your workers decent livable wages then they won’t be able to continue to do a decent living while working for you.

The whole idea of “this is a low paying job, anyone can do it, I’m paying you very low because you should get a better job” now that sounds like a political problem! It is all the invented justification to keep wages low. It’s also a pretty stupid argument but has weight because an entire political party makes it.

The thinking around these jobs needs to change; you can’t pay people like shit and then expect them to be moral and upstanding workers.


It’s a more immediate economic problem if paying employees more than competitors causes your products to become uncompetitive and you lose business because people shop elsewhere where prices are lower.

The wages aren’t low because of an ideology, the wages are low because if person A doesn’t agree to the low wages then the employer can hire person B.

Similarly, wages aren’t high in tech/finance/law/medicine because people think they “deserve” it, they are high because those employees have options to work elsewhere.

One employer deciding to be altruistic and paying more isn’t going to fix the problem.

Therefore the solution is to either give people better options for earning income (long term solution involving educating them and more), and increasing minimum wage and especially overtime wages.


> The wages aren’t low because of an ideology, the wages are low because if person A doesn’t agree to the low wages then the employer can hire person B.

This would be true iff the labor supply was perfectly elastic wrt to wages but we have repeatedly seen that this is not the case.

Paying your employees higher isn’t altruism as much as an investment in the health of your business. It’s either that or you deal with higher turnover, insurance security etc.

Wall Street has consistently pressured the larger employers to cut labor costs as much as they can; there is a lot more variation in wages offered by smaller businesses. Wall Street is always focused on quarterly growth and that is the “ideology” that’s ripping apart the middle class across the US as employers fail to invest in the long term viability of the communities they operate in.


We have decades of evidence where companies that opted for lower labor costs were more successful than their competitors. There's a reason all manufacturing moved to China, and there's no more mid market retailers left in the US.

And labor supply elasticity shouldn't matter over a span of decades, any mis-pricing would have shown itself, at least in the context of maximizing profits. If anything, the comparatively overpaid US workforce is/was the "mis-priced" part of the equation.

Also, larger businesses can afford to pay more, especially by way of tax advantaged benefits:

https://www.ivyexec.com/career-advice/2015/do-big-companies-...

My argument is that ideology has nothing to do with how much people are paid, it's supply and demand curves (over the long term). If people had better options for employment, they would be paid more. If employers had fewer options for employees, they would have to pay more. The rest of the up and coming world would have taken a bite out of US workers' pay no matter what.


You're right, they're not complex. For a person

They haven't been automated because it is still hard to do. Simply carrying boxes is easy, but picking up products (of different sizes, shapes, weights, "grabability", etc and putting them into orders is complicated.

That being said, it might be that different companies have different stress and pressure levels and different working conditions.


It's not that complicated. If you look up Ocado, they have entirely automated their warehouses.


What does entirely automated mean??


So your perspective is that only employment which requires advanced thinking deserves good conditions and a living wage?

What is society to do with people who don't have sufficient brain power? Enslave them? Throw them in the wood chipper?


I don't want to disagree with most of what you are saying, but this is where I can always tell the majority of HN hasn't started a non-tech, low skill business before (restaurants, sales, salons, construction, etc). Your workers consistently put you in bad positions. People will call out for no reason, no shows are frequent. Sometimes you just get people that completely disappear. That's fine in the tech world where most of our deadlines and time estimates are made up anyways, but when you have one of your line cooks or stylists or sales rep fail, to show on a busy Saturday it can be disastrous if you don't have the good will of another one of your employees covering.

Seriously, next time you get a chance, talk to your local restaurant manager, construction manager, barber shop owner or sales manager, they all say the same things: how difficult it is to find good workers. (and "good" here is a pretty low bar: show up when you are scheduled on time)


"If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys."

Manual labor in many sectors is structurally underpaid. Nobody with half a brain would ever choose waiting tables as a career, even if they enjoyed it. So you're left with people with no choice or with mental-health issues (or both), who often resent having to do the job.

Whether that's by design or a collateral effect of certain societal and economic structures, is open to discussion; but this is definitely the case. Until we allow that waiter and that delivery driver a level of dignity equal to this or that white-collar job, the situation will not change.


I somehow knew this would be the first comment. Unfortunately, for these industries, where you sell real goods at affordable prices (not over-inflated fantasyland prices to your "enterprise" customers) margins are razor thin. This is the sector of the economy that has been YoY consistently left behind since the Bush-Oil eras drove prices sky high. Trying my best not trying to sound snooty, but again this shows once more that the majority of people here really haven't ran a business like this.


