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New Facebook tool allows employers to suppress “unionize” in workplace chat (theintercept.com)
519 points by aaronbrethorst 5 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 486 comments

I used to work at Facebook, and it was always interesting to me to see just how many engineers were actively against - aghast, even - at the idea of unions.

Whenever it would come up on the internal boards the arguments were usually along the lines of:

* "People who don't deserve to be paid more will get more money under a union"

* "I'll be paid less under a union"

* "Unions will slow us down, and we'll become more bureaucratic"

* "Unions are corrupt, and only care about themselves"

It was always clear that there was a huge misconception about what unions are, and how they work, based on the depiction of unions in popular culture or the past. When you talked about unions, people would think about the Teamsters, the police unions, etc.

Myself and others would end up pointing out that yes, that's true of some blur collar unions, but that's not what we're talking about. Think about the Writers Guild, or SAG. Dwayne Johnson earned $90 million last year - he still pays his union dues. You'd struggle to find any writer who didn't think the Writers Guild had actively improved their working conditions.

Are the various Hollywood unions perfect? No, they're not. But I think you would really struggle to argue that working conditions would be better for those in the creative arts without them.

Tech companies have spent a long time cultivating an image of benevolence towards their employees, but ultimately they are not your friends. You need somebody to fight your corner. Hollywood found this out years ago with the studios - hopefully Silicon Valley will discover it too, however unlikely it seems.

Unions would be much more attractive if US were an open shop country. Instead, we’re closed shop, which means that, once a union is in place, you can’t choose to join a different union. This routinely leads to situations where corrupt unions abuse their own members.

For an example of how this works in practice, look at the UAW’s conduct with UC’s grad students.

Years ago, they negotiated salary caps for grad students, and then negotiated contracts that severely cut health care benefits for women over their own members’ objections. Getting anything done involves baroque red tape, so even complaining about this sort of thing would take dozens of people multiple months (and almost certainly wouldn’t cause the union bosses to take action).

Recently, they ratified contracts when the rank and file protested at union meetings, and some UC campuses voted against the contract.

This led to illegal “wildcat” strikes where the students walked out because they couldn’t pay rent. The university then fired them.

This was only possible because of closed shops. If people want to switch unions, they should be allowed to.

Where did the closed shop restrictions come from, did it come from anti-union lobbying or some think tank somewhere? This smells completely like "the government is useless", then going in and defunding things that the government is responsible for.

Such rules come in at the state level and are usually pushed for by the large national unions to bully and push out local and regional small unions. Every major union from UAW to SEIU has been guilty of this.

This is not true. Unionization based on enterprise-level votes was put in place with NRLA in 1935. The NRLA and Taft-Hartley would have to be amended or replaced to change this. I have no idea if large unions have ever lobbied against replacing them at the Federal level, but there hasn’t (in recent history) been any serious push to do so that these unions would oppose.

Your intuition is correct. Workplace-based bargaining was put in place with NRLA in 1935, which requires that unions be formed on the basis of shop votes. This was done to prevent labor from having the same political power that sector-wide unions have in Europe. The sector-wide Hollywood unions were grandfathered in, which is why they remain as successful and powerful as they are today.

I did not think all union contracts where closed shop in the USA.

And this case why on earth where professional roles being represented by an Auto workers union.

If you look at modern unionization efforts, new unions tend to align with existing larger unions to leverage their legal representation, experience with unionization efforts, and general resources

I don't know, but I go to school at Michigan State and many of my professors are in the UAW.

> why on earth where professional roles being represented by an Auto workers union

An innovation in organized labour from around the turn of the 20th century known as the "industrial union" (as opposed to the "craft union") wherein the union seeks to organized all workers in a particular industry rather than a particular job. The idea is that this prevents workers of different jobs being pitted against one another, and provides more power as a strike could shut down an entire industry.

Yes I know that but normally you would expect a union to stick to that industry, also blue collar unions don't always know how to organise and represent professional workers and some members may not want "their" union to represent mangers eg the CWU in the UK

Trying to go back to the ancient one big union just wont cut it

Managers are not eligible to join the one big union: https://iww.org/membership/

In US law, closed shop refers to something different, which is illegal. It means that you have to be a member of the union to be hired in the first place at a certain employer/job site.

However, what is allowed is to require people who are hired to join the union, with the exception that if they do not want to join the union, they can opt to pay only "financial core" dues, to compensate the union for its work negotiating an agreement that the non-members supposedly benefit from too. The effect of this is that workers remain governed by collective bargaining, pay a lesser amount than members, and have no say in union leadership. They are also exempt from union discipline (ex fines for strikebreaking).

In some states, with so-called "right to work" laws, the employees who do not want to join the union pay nothing at all. This is actually not inherently a right of the states to make such laws, but an option they are delegated as part of the federal laws. After a recent SCOTUS ruling, all government employees can do this in any state.

In any case, what OP said is true re: our collective bargaining system is built around one union (whether or not everyone is required to pay dues) representing all workers, whose pay/benefits/other matters cannot vary from the union contract. Whether or not non-members must pay any dues

As to your point, the names for the old unions are largely historic vestiges. The "Big Labor" unions are massive conglomerates (just like the companies they rail against) that grow as big as they can. Ironically, the true hard-leftists like the IWW originally advocated for "One Big Union" as opposed to small, factional unions for each trade--but they would hardly be pleased with the highly-capitalist mammoth unions we have today.

that "lesser amount" is often close to 95% of the union amount, though, so you still end up financially supporting an entity that you disagree with, and not being able to use the full resources they provide.

If you are philosophically opposed to unions, you shouldn't have to pay them at all.

>If you are philosophically opposed to unions, you shouldn't have to pay them at all

You don't. Work somewhere else.

If you benefit from the union's work, you should absolutely have to pay for that work.

Chances are that you benefit from open source code that I wrote. Where is my money?

Well, you choosing to donate your time and effort to an open source project is really not analogous to a union's work improving workplaces, but! As it so happens I do believe that having huge swathes of the tech industry built on unpaid labor is also a pretty bad thing, that the political stance taken by large parts of the FOSS community that "free means no restrictions, EVER!" is foolish, and that companies should have to pay for their use of FOSS. It enables exploitation of individual maintainers by massive corporations.

And to loop back around to the topic most of us are discussing, if there were some type of SWE Guild, standardizing rules around FOSS usage and remuneration for FOSS creators and maintainers should be high on that guild's list of priorities. There're thousands of people in the entertainment industry making comfortable livings off a combination of some work and residuals; why can't that be us? Why shouldn't people who've created, maintained, and improved projects that companies have leveraged for billions of dollars of profit see some of that money?

Well, you choosing to donate your time and effort to a union project is really not analogous to a human's work improving lives by making open source software.

What you said is cool and all but I am still waiting for my money for all of the open source software that you are using.

Sane countries make you pay only if you want to participate in the union (such as when you vote).

The idea of having individual employees choose which union they want sounds a lot like the idea that consumer choice drives change (which usually does not work except in the case of huge boycotts, which are limited in their effects). Unions are about democracy in the workplace. If everyone is in a different union, there can be no legitimate democratic decisions on behalf of the workers.

EDIT: There's a bit of an exception. For example, in universities, sometimes graduate students have a union and faculty have a union. It doesn't make sense to place them both in the same union because the faculty boss graduate students around. However, it would make sense for the two unions to cooperate against the administration.

EDIT2: Another reason unions should be as concentrated as possible is so they form a united front against the bosses. If every employee is in a different union, how can they achieve anything without great difficulty?

> Unions are about democracy in the workplace. If everyone is in a different union, there can be no legitimate democratic decisions on behalf of the workers.

Wut?! TIL where people got the belief that single communist party could rule democratically. We all know how about those experiments played out in history

I'll never forget the union at a convention center that forced vendors to pay them to move anything from their own car they couldn't carry. Nothing but extortionist bullies squeezing every cent of protection money they could out of the people there who actually make things and add value to the world. In contrast, these union employees were nothing but parasites. They did nothing the vendors couldn't do themselves, who WANTED to do it themselves and were fully capable of with their own dollies and carts but weren't allowed to for no other reason than greed. They could have just stayed out of the way and still gotten (over) paid by the convention center but that wasn't good enough. Most people including me justifiably hated those selfish monsters. Name and shame, this was at the Baltimore Convention Center.

And you hear about this all the time in other workplaces. Not allowed to move a monitor to the next desk over because the union guy has to be the one to do it. Not allowed to move a piece of equipment out of the way until the union guy finishes his lunch break and does it.

Unions can be good but unions like this are so bad for everyone around them that it cancels out any good.

It's a monopoly problem.

Imagine a consulting firm that had a monopoly on all the architects in California. The only architects in CA are ones that you might bring in from this firm, and to prevent change, it's in the contract that you can't hire outside architects. It's a straight up anticompetitive monopoly. But that doesn't mean consulting firms are bad, it's just that monopolies are bad.

The biggest difference between this kind of consulting firm and a union is the accounting and the taxes, so I think the same logic applies. Unions can be good, but monopolistic unions are bad. When there's only one police union for your city, they have extreme bargaining power because it's a monopoly.

There needs to be a middle ground between completely independent bargaining and monopolistic collective bargaining. If we figured out a reasonable way to have multiple coexisting unions for a given profession and location, I'd bet unions would be much much more widely accepted as good.

If you scroll through the comments you would find union supporters that unironically think that union should be a “unified force” that represent the workers, thus, being that monopoly

This is an excellent example why unions are wrong solution to a bigger problem - lack of universal healthcare, free education and guaranteed pension. If we had the three above - there won't be a need for unions because you are not loosing _everything_ when you are loosing a job.

Until this bigger problem is fixed unions will remain one of the very few things workers can do to improve their odds in life. So you can't be for or against them - it is the only logical outcome of the current social order.

Those three things absolutely do not obviate unions. The aim is protection at work at a granular level that [ideally] is sensitive to specific workplaces. I would kinda agree with the last paragraph though: despite the potential for moral hazard and for corruption there isn't a lot else that can counterbalance the immense power over workers that companies have, regulation alone is too broad-brush

...but Unions and union-backed political parties are who won all of these benefits in social democracies?

You seem to have the entire thing backwards: the failure to build and grow unions in the US has resulted an absence of power and political representation for working people. Without this counterbalance, the rich and corporations have used the state to enshrine benefits for themselves and total power over workers.

Don't you think that if we have to have unions to achieve political representation -- there is something really wrong with our political process. If I am in a party and / or a union - how does that (not) help with representation? Why do I even have to be in the union to be represented?

Collective problems require collective action. We aren’t born into a just or meritocratic world, but one defined by the wealthy and powerful, who themselves form blocs to defend their interests. You can certainly try to take them on by yourself, but history suggests you won’t be very successful.

>So you can't be for or against them

If there's one thing that my decade of internet commenting experience has taught me, it's that some people will always find a way to be dogmatically for or against any conceivable position.

That's a great point that never occurred to me! I always sort of hold both sides of the argument over unions in my head and can never reconcile them.

If that were correct, why do unions exist in western European countries? I understand from a US point of view, fixing [what are to an outsider's eyes] poor worker protections and a crazy medical system would help (if on the flipside creating vast, black-hole-like, tax-funded bureaucracies), but I think it misses the point of unions slightly.

I hear this sort of thing a lot, but far more often than not it is from the point of view of "someone I know", "a mate a <company x>", or "this thing I read on The Register". I'm sure it really happens, just not nearly as often as people seem to think and/or suggest.

I've actually experienced it twice, but neither case had anything to do with unions.

One was officially a Health and safety matter (if you'd not been on the manually handling course you should not be moving heave expensive bits of equipment around) though I suspect it was really more of an insurance matter (only the relevant people should be moving the expensive equipment, or accidental damages won't be covered). Commercial arse-shielding, no unions involved.

The other was again commercial: in an outsourced IT arrangement where all equipment moves had to be done by someone on the outsourced team. This of course carried a charge for time, but if it wasn't done that way the contract said the charge could still be made with additional charges for the extra paperwork. Again, a purely commercial matter, no unions present affecting the matter in either company.

Reminds me of a Stewart Lee bit about people confusing things with health and safety legislation:


>someone I know

For reference I volunteered at a convention there, which is how I know all this.

As I expand lower down: it certainly does happen, and on your example did.

But I suspect it happens less often due to union matters than the oft regaled stories suggest, possibly less overall too.

So because you can't move a piece of furniture, you believe it cancels the amount of protections and good from unionization?!

"Why do people treat me like an asshole when I bully them for my own gain to lock down my fiefdom? It is so unfair!"

The union wounds here are entirely self-inflicted by proving in practice that they make a bad system. That is terrible evangelism and no ammount of wagon circling will change that. Can you blame them for thinking a 401k would be preferrable to a pension from people who would embezzle it anyway?

They are harming the protection and good through their own short-sighted rent seeking actions. Which makes it all the more frustrating as there is actual good that could be done instead.

It is in no way limited to unions and may be found across all walks of life and individual to megaconglomerate scale but I have noticed an antipattern of "insistent loserdom", in blaming everyone else and refusing an iota of self change in a certain downward trajectory.

That kinda shows you what privilege is and how it conditions the political discussion. If you never had to face a problem (never needed someone to protect you against greedy employers), it is so hard to understand why that it's relevant.

Doesn't this make the point of tech works who are against tech unions (not other unions)? We're all generally paid extremely well and are privileged. Why risk changing things?

I personally come from a pretty poor upbringing. I can see why it's scary for some to change something that 1. is working relatively well and 2. got them out of poverty.

Because at some point, things may change on their own.

It's offensive to see this valid point of view dismissed with such shallow accusations of privilege.

The point in bringing up trivial issues like moving monitors is to emphasize the greed and absurdity that ensure that even simple, quick tasks become cash sinks and long term blockers, directly because of common union practices. This is the inefficiency that unions tend to breed, and it is a direct consequence of their purpose: protect members even at the expense of nonmembers and the rest of the corporate collective.

No one is complaining that they aren't allowed to move their own monitors. We are explaining that these ubiquitous policies in sum do more harm than good to greater modern society.

Who exactly is the "rest of the corporate collective"? Also saying "ubiquitous policies in sum" seems like a stretch from extortionist monitor moving. There can be a balance.

New rule: similar to Godwin's law, first person to mention "privilege" loses the argument. It is an unwinnable and deeply toxic ad hominem strategy; discount any merit of the argument and accuse the opponent of simply being too "privileged" to ever understand. Well guess what - that hole just goes down and down. If you can speak english and afford a computer, you're way too privileged. Electricity! Privilege.

When it comes to identity politics, unless you are an illiterate, congenitally disabled, imprisoned, transgender veteran of color in a 3rd world country then I would ask you to respectfully step back and let our true heroes speak. Thanks

First off, that's not similar to Godwin's law. Secondly, telling to shut up because they used the word "privilege" is not very conducive to conversation. If you really think the word poses problems, could you explain what those problems are? Your sarcastic string of identities is not helpful for understanding what your point is.

> telling to shut up because they used the word "privilege" is not very conducive to conversation

I don't like it because it's an all-purpose "shut up" card itself. It discounts opinion and argument not because of any merit or logic, simply because of the arguer's socioeconomic situation - which is not even known! I feel it is a very lazy way to conduct a conversation.

I'm sorry if my original post came across sarcastically, i was just trying to "reductio ad absurdum" some of the arguments i've heard in the past.

What I hate about "privilege" is that it is an invitation to introduce the notion of personal virtue into what should be a dispassionate discussion. It turns into a competition which has nothing to do with the merit of the point. It is a personal thing, much like race, and it's not useful. When I hear "you wouldn't understand because you're privileged" i can just translate it to "because you're white" or "because you're asian" or "because you're X". Well great. Where does that get us? And since you're talking about me, let's look very closely at you?

I don't deny privilege exists. Of course it does. I daresay I see it more than most, living where I do. But like racism it is not to be tossed around lightly, or it will basically kill any discussion.

I not sure I understand the point of your comment. The parent comment literally said that there are many unions like that, but that this is not what a union has to be and that there are several unions that are a net positive.

The whole point is that the fight for protection of workers' rights needs some sort of organization. Traditionally, that has been called a "union", but if the problem you're pointing out is that the name has too many bad connotations, feel free to propose another one.

FWIW, it looks like most of the "good unions" are careful to call themselves "guilds".

Union rules are about making sure a management team does not subject employees to random jobs. It is a about adding a control over management.

In other words, in my office an employee is not allowed to hang a whiteboard on to a wall. Because building mandates only union employees can make such hardware modifications.

Fine you are protecting the job of the union but what you are really doing is prevent job creep or scope creep.

Another hypothetical example: no employee is allowed to work past 5 pm. Sure hardworking employees want to. But when they do, the put the pressure on other employees to do the same. This kind of culture is net negative.

> Fine you are protecting the job of the union but what you are really doing is prevent job creep or scope creep.