> margins are razor thin.

I never said this wasn't the case. Clearly, entire industries are fundamentally underappreciated. Or, other industries are way overappreciated. Our system ends up overvaluing a few guys sat in an office who squeeze the last ounce of fantasy numbers out of stock tickers, and undervaluing everyone else.

> left behind since the Bush-Oil eras drove prices sky high.

Sadly, this issue is not limited to the US.


Warehouse workers are disrespected for the same reason poor people are: because a nontrivial proportion are desperate and willing to act on it. Poor people get fired and prosecuted for things that rich people feel entitled to do every day, like fart around on HN at work while getting paid, or grab a soda or a whole meal from the cafe without paying for it.


There's also the reality that "low-skilled" really means "there's more supply of the skill than there is demand", or "depends purely on a skill that can be developed, as opposed to natural talent/advantage that few people have".


There is the reality that ~ 10% of the population has an IQ so low, US army cannot recruit them by law. 10% is a lot of people, a few tens of millions in US. I have someone in the family that has the mind of a children of 8-10 years old, for that person a "low skilled" job in an Amazon warehouse would be excellent; the alternative is zero income.


There's also a IQ != skill.

But I believe your specific example here fits the "depends purely on a skill that can be developed, as opposed to natural talent/advantage that few people have".


We live in a society where the most important and essential jobs are treated with condescension.


> This gets to the heart of the idea of "privilege", and why it can be so difficult to see yourself as privileged

That's because basic trust and respect shouldn't be a privilege, the lack of it is the issue. Calling someone privileged for being respected almost sounds like an insult. Let's focus less on privilege and more on disadvantage.


"Why should we focus on those 'disadvantaged' people? My life is hard, too."


Why are you embarrassed? Embarrassment over their workplace implies you feel you have some level of stewardship of their workplace.


[flagged]


> the weak

well, there you have it. you're labeling a solid billion people (more?) as weak, ergo deserving of their fate. that is about as circular as it gets.


There are those with power who reap it, those with power who are granted it, and those without it. That's just how it is, and if you disagree there is a much better way to go about that than putting your words into my mouth to portray your point of view.

Any society worth much will do its best to provide the basics for everyone, and utilize everyone's capabilities regardless of range, but if you remove all that ...yeah. All you're left with is the weak and the strong. The whole point of societies is to incentivize those useful to the collective and grant them "power" rather than the psychopath killers who used to be emperors 1000 years ago.


Frankly, I don't know what people are hoping to achieve by the whole 'privileged' thing. From what I've read, it's supposed to be an invitation to introspect your life and realize you have had various advantages. But:

1) The whole term "check your privilege" is a very accusatory phrase, and when somebody gets accused, they get defensive / offensive. Nobody is going to be very introspective at that point.

2) As you say, what is privilege? There's nearly 8 billion people in the world, and logically speaking, somebody out there is the absolute least privileged out there. And it's sure as fuck not some angry lady standing in line at Starbucks. Being a guy, am I more privileged than her? Sure, in certain (perhaps even most), metrics. But compared to the lowest people, we're about equal relatively speaking. Any change desired should be flowing to the lowest tier.

Personally, these things make the whole movement feel hypocritical to me. But when I bring this up usually the response is something along the lines of that I wouldn't understand because I'm privileged.


> Based on my observations, SJWs are the modern day gestapo

really? are you sure? "SJWs" are comparable to the state-sponsored secret police of nazi germany, which had unilateral power to imprison (physically imprison, you know, in a real jail where they would be tortured. not on twitter) anyone without justification, and who were instrumental in the genocide of millions of people?

do you mind justifying that claim in any way whatsoever?


Sure thing. How would you say the ability to wage free, self-fueled defamation campaigns (who bored people on the internet carry out for you) or things like false harassment / even worse (touchy topic, I do not say this lightly) false rape accusations are any different from the unilateral power to imprison (physically imprison, as in yes real jail ...maybe sans the torture) - just like you said?