I think that should really read "Fine you are trying to prevent scope creep but what you are really doing is protecting the union jobs."

I've had my own experience of being forced to wait for a union worker to report onsite to accomplish a basic thing, only to be told when he showed up an hour after requested "If I didn't use the time in the job order, they'd just reduce the time alloted for the next one, and we'd get docked for running over."

Pick a metric and it will restructure the entire working environment to meet that metric, no matter how illogical or inefficient things become.

Keep adding more rules to close the loopholes in the process and you get the craziness in some jobs where things can't get done because there's no way through the red tape anymore.

It is not the fault of the union then. It is the fault of rules and structure provincially eliminating minute problems and creating larger problems as a result.

It is also about territory control. You don't want to give up power to someone else. Typical society problems. The solution lies in how do you practice friendship with someone so cunning and selfish that you can be in the loosing seat quickly, yet still be friends and still be on neutral ground?

> rules and structure provincially eliminating minute problems and creating larger problems as a result

Rules and structure created by the union.

Just imagine complains after Silicone Valley unionisation - only SWE Union worker could spawn an EC2 instance or migrate a database...

Dystopian world ahead of us

So put in a provision in the tech union charter that allows anyone, unionized or not, to move monitors. Problem solved.

> Unions will slow us down, and we'll become more bureaucratic

Anyone who's actually had to deal with a union can agree with this point.

At our company, a number of job functions are union-only work, meaning it is a violation of the union contract for any non-union employee to perform that work.

In principle, you might think that makes sense, until you need to get something very simple done - that you are willing to do yourself and cannot.

It becomes infuriating. Need to plug that new PC into the socket? Sorry, equipment installation is a union job. But the new employee can't start if the new PC on his desk isn't plugged in? Tough shit - please put in a requisition and it'll get scheduled within the 48hr SLA, and completed in 7-10 business days.

Need that extra monitor moved between two adjacent cubes? Sorry, equipment relocation is union work. If you do it yourself, you'll be fired. But it's just a monitor, you say? Tough shit - please put in a requisition and it'll get scheduled within the 48hr SLA, and completed in 7-10 business days.

Oh, you want to move that folding table and a few chairs to the conference room so you can have a design meeting with the whole team? Sorry furniture movement is union-only work. But it'll take me literally 10 minutes and the alternative is to cancel the meeting. Tough shit - please put in a requisition and it'll get scheduled within the 48hr SLA, and completed in 7-10 business days.

These are real examples at my company - I didn't make them up.

So what's the ultimate outcome here? Employees obviously look for ways to circumvent the union. Then the union finds out and sends a few reps in to take pictures of things that have been touched/moved by non-union workers, and sends it to their lawyers (paid for by union dues). The lawyers then send formal notices that the company has violated the company contract, and notices go out to the whole company - union workers get all riled up that the company isn't respecting them, and non-union workers roll their eyes and vow never to work for another unionized company again. Bad feelings all around & Giant waste of everyone's time.

The alternative to carving out job functions for union workers, is to force everyone to unionize - and that's got its own problems.

Unions are great in unsafe industries in an unregulated market - ie. 1940's coal mines (extreme example). Six figured desk jobs can manage with some reasonable labor laws made at the State level. A union is a huge additional layer of bureaucracy.

Well, sorry to be blunt but that's fucking stupid.

Contrast that with my experience with Unions in Sweden; and that is that they basically don't exist except to ensure that workers rights are not infringed.

So they'll be involved in a termination, or help negotiate overtime pay.

There is no such thing as a "union job", it's just having what's referred to as a "collective agreement".

For years now I've seen comments like this from Europeans every time unions come up in conversation online. You all need need to come work for a large union in the US. They are just not the same thing. I've had direct or indirect experience with Teamsters, CWA, NEA, IBEW and UBC. You can dress it up however you like but there are definitely 'union jobs' with all of the connotation that brings.

Yes there are benefits to the worker (esp when your job puts you in harm's way). Yes collective bargaining is awesome. Unions, if run well, are fantastic. In my opinion we tend to mess them up.

This is the same argument I see americans make a lot.

"Unions are bad!", no, the concept is fine, you have some bad ones.

"Police are bad!", no, the concept is fine, yours are just untrained and overburdened.

"Public transport is bad, I need a car!", no, the concept is fine, you just have bad public transport and that forms your opinion.

Not really your main point but there are quite a few US "metro areas" with fairly sparse layout/wide scope, so I think public transit actually is a harder problem in the US than it is in e.g. Europe. That said even the cities that don't have this excuse tend to have mediocre at best transit here (for example Boston).

You have your causation backwards there. If you look at virtually every metro area in the US, the history goes: dense core -> policy decisions to favor cars above everything else, usually with a healthy dose of racism tossed in -> suburban sprawl.

That's definitely possible, I don't know enough about the history, but now that there is a lot of established sprawl it does have a causal effect in discouraging public transit.

Also, in the context of comparing to other countries, I would think many did not have the land available to spread out in the same way at the time cars were available? I'm just curious how much of this may be related to the timing of the US

You would expect that the surplus of space in many US metropolitan areas would make it considerably easier to install and operate metro transit lines, but this seems not to be the case. I suspect the systemic bias towards road users is much more of a problem than geographical scale.

The point is not lack of space. If the metro station in Europe has 10 times as many people in 1 km radius around it as a metro station in US, you’ll have 10 times as many people riding it. If you have too few people riding it, the capital costs of building the metro (which, by the way, are much higher in the US than in Europe for some inexplicable reason) will be ten times higher per rider. At the same time, low ridership will also result in reducing number of trains per hour to control the costs, further reducing the ridership. The result is that you get a very expensive metro system that nobody is actually using, because most people don’t live close enough to use it, and the train schedules are less convenient than driving.

Dedicated lines need density for them to make financial sense. We tend to not have that (except where we do, but those places already have lines)

Interestingly enough there is much more revenue generation for the state in traffic violations. When one is walking or using public transport it’s more difficult for cops to harass them. But people can have a taillight out at any moment that warrants a traffic stop and subsequent fishing expedition. Our urban planning, especially in the West has been heavily biased toward cars.

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Michael Scott

We're not going to get different results when we form a union in the US unless we make an attempt to get different results.

No doubt about that.

I’m just arguing that the concept is fine, and the implementation is corrupted. Removing the corruption would be great but the issue is not the concept itself.

No, the concept is different in the US. It's conceptually not the same as an EU union.

If you think EU unions are great - then you'll need to first educate American union advocates about what they're doing wrong.

What if the concept is what leads to the corruption?

E.g. communism.

Im for unions, it beats the current situation, but im weary of the sales pitch.

But there are non-corrupt unions in other countries?

Even some in the US as some commentators have suggested (Screen Actors Guild being one)

Sure, there are non-corrupt unions in some other countries, the question is however how much % of them are not corrupt.

So? I didnt say it forces you to be corrupt, i said it may lead to that.

The "sales pitch" that is relevant here is the one put forth by the DoD and their enormously powerful SIGs for the last 75 years, namely "unions = communism" and "communism = bad".

As much as I would like to believe that there is a massive pro-working-class institution in the US that can afford to spend billions per annum on under-the-table PR/propaganda campaigns to shill collective action, it just isn't the case. The MIC on the other hand... putting those socialized taxpayer dollars to work against the evil working class (around the world).

I dont understand whats the pentagons propaganda machine got to do with me?

Not american.

Ps, i was not saying communism == unions. Thats fucking retarded on so many levels.

American military hegemony is a worldwide phenomenon. Unless you are in what is deemed by the MIC as "communist/terrorist/drug-dealer" country, there is going to be a sizeable media+political influence from Western/US interests in your country.

Are you arguing that unions lead to communism? While Europe has a rich weave of social-democratic governments, that would hardly constitute communism. In fact, I'd daresay actual communist parties in Europe with any real power are a distinct rarity.

No,my point was that certain power structures encourage corruption.

Hell maybe they all do. Maybe that is why modern day democracy actually works (checks and balances) and has very little to do with comunism vs capitalism.

Socialism is a step towards communism. Unions taking quite a lot of power from the owners of companies is any a way abolition of private property.

Yes, like dijit said, something modeled after the Screen Actors Guild. You rockstars get your million dollar salaries, no one gets overworked.

Great point. Guilds in general are a great way to reboot collective bargaining in the US. That thought occurred to me earlier this year and I completely forgot about it in this thread.

Although as one anecdotal counterpoint, read about some of the experiences Mike Jittlov had making Wizard of Speed and Time. He is playing it for effect in the film but it is at least semi-autobiographical.


One of the liveliest things about ''The Wizard of Speed and Time,'' aside from the frantic Mr. Jittlov himself, is the film's animosity toward Hollywood in general and the movie unions in particular. Mr. Jittlov, who himself resigned from the Directors' Guild in order to make this film free of union requirements, includes a sequence in which he visits one union office after another, being told in each that he must play by expensive and archaic rules if he expects to play this game at all.

When he tries to rent studio space, he is given a list of costs right down to the fee for a parking space, and winds up shooting in his own garage. And when he films an outdoor sequence in a park, a helicopter appears overhead with a loudspeaker to chastise him for trying to film without a permit. ''Maybe I shouldn't make films for a living,'' he muses dejectedly at one point. ''I've got a bicycle. I could deliver Steve's Pizzas.''

What's the difference between a union and a guild? Do Americans just have an aversion to the word union now?

Classic definition wise guilds had a legal monopoly or regulation over a certain trade occupations including the quality and the maximium supply through control of pipelines of licensing and training.

Historically they were a often a feudal "link" of control for administration. They meet with the head haberdasher to discuss carrots and sticks of taxation and licensing so they pay willingly and let them shout about unlicensed competitors instead of trying to chase down every last haberdasher to tax.

Unions are more "if you piss off every affiliated habberdasher in the city they refuse to make hats until their demands are met".

Probably. See the “Seattle Police Officers Guild” which is definitely a union... police aren’t independent contractors, or craftspeople, etc.

A guild is a collection of independent contractors, a union is typically your own employees. Also guild sounds way cooler.

Guilds (I assume) involve more mead and iron working.

You are failing to acknowledge the underlying issues associated with all your examples. This isn't American's whining about anecdotes while the system overall is sound. The system overall is a setup for unions, police, public transportation, etc to turn out bad way more often than they should (and probably way more often than they do in Europe, hence the confusion about why people are hostile to these things). People pushing the superficial and polarizing positions you've listed do exist sadly but largely, IMO, because they directly benefit from that polarization or they've been lied to and manipulated intentionally into taking those positions for the benefit of special interests and large corporations that dominate what laws actually get passed in this country.

And all of those are certainly opinions, but trading them as fact is overreaching.

Please give an example of good public transport. (I'm living in Germany)

From the perspective of a person who travels a lot and exclusively uses public transportation; I think you don't value what you have.

American systems are not dependable, intercity and interstate travel is often not punctual to the point of futility.

There are very few examples that prove me wrong here (probably NYC<->NJ links being an exception)

Travelling around Los Angeles is just not possible, the buses are disgusting when they actually work and the time tables may as well be dinner menu's for value they bring.

Getting to LA from San Francisco required a coach, the coach was 8hrs late. There were no trains.

Going from NYC to Philadelphia by train cost me $300, when I returned it cost me $82 and was delayed by 4hrs.

Travelling around NYC using their underground was "ok" from a dependability standpoint; though I saw human excrement on many occasions, in one case it was smeared entirely on one of the benches where passengers usually sit.

I consider American public transport to be pretty poor. Where it is punctual it is disgustingly unhygienic. Where it is hygienic it is prohibitively expensive and non-punctual.

The rail networks prioritise freight and lines are fragmented heavily- it is common for one line of track to have several different owners as it progresses through a state. This causes delays as they do not seem to cooperate in using the tracks effectively, or delays from the use of a line causes cascading delays.

I've lived in Finland, England and Sweden- and I have travelled most of Europe (NL, DE, DK, FR, ESP) and have found public transport to be mostly punctual, in some cases it's actually "dependable" as in, I can rely on public transport getting me to my destination in a precise amount of time (+/- 10 mins).

This is definitely not the case in the USA outside of a few very major cities.

> Travelling around NYC using their underground was "ok" from a dependability standpoint; though I saw human excrement on many occasions, in one case it was smeared entirely on one of the benches where passengers usually sit.

“Many occasions” sounds like BS to me. Until the pandemic I rode the subway at least 12 times a week, every week for the past 22 years, and only saw human excrement twice (and one time it was actually a pretty funny story.)

I don't really know what's "normal" on the NYC subway to be fair, I don't live their and didn't travel during peak times.

I do slightly suspect that peak hours are more cleanly than non-peak time due to various economic reasons.

But I saw:

* poopy seat (when I got on the train at JFK)

* little human sized nugger, near the door, nearly stood in it as I disembarked a train near penn station.

* sticky urine floor near the door, which took me a good 1m30s to realise was definitely male human urine as I inspected the piss marks up the side of the door that I was pressed against during a busy ride.

Oh wait - I wasn’t counting urine. If we are than yeah, many.

> Going from NYC to Philadelphia by train cost me $300, when I returned it cost me $82 and was delayed by 4hrs.

Next time don't take Amtrack. Using NJ Transit from NY Penn to Trenton then transfer to SEPTA train into Philly will be < $30. The delays are unavoidable if something is broken.

Those are the two routes I took, I can't explain why it was much more than $30.

Western Netherlands, or more specifically, the "Randstad" area. People like to complain about train punctuality but really, shit's quite dependable. Trains run regularly and on a fixed schedule, trams in metropolitan areas, buses perpendicular on those trams and in the less-densely-populated areas. Higher education students get free usage of public transport during their studies. I have a driver's license, but I won't be using it often.

Switzerland. As an American, I wanted to move there after zipping around the country on their buses and trains.

That was such a good experience, even the tickrt app brought me joy.

Stockholm's subway. I have also had good experiences in cities like Madrid, Milan and Lisbon.

As someone living in Lisbon and has been to multiple European capitals: we're not a good example.

Hell, the underground in Kyiv is better than almost anything in the US, imo.

Tokyo Subway is the most impeccably run system you'll ever seen in the world, it's really quite perfect. The trains even have warm seats in winter.

Aren't Japanese subway trains so crowded that a pusher is needed?

London. Everyone likes to bemoan it usually, but you have connections via metro, train, tram, bus, boat or cycle to pretty much every major location in and around.

Alongside that you also have (putting aside the longstanding battle between them) a plethora of on-demand taxi services.

There are decent (although not high speed) train connections to most other major cities in the UK and even to continental Europe, there's an airport literally 10 minute car ride from the financial district, and two major European airports under 30 mins train ride away (obviously all dependent on your starting location within the metro area).

As an integrated system it's not perfect, but I'd certainly argue it's a viable aspiration for many cities to hit "good".

I've never had issues with public transportation in Brazil (living in small, medium and large cities). For the 5 years that I worked in person, I took the bus to work every day and I can only remember it failing me once.

Admittedly sometimes I'd fall asleep and miss my stop.

I was really impressed by Amsterdam’s transportation system as a whole - roads, bike lanes, light rail. As an American it felt like the city was designed to encourage walking or biking followed by public transport with cars as a last resort.

In the very heart of the city of Groningen (also in NL), regular cars aren't even allowed. Just buses, taxis, police, ambulance .. and delivery trucks I guess. Especially at night it's wonderful, imagine all the space that isn't filled with metal boxes.

Even though it is ageing and could be cleaner, the subway in Paris is amazing to get you anywhere in the city. Add to it buses, trams, bikes + very well connected train stations, and you have a very good public transport.

Taipei's intracity transit, both buses and the metro system. Taiwan's intercity buses, rail, and HSR. Clean, very frequent, gets you everywhere.

Let it be known: I am about to indulge you knowing full-well that you're going to quibble over the definition of "good".

With that said, I have lived in the following places for more than a year, and found the public transportation to be good, if not excellent.

- Paris, France

- Lyon, France

- London, UK

- Amsterdam, NL

- Bayreuth, DE

Despite some well-known problems in some of these places (strikes in Paris comes readily to mind), the advantages remain enormous:

- Reduced motor vehicle circulation in the city

- A high degree of mobility at a moment's notice

- The ability to move around without breaking a sweat (sadly important when going to a meeting in a suit)

- The ability to get home while inebriated

- The ability for suburban (read: underprivileged) employees to participate in the heart of the regional economy

The list goes on...

I hate to use the most cliche word from California startup culture, but... maybe someone needs to... umm... disrupt unions?

Could you start a new kind of union as a kind of non-profit startup?

If I wanted to do this I'd leverage modern information technology to create covert communication channels for organizing and leverage big data, machine learning, and game theory to drive organization and bargaining strategies. You could apply pressure across supply chains, not just in individual industries, and you could really be quite a pain in the ass. Cambridge Analytica for the working class?