Better yet, in the good interest of being my own devil's advocate, what would you say is an equivalent for this on the other side of the gender coin flip? I want to be very clear about the above: shitty people will be shitty people regardless of race / gender / religion, nor do I imply this happens often. But the massive imbalance of opportunity is already there is my point.


i'm going to leave all the minutiae of this response aside, because i don't want to get lost in the weeds.

the REALLY important part that you're missing is that the gestapo were an _arm of the state_. some blue checkmarks on twitter cancelling people can _never_ compare to a literal secret police force run by the government.

the scale of effect is just comically different. even if i suspend my disbelief that outrage about false rape accusations and people being harassed for their opinions are 100% true exactly as stated, how in the everloving shit is that comparable to a secret police force that orchestrated the systematic torture/murder of MILLIONS of people?

it's just not even close. use a better analogy.


If you make a comparison between 2 objects with different properties, different people will look at different subsets of the properties that makes them see similarities or not, other people will pick on the differences to negate the first. In this particular case one person is looking at specific similarities and the other is pointing out to the differences; it does not help.


What are "SJWs"? (i don't know that acronym)


It means Social Justice Warriors.

I'd like to say I'm one as I do stand up and fight for people who are less privileged than me, but the term is deeply tainted by people who pretend to care about others but are really just out to play the game of politics and use a weaker/minority group or individual to further tjeor own selfish cause.

Don't use the word as I guess there are at least two subgroups of HNers ready to downvote and/or flag you for it ;-)


It stands for "Social Justice Warriors".

This originally meant someone standing up for minorities and the disadvantaged, but the term has been twisted into a derogatory insult for anyone who disagrees with conservatives on social issues.


The SJW term, like everything else touching this issue, is not black and white. Both of your definitions exist, yes, but so does everything else in between. By making things black and white, you are perpetuating the exact same behavior you seem to be fighting against.


Social Justice Warriors. I don't know how to "accurately" explain the definition, seems to mean something different to everyone. To me, it means anyone who wants to achieve equality of outcome ...typically people of no merit (yes, this is harsh to say). Anyone who meaningfully furthers equality of opportunity I think is doing a good and reasonable thing - if it's even apparent which is which.

The best recent example I can think of is the law requiring % of Fortune 500 board member presence based on gender - it is blatantly sexist, and is a complete "equality of outcome" blanket with no counter-equivalent. Where's the law requiring 40% of undesirable positions, like trash collectors and electricians be a certain gender? More than anything, I would just like to see consistency and it is simply not there. My biggest issue with this is "equality" matters in high income prestigious positions, but for the other ones it is somehow not an issue. How can people even use the word "equality"?

If you ever talk to a male nurse, good example. They're likely the only guy there, and the work environment for them is not good - but the answer there is: deal with it or get out. A counter-example this board would be very familiar with: what it's like to be the only woman on an engineering team. It sucks just as much, but the answer is very different. Alas, this contradiction is often just ignored.

Personally the sad irony in this is that "privilege" is a real thing, I'm not contesting this - but the insane overreach is hurting the goal of providing equality of opportunity.

My guess is that if equality of opportunity was objectively proven, and the outcome was not equal, people would still be upset ...and as a society, that's dangerous.

Keep in mind I wrote the above with the assumption that equality of opportunity is the goal. Based on what I observe daily, it is very hard to actually believe that.


> There seems to be a consistent theme of employees being treated with suspicion, condescension and outright hostility.

That's because, unfortunately, a lot of them do need their hands holding. Many of these people have very low IQ and will always avoid work if they can. You can't compare them with the people in the offices you work in who have top 10% IQs. I know it should be like this, and should be like that, but if you would actually expose yourself to the kinds of people who work in these places you will see why these seemingly hostile rules are put in place. But think of it like this: these people get a safe working environment, comfortable lives which no high levels of responsibility, and they get to reap the benefits of living in a modern society. If they were left to their own devices they'd be in poverty.


IT workers are partly to blame for it. By creating , embracing, extending, normalizing and advertising a culture where companies compete for office perks, they also allowed the creation of the underclass of unwashed workers whose businesses are not awash with cash and thus it's OK to treat them like wage slaves.


I doubt the tech office perks are taking employee money from other companies. Warehouse work wasn’t likely to ever be awash in cash to lavish on the workers because that’s coming straight out of the customers’ pockets; every other logistics company is competing on that basis and consumers are generally price-sensitive.


pretty sure "the underclass of unwashed workers whose businesses are not awash with cash and thus it's OK to treat them like wage slaves." existed long before computers were ever thought of


I don't think they're saying IT/computers are a root cause, but rather that they might be modern enablers of these power hierarchies.


I think "allowed the creation" rather implies it is the root cause.


Mm, yeah. You seem to be right.


did not mean it that way, but that i've never seen in the tech press someone noticing that e.g. walmart doesnt have massage rooms


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