Also ditch the work rules and other antiquated industrial era ideas. Just go for pure financial and quality of life outcome. Work with industries if they're willing to play ball, but be a major pain in the ass when they don't. Negotiate, you know.

Honestly the hacker in me would be tempted if I had the time, skills, background, and connections. It would be a chance to wear a black hat and feel good about it. :)

If you did this you'd also have to be damn serious about opsec and tradecraft. When you threaten to increase labor costs, the gloves come off. I'd be about as worried about security doing this as I'd be running a dark web drug market.

Have you ever dealt with a cartel in real life? The idea that you can apply a "hacker" solution or "black hat" the cartel itself is naive. The whole point of any cartel (legal or otherwise) is to control and punish any attempts to operate outside of the rules and contracts that leadership negotiates. Anyone who considers doing something like this should be very aware of the career, financial, legal and physical risks of doing so.

Don't forget "I don't trust the government [to regulate X]".

It would really help if people would just use some qualifiers "US Unions", "US Police", "US Public transport", "US government".

How many times does a concept need to be executed badly before you can call it a bad concept?

Apparently 1, and you need to ignore all the ones that are executed well.

How many times must others get it right before you'll consider your own execution to be poor?

Well in the US we can only really vote on two opinions.

The 'left' argues for unions based on the concept. The 'right' argues against them based on their execution. So we go round and round and round and round because neither is willing to consider or admit that we might be talking past each other.

Makes for great web traffic though.

I don't understand how this is remotely relevant.

The point is: many (most?) first-world countries have unions that work well overall. Same with police departments.

What you're describing are putative reasons why the American execution is a failure.

So those proposing having unions in the US need to explain why this implementation will suddenly work differently than all the others in the US.

Sure, I'll freely admit that unions have worked very well other places, but the US seems to blow it every darn time. Why would this time be different?

Software engineering has this culture of innovation, invention, disruption, and reimplementing everything from taxis to space travel to payment systems to currency to food from scratch. Why couldn't they attempt to do the same to labor relations.

Why assume that the day after a tech union is invented, suddenly you're stuck with a massive clanking bureaucracy that's identical to the ones that were formed in very different industries many decades ago?

I think the burden of proof is on those saying, "This time it will be different."

Well, why don't we apply the scientific method and try it out! This industry was built upon experimentation and radical thinking.

Unionization is much more of a social experiment than a technical experiment.

And what is ridesharing, house-sharing, cryptocurrency, or social networking? Or open source software for that matter? As software eats the world, technical innovations are creating social situations that have never existed in the past, creating social experiments whether intentional or not.

I guess we'll find out: https://kickstarterunited.org/

The democratic left absolutely does not want unions outside of government which is probably the worst place for unions in general

OK - but your response could be abstracted to

Q: "Why is X so bad?"

A: "You're doing it wrong"

Could it also be that Y is always/sometimes just better?

If the evidence is that American institutions fail where the vast majority of developed countries succeed, the onus would seem to fall on the “American” part and not the institutions. The same logic applies for healthcare, public transportation, and representative democracy.

We don't have 'some bad ones'. We have a different definition and different goals for them. The unions are trying to pad jobs and pay, while keeping employees safe. Too much under one umbrella perhaps. But not just stupid American's who do it wrong. US unions are doing a great job, but to the wrong ends.

What's sorely missing from this discussion is the understanding that different cultures are differently suited for each system of government. There's simply no reason that what works in Sweden will work in the US, or China, or Zimbabwe, etc.

The last two generations of western civilization were raised, out of good intentions, to be culture blind, and now with what's happening in the country we are seeing the result.

This kind of thinking reminds me of biotruths, eugenics, social Darwinism, and other authoritarian concepts which seek to explain why it’s okay to have inequality between and within countries.

We should seek to raise rights and standards of living for all people. The focus on whether other people have cultures compatible with specific forms of government seems very suspect. Such talk keeps people down. Self-determination is a human right; therefore, it is a society’s right to determine government and culture. Your focus on culture is very strange; it suggests that the culture is a thing that justifies itself independent of the people. The culture is a thing people live and do. Your phrasing makes culture seem insidious, seeking to resist changes to status quo. Some monoculture advocates reject alternative cultures and seek to outcompete them. By implying there are singular cultures, you wipe away self-determination.

>kind of thinking reminds me of biotruths, eugenics, social Darwinism, and other authoritarian concepts which seek to explain why it’s okay to have inequality between and within countries.

I don't know where to start with this comment. Perhaps you should stop grouping arguments by stereotype.

At an individual level, different people require different interventions, because they have different personalities. Some people can handle responsibility. Some people need financial motivation. Some people respond to love. Others best learn through violence or fear (I was far too smart to listen to my parents until they threatened a spanking, for example).

If you take all of these different personalities and force them to live under together under a single set of rules, regardless of whether their needs are met, they will compete, if not for resources them for social clout. It is human nature. Particularly in a universe where resources are scarce and time is short.

Though large scale human interaction has a normalizing effect, within the high dimensional space of human belief and behavior there is ample room for these same micro behaviors to be reflected by macroscale cultural trends. And, similarly, because the "ideal" form of government depends ultimately on widely varying beliefs, forcing multiple peoples with significant cultural distance will inevitably lead to inequality and clash - this is not a statement of superiority, sand though it can be used as part justification for some of the antisocial beliefs you raised, that doesn't mean it isn't untrue or that these real problems that we are seeing emerge across the world will simply go away if we ignore them. This pattern has been repeated across time and space and is an unnecessary source of unacknowledged strife in the modern world.

All people should have self-determination, culture be damned. All societies should have self-determination. Period.

That’s why I drew the logical connection to authoritarian concepts. No one is forcing anyone to be more free. That would be impossible. Freedom is a choice one makes for oneself, individually. Keeping someone from being free can be forced upon another. Society can do this collectively through laws. These are nuanced differences between freedoms and liberties, which some people don’t have.

I don’t know why you focus on the culture when people are why the culture exists as it does, not the other way around. The status quo benefits from dominant culture and from keeping established power structures in place. You can’t use the culture as an argument to justify a form of government that removes human rights. Just like I can’t sign a contract that gives up my Constitutional rights. Those in less free countries are not given the choice of more freedom.

Is that not exactly the point? "It's not unions that are bad, it's the concept of union jobs. Collective agreements would solve the problem you're pointing out."?

Here’s the thing, if you set up a new union, you don’t have to follow the same model as the ones that don’t work well in the us, you can follow the ones that do. You also don’t have the same incentives or personnel as the unions you mentioned, an engineering union would look quite different just in terms of the personality types of the people involved if nothing else.

You don't get to just decide how your union will run in a vacuum, the US has laws that standardize a lot of things about them.

Sure, as I said, model it after the unions, in the US, that work. There are many examples to pick from and many lessons to be learned about what not to do from the others. The US has not and cannot legally mandate a union to be completely useless, at least this side of a dictatorship it can’t.

Sounds like American individualism tends to skew work arrangements to the point of them instituting what outsiders would say is corrupt systems. American unions are positioned in opposition of their management, when the situation is supposed to be collaborative cooperation. And I suspect this situation is a result of active opposition by the businesses. Individualism is a nice word for selfish.

I don't think it's that the unions are bad, it's just that definitions of work came from factories, where moving or installing equipment would come as a part of retooling assembly lines.

Those definitions should be loosened in an office setting, rather than dismissing the entire idea of a union.

You don't need to be rude to the parent poster.

They have real experiences of a union in their company. You have examples of unions in your country. Who is correct?

If your answer is yourself, then you're not understanding the point or the concern that people who are against unions have. It doesn't matter if Sweden implemented it well and somewhere else implemented it poorly. Bottom line is that the poorly-implemented scenario can happen, does happen, and in fact happens more often than anecdata of "oh no true union does that".

Unless you can propose a foolproof way that the "wrong way" is always prevented, then you will get opposition to your beliefs. Calling people or things stupid doesn't solve that.

The way to prevent "the wrong way" is to have a collaborative relation to the unions, rather than one of all out war.

Don't like your deal, which doesn't let everyone move tables? Negotiate a new one. Maybe you can offer them something they'd rather want instead.

Having a let hostile environment also let smaller, more agile unions thrive, instead of forcing them to all join together.

>There is no such thing as a "union job", it's just having what's referred to as a "collective agreement".

I won't retort with a similarly vulgar comment because:

1. we probably agree on the value of unions

2. I understand your exasperation with American ignorance and cultural bias on the subject

3. it's not constructive

However, it brings me no joy to assert that you are dead wrong. Union jobs can and do exist in places. The deleterious nature of these jobs is a subject of frequent debate in France: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permanent_syndical

> "I understand your exasperation with American ignorance and cultural bias on the subject"

"Ignorance and bias" is apparently now equivalent to "decades of experience that differ from your preferred reality".

Nice try, but no. The issue is literal ignorance of how things work outside of America (as you damn-well know).

Unions in America are clearly a dumpster fire, but only someone profoundly ignorant (and arrogant, to boot) could claim that unions are a failed concept.

Often, things that seem to not make sense are the result of historical practices at that workplace or others. In a situation like the comment describes, usually it's at a partially unionized workplace.

If you don't have these kinds of things in the contract, what can sometimes happen is a situation where all the "monitor movers" are unionized, but then management hires a new "screen transporter" for $10 an hour who isn't in the union.

In Netherland, unions negotiate with employers, generally with the government also at the table, to agree on workplace conditions and pay scales that apply to the whole industry, and not just the union members. The employer gains nothing by hiring a non-union member, and besides, a non-union member can always join the union if they want to.

The same system is used in most of Scandinavia, the union-government-employer tripod where the government acts as a facilitator and the union and employers negotiate a collective agreement.

I read a study on international power polarities, and they noted that truly independent tripolar was among the most stable configurations from a game theory perspective.

Broadly summarizing, the potential for the remaining tie-breaker to defect to either side tends to keep participants honest, even if they're bitterly opposed.

After thousands of online games of RISK, I concur.

Often you find yourself in a situation where nobody can win, but anyone can choose who wins if they commit to losing.

Unfortunately, it's rare all three participants realize the situation.

Any chance you have the link to the study? That sounds really interesting. Maybe even worth a post of its own on HN?

Given political realities in the US, I would hold out more hopes for the revolution coming than for nationwide sectoral bargaining.

I think a lot of people worry about these pay scales being limiting. In the US, they tend to end up being based on years of service or credentials, rather than about productivity or quality.

In Netherland they tend to be based on your function, and within that function, how well you perform it. Companies tend to want the best people in the most important functions. If you think you're performing the function of a higher paid role, that's a good argument to ask for a raise. Or a promotion.

oh good... a THIRD organization of bureaucracy. What could go wrong?

It works surprisingly well. A decade or two ago this was widely praised as the "polder" system: instead of going on strike and firing people all the time, you talk it out and find a solution that works for everybody. Everybody involved has an interest in a good solution.

Well if you live in Sweden maybe being a unionized software engineer isn’t that bad. If you live in USA it’s another story. Sweden has different history, culture, and labor laws than US and so Swedish unions don’t work the same way as US unions.

...and this is one of the main problems with online advocacy.

You can say "unions are a no brainer - America is so backwards not to have them".

I can say "unions are awful and poisonous to a company."

...and given the different definition of "union", we are each correct within our national context, but often incorrect when saying it online.

US unions != EU unions.

You are lucky to be living in Sweden then. My experience from other EU countries is that unions are leeches that once in a while defend "high-ranking" union members that did something bad from being fired. (although admittedly it is not nearly as bad as what GP described)

I think that unions in Sweden would be better classified as Professional Societies. There are unions for different professions, and they help with training, education, discounts etc. A lot of people in UK and America unions are associated with striking miners etc.

Yeah, this, same in the Netherlands. Where a large company tends to put share holders first because that is where the CEO's bonus depends on, the unions put the employees first. I see it almost a necessary thing to keep the balance. But the way I see it, with the very little workers rights there are in the US the anti-union movement has basically won there. Reminds me of that quote [0] or this meme [1]. Yeah, you don't need a union, it's a privilege that your boss can fire you on the spot without proper reasoning. It's also a privileged for a woman to get 2 weeks of paid pregnancy leave (can you even walk normally when you're expected back at work?). Working on chemo sounds great as well. Keep telling yourselves that you don't need unions. I feel American work culture completely ignores the fact that the vast majority of people is nice, social and wants to make nice things they feel good about, even if they didn't go to an "ivy". This attitude is reflected by employees. You would do good just being a bit nicer overall.

[0] Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.

[1] https://m.9gag.com/gag/aoP1WMg

In the US, a big part of the anti-union movement's success has been the fact that states retain enough autonomy to rig the rules in pro- or anti-union fashion, while also competing for business that can typically be located anywhere in the CONUS.

As a result, it's a race to the bottom as governors try to pursue business-friendly policies to attract jobs. And on the other "side", to pursue union-friendly policies to attract votes.

Both of which tug decisions to the extremes, the better to win their base, rather than seeking compromise that's acceptable to both parties.

One reason proletarian internationalism remained a hotly debated topic in communist theory for decades.

Sorry to be blunt but when you give unions power, this is the bullshit that comes from it

Why do you trust corporation-backed power (small amount of people in charge) versus union-backed power (power distributed across many people)?

I find it fascinating, particularly in a country like America where democracy is a core part of our being.

Unions allow people to vote on their own preferences, then use their collective voice to negotiate. If you don’t like some bullshit union practice, then that is the fault of the people in it not the unions themselves.

Ask any nurse, plumber, or teacher in the United States if they really feel they have the power to replace union reps that are perpetuating such practices.

Power perpetuates power

Now ask any engineer in the US if they have the power to replace management that perpetuates bad practices.

They do. It's called finding another job.

Birling: […] So I refused. Said I couldn't consider it. We were paying the usual rates and if they didn't like those rates, they could go and work somewhere else. It's a free country, I told them.

Eric: It isn't if you can't go and work somewhere else.

— J. B. Priestley

Not everyone is in a position to find another job. And what do you do if the best place you can work is still rubbish? What if you're an ISP tech?

An ISP tech? Just learn to code and then bounce from job to job to job until you find one with a good manager.

Okay, sarcasm aside; I've worked for many different tech companies and good managers are exceptionally rare and there is no pressure from the top to change that, and pressure from the bottom doesn't work. There is, however, a lot of pressure to not fire or demote managers as it looks bad for the management above them.

One is not forced to spend his life working as an ISP tech. I attended a community college for a few years where most people were learning new skills precisely because they didn't like the job or often the industry in which they worked. If ISP tech work was horrible and everyone left, employers would be forced to make it less horrible.

Well, you were able to solve the problem of bad union reps at the same time. Two birds with one stone, good job.

People in unions can’t find other jobs?

They can’t find other unions

There is more than one union. You can also vote/organize to change your existing union (I can’t do that at my job).

Okay, so I get my one vote and now have to go spend time convincing others of something if I wish to change how I live my life. Even if there's less of a "safety guarantee", I'd prefer to take the risk of managing my own situation, something often thwarted by closed-shop unions.

Specifically union power tends to be rather exclusive - competition or fragmentation over a shared niche harms them far more than even individuals or businesses. The dynamic is thus "anti-competitive" by design.

True! So, better governing systems for a union, no?

You can’t get rid of power, just redistribute it. As flawed as democracy is, that’s what it attempts to do.

Or do we want to get rid of governments? ;)

In that case I’ll happily make the same snarky comment about whatever collection of humans accrue and then abuse power in our new government-free society.

People are naturally social. There will always be power, wielded in one way or another. But we have and will figure out schemes to wield it in a to benefit the many more than the few.

No. That's what's happening in some American unions (not all!), but it's not true in Denmark (for any union!), by the sound of it from the above post, in Sweden.

Unions in Sweden (and Scandinavia, Germany) are powerful to defend workers interests, it doesn't mean that unions are requiring to have union-only jobs or trying to micromanage the workplace. The bullshit you are seeing is from your own bubble and worldview, don't make broad platitudes out of it, that is bullshit.

I'm in a union and see similar things, but instead of using lawyers, the union would note that the contract had been violated, and management will typically agree to pay the people who would have done the work. If it's just 10 minutes, the union probably wouldn't bother with it - unless it's a pattern, and in that case, they'd add up all the 10-minute transgressions. I often disagree with the focuses of my union, but I'm still happy to support it. As many have noted, the main thing a union does is balance the leverage. Without them, the employer has all of it.

For seemingly silly rules like the ones you're describing, the union is attempting to protect jobs and hours.

I wish my union was more like some European unions I've read about, where they're involved in the decision-making process. Mine fights for wages, positions, and conditions, but management decides how things work - so long as they're not violating the agreed-upon conditions. I expect your workplace is similar. Instead of mapping out a path with management, my union reacts to the path set out by management, and I think a lot of the weird rules come as a result of reacting, rather than helping to create.

I also think this sort of collaboration would be better for companies, particularly larger companies, where there is a disconnect from how things actually work and how corporate thinks they work. We have this particularly terrible piece of machinery that corporate is obsessed with justifying. We have other machines that do its jobs better, but it does the jobs of many machines - just much worse. It just wastes a lot of time, but corporate incentiveses management to use it, and when discussing the POS machine, management cites those incentives as reasons for why the machine is actually good. When you say, "Yes, but how does wasting all this time using this particular machine help the company?" management highlights the incentives.

> ...a union does is balance the leverage. Without them, the employer has all of it.

Maybe that's true of low labor jobs, but Employees in six figure jobs have tremendous power.

One of the reasons companies try to create anti-potching rules is exactly to try to get back some power.

The unemployment rate in the US was 4% prior to covid, and even lower for tech and white collar desk jobs.

This issue simply must take a back seat to bigger problems in America.

== This issue simply must take a back seat to bigger problems in America.==

What if labor rights is actually the single biggest problem that drives all the others?

I can think of things like a higher minimum wage, paid sick leave, anti-discrimination in hiring, maternity/paternity leave, and guaranteed PTO that could be helped by unionization to make us a stronger country, collectively.

Except it doesn't. Labor rights does not have an appreciable affect on racial discrimination, environmental concerns, infrastructure, immigration concerns, defense against the passive/active actions against other hostile nation-states, or a lot of other things.

And no, leveraging a union to force your company to drop a controversial customer has absolutely nothing to do with labor rights, that's just taking advantage of a organization your tribe happens to control

Lots of absolutes and zero sources. I never claimed it was to drop customers, sounds like you are in an argument with yourself.

Unions could absolutely have an impact on racial discrimination and wealth disparities.

Nah, that only makes the labor market less dynamic. It might protect the workers that already have a job, but it will definitely hurt those who don't.

Maybe other labor rights - but definitely not Facebook six-figure-salary labor rights - the context of this post.

The problem is that the anti–union sentiment of the Facebook employees leaks into the tools they build. Facebook may give six–figure salaries, but Facebook Workplace is used by e.g. Walmart, which has a median salary of $19,177 [0] and a notoriously bad track record of labor violations.

[0] https://www.wsj.com/articles/at-walmart-the-ceo-makes-1-188-...

Why tech workers should unionize is to have a say in their company's values and deeds. [1] And when a company has an enormous influence on our country, its employees should (and do) want to be part of decisions.

It's okay, society can handle more than one issue at a time.

1. https://www.wired.com/story/how-kickstarter-employees-formed...

>Maybe that's true of low labor jobs, but Employees in six figure jobs have tremendous power.

You may be right. I don't know enough about those specific dynamics to argue against it. It doesn't feel right to me, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. It does bring to mind professional sports in the US - Football, Basketball, and Baseball. All have player unions, and all have players that make six figures at minimum, with a fair amount making tens or millions and some making hundreds of millions. But, the NFL is famous for having the most toothless union, and, as a result, its players have the worst contracts/conditions - by a wide margin. It seems to me that unions could still help people who make six figures.

One issue I saw with the pre-Covid job market is that it's too often all or none. Either you spend a ton of time and resources getting a position that pays well and then asks you to work 60+ hours a week, or you take a job that lets you scrape by (even if those positions still ask its workers to put in a lot of hours). It's hard to find balance in either situation, and unions could help restore some of that balance to both situations.

>One of the reasons companies try to create anti-potching rules is exactly to try to get back some power.

What I've read indicates that anti-poching rules are BS. They seem to exist so that employers can control their employees without adequately compensating them. Pay for talent or let it walk.

>The unemployment rate in the US was 4% prior to covid, and even lower for tech and white collar desk jobs.

Beside the point, but the 4% figure doesn't account for gig work, underemployment, or people who have stopped trying. I believe you, and it makes sense, that white collar desk jobs would be in better shape than lower-class positions.

>This issue simply must take a back seat to bigger problems in America.

The hollowing of the middle class is as big as any issue imo, and if we prioritize building the middle class, it will aid in solving many of our other issues. As far as I can tell, nothing would help bring people out of poverty more than a strong union presence.

Interesting, so you're saying the union is most concerned with hours and making sure that none of the hours that would be directed to union members as per their collective bargaining agreement are redirected elsewhere.

Are your union members actually paid by the hour or are these hours tracked to justify/demand a certain headcount of salaried union members?

It is hourly. These are issues that arise most often, but the union is most concerned with wages, positions, benefits, etc.. But, all of that is negotiated in the contract, so it only comes to the forefront every few years.

The tracking of work affects future contracts, though, because management (particularly at the corporate level) is continually looking to cut hours and positions, and the union looks to justify keeping them.

In non-union jobs I've worked, those hours/positions get cut without meaningful pushback, and the workers left were forced to do more work without receiving more compensation.

This is definitely not unique to unions, nor are all (or many) unions like this. Of course the examples you list are ridiculous and shouldn’t happen, but the more boring instances of bureaucracy are just part of the mundane process of work in a large company (e.g. raising a ticket on a third party vendor to grant access to some service and the whole process descending into farce as no one knows how to/wants to do it and everyone has a problem with it). The benefits of unionisation almost always outweigh the negatives, and most of the time a union has some degree of member democracy so you can attempt to change internal processes.

> "most of the time a union has some degree of member democracy"

Most of the time? Some degree? Any union that does not represent its members to the best of its ability is not a good union.

That's also why it's vital that no single union has a monopoly on a certain type of work; if union members are unhappy with their union, they need to be able to leave and join or start a new one.

> Any union that does not represent its members to the best of its ability is not a good union.

This is as naive as saying that "any good country does not represent it's population" and then therefore expecting good governments.

> That's also why it's vital that no single union has a monopoly on a certain type of work; if union members are unhappy with their union, they need to be able to leave and join or start a new one.

Again, the reality on the ground is one of union monopolies. Union power derives from its collective bargaining power - so separate unions always end up merging and union bosses always end up as major power brokers, accountable to no one.

Of course there are bad governments. They deserve to be overthrown. Similarly, bad unions should be overthrown. But just like good governments, good unions are possible.

Many countries have healthy unions. The problem in the US is not the concept of unions, it's the American concept of unions. It's how the US goes about dealing with unions. That's the thing that needs to change. Claiming that all unions are bad when that is clearly not the case, is a nonsense argument.

>Again, the reality on the ground is one of union monopolies. Union power derives from its collective bargaining power - so separate unions always end up merging and union bosses always end up as major power brokers, accountable to no one.

This is the case for many corporations, leading to corporate mergers too, accountable to no one. That's why we have mechanisms to deal with it. Some mergers must be approved by the government. Sometimes companies are split up. We just need to apply the same regulations around anticompetitive behavior and monopolies to unions, so that we can have unions while keeping them from being all encompassing.

>Any union that does not represent its members to the best of its ability is not a good union.

I absolutely agree, but there are unions and unions. The SDA in Australia for instance is, for some members, useless, and for other members actually harmful - but it has been effective at winning better conditions for some workers. (SDA isn't the best example because RAFFWU, which is another union founded by workers and organisers who believe that SDA has failed workers, does a better job everywhere it goes.) A good union is better than a bad union, and a bad union is often but not always better than no union.

I also agree that unionised workers need to be able to effectively organise, which might involve starting a new union. That being said, union turf wars can devastate actual efforts to better conditions because of issues that could be resolved without splitting the union. The best reason to pack up shop and set up a new union is because the union doesn't have an effective means to, or a culture of, internal democracy, which means problems with the way the union is run can't be addressed. But if a union does have this, it's better to 'work within the system.'

I've worked plenty of union jobs that didn't have this problem. Like the original comment said: yes, some unions are bad. But it's ridiculous to pretend they're all like what you dealt with.

But it's also ridiculous to pretend they're all rainbows and sunshine, too. Some people have valid reasons for not wanting to be part of a union, and some people have valid reasons for wanting to be part of a union. Dismissing either group is wrong.

I think the difference is in the US there is a strong history of busting up unions specifically to disempower workers.

There absolutely are legitimate reasons to not want to join a union.

However, “both sides can be right” so to speak, whitewashes (word chosen deliberately) away the historical fact and current reality of systemic suppression of and propaganda against union organizing by US workers.

"busting up unions specifically to disempower workers."

Let us review GM.

They knew they needed to cut down product, would the union let them?

They knew they needed automation as their labour costs are too high.

The union position was always the same, use the profits from some cars to subsidize the losses from others. How long can that go on for when you continue to lose marketshare?

Their pension is a mess as fewer and fewer workers are supporting it.

Or, you can review Daewoo motors (sold to GM).

The banks flat out told them to cut costs or no loans and they would go bankrupt. Did the unions agree to anything?

Let us review the Ludlow massacre:


I feel like your point, although containin validity, kinda misses the forests for the trees w/regards to what I was trying to express.

By no means am I claiming every particular union is perfect. What I am claiming is that organized labor is, at present, an important way for people in the working class (which really does include us white-collar knowledge professionals, at the end of the day) to gather power and use it to negotiate decent pay, humane treatment, fair treatment, etc, when there's a long and very visible history of the folks in positions of management and power being very comfortable with exploiting and abusing the employees of their own companies, if they can get away with it.

Unions are a means, not an end -- like government. Like the market.

> At our company, a number of job functions are union-only work, meaning it is a violation of the union contract for any non-union employee to perform that work.

This is known as a 'closed shop' in the UK. Closed shops are not synonymous or required for unions to function.

Yeah, we have a union at work and can confirm we're allowed to move chairs, monitors... actually I can't imagine any work our employer would stop us doing unless there is a health and safety, ethical or PR issue

This is really strange. Unions should be there to protect workers rights when they are abused from above, ie they give more strength to workers when necessary. In normal working conditions, unions should be invisible.

Case in point: my girlfriend's workplace has been recently purchased by a multinational. Everything fine and well, until they had to pay her. Her monthly salary was cut by about €400 because they refuse to pay past overtime work (which is perfectly legal here, was required by the old employer and was 100% documented). She then gathered with her colleagues and they decided to sign up with an union to put some pressure to the new employer. It happened last week so I have no more news. Anyway, that's what unions are for, at least over here; they shouldn't be used to move furniture or things like that.

The US is setup differently. The local/state labor departments usually handle pay issues, and almost always force the company to pay/backpay employees. I've dealt with them on occasion, and they do an amazing job in the US. When dealing with the State labor board, the company needs to prove their innocence (which is right because they are expected to have better record keeping).

Unions, unlike in Europe, function to protect hours for hourly workers, carve out job functions for union-only work, set standardized salaries, and prevent dismissals. Historically they did a lot more with worker safety, but that's been taken over by the federal gov't (OSHA).

It's just not comparable to the EU. The words almost mean entirely different things - and that's why talking about it in this forum can be very confusing, and often needlessly antagonistic - because the words just don't mean the same thing.

Thanks for the explanation, I was not aware of how unions work in the US.

> A union is a huge additional layer of bureaucracy.

They can be, undoubtedly.

But don't forget the times when they go into bat to defend the rights of workers who have been treated badly by their employers - whether during employment or when they have been made redundant and procedures have not been followed correctly. When you're a part-time worker who is in a union who has very little input in your day-to-day work, but they come to your rescue with a considerable amount of legal muscle behind you in such a situation, the £10 a month you've paid them looks like very good value indeed.

I totally get that unions can be the embodiment of self-protection and bureaucracy, and can lead to expensive and crazy situations (indeed when I see some union leaders here in the UK it appears that is their desire). But that isn't all they are there for - they can also help the little guy out when their back is against the wall.


when i was in my early 20's and unaware of how the world worked i had a job as a contract IT guy at a very well known Power company. People would call me up with their problems and i would fix them. After a few months, somone took me aside and explained to me that they are really bad, as they are "using" me to avoid having to deal with other unions to do this work. I was simply unaware that "plugging in a network cable" was a union job and i just did it as it was easy enought.

The sad thing is it was union employees attempting to avoid other union employees...

In general I think unions are like governments - they need to be regularly overthrown and rebuilt to ensure that they always represent the best interests of their members.

That being said, there are some obvious counter-arguments to your experiences, however they tend towards "guilds" as mentioned in another comment more than unions as I understand them.

> Oh, you want to move that folding table and a few chairs to the conference room so you can have a design meeting with the whole team? Sorry furniture movement is union-only work.

Bob grabs the table and lifts with his back, in a twisting, jerking movement. Bob is then unable to come in to work due to back pain for the next two weeks. The union keeps Bob from hurting himself unintentionally.

> Need that extra monitor moved between two adjacent cubes? Sorry, equipment relocation is union work.

Someone notices that a bunch of monitors have gone missing. Have you been burgled?! Noone has any record of where these monitors have gone, however you eventually track then down to Alice's cube where she has finally completed her dream 9-monitor nest. Phew, false alarm!

> Need to plug that new PC into the socket? Sorry, equipment installation is a union job

It gets cold in the winter, so Dan brings their own heater to put under their desk[1]. One day they forget to turn it off when going home and burns down the department; On the other side new employees don't just materialise out of the ether. The organisation should have plenty of time to set up their working environment

[1] Funnily enough, if Dan was part of a union they would have enough bargaining power to make sure their employers provide adequate working conditions, however their manager simply filed away their request away under 'C', for "Complainers - Fire these people first"

I'm totally on your side about these examples being ridiculous, but I do like to steelman the other-sides arguments

Governments can be fatally dysfunctional before they are overthrown. In this analogy, prior to a shareholder revolt (which do happen), usually the company just goes bankrupt.

Now introduce a powerful union - and now you have TWO incompetent authorities fighting one another, which often results in a hopelessly ineffective company - not a better one.

I appreciate the humor in your responses - but the difference is that my examples were real-world examples - not theoretical.

A company cannot put process in front of every theoretical risk - that will just run you into the ground because an unbounded inefficiency.

Need to plug that new PC into the socket? Sorry, equipment installation is a union job

For anyone who thinks that this is just hyperbole, it's exactly the sort of thing that happens.

When I worked at a unionized television station, I was watching an aircheck of a recent broadcast. When I was done, I ejected the tape and put it back into the archive.

The union filed a grievance against me for pressing the eject button. As a manager, I could use Play, Stop, and the shuttle controls, but not Eject. Only a union member could eject a tape.

At another television station where I worked, there was an employee retiring after 30 years with the station, and we thought it would be cute to show a ten-second clip of him working while the anchors said goodbye and thanks. It never happened. He worked upstairs, in the tech center, and the members of the photographers union weren't allowed to operate any electronic equipment up there because that was the province of a different union. This included working their own cameras. At the same time, the people who worked in the tech center weren't allowed to operate any of the station's cameras, because that was the domain of the photographer's union. As I said, we were never able to air a clip of this good employee doing his job.

At another television station, I worked weekends. Naturally, I was expected to work five days a week like every other employee. So I was assigned to help write during three weekdays. A union grievance was filed against me for taking a theoretical writer's job. The result was that for the next FIVE YEARS, I did nothing three days a week but look at lolcats, and the station had to keep paying me my full salary.

I'm not anti-union. I think unions are essential for coal miners, maids, janitors, and other people. But I'm not convinced that white collar people need unions. Or at least there should be a method of calling out and publicizing union abuses to let their members know what's going on.

Every time someone brings this up I can only imagine some horrible version of of something like SCRUM being given the force of law.

Imagine only union worker could move kanban cards between columns

That's absurd, laughable and not how a single union works in Sweden and essentially the enrire country is unionized.

This is how unions work in America - and why we hate them.

People throw the word "union" around a lot with their support, not knowing that it's not the same everywhere.

Careful with that “we” bud, lots of us Americans love unions.

Thta's the responsability of the participants. It sounds like they've been complacent and they allowing people to represent them who do not represent them.

> Thta's the responsability of the participants.

No, it is the responsibility of the laws surrounding unions in USA. They give ample of protections ensuring you can't easily oust or change bad unions. Even worse the left is championing anti worker laws like banning "right to work", a right that everyone in EU has which protects workers from bad unions, but somehow in USA "right to work" is anti union.

A union security agreement is a negotiated contract, not something to be universally required or prohibited by law. Its purpose is to prevent free riding of both the company and potentially non-union workers. When such a contract is made with a company, employee contracts with unions become part of the cost of working there in exchange for the exceptionally better working conditions created by the union. To describe prohibition of such contracts conferring such concrete benefits to workers as "anti-worker" is disingenuous at best, especially considering "right to work" is a euphemism for union busting which is precisely why such battles are waged in the abstract rather than tied to to the material conditions of workers.

The work rules are the thing that gets me. The idea of paying employees more? Great. Protection from discrimination and unfair termination? Collective bargaining? Great. But I can't imagine how it's possible to get anything done with the work rules.

Companies that operate this way must be in slow paced industries. To innovate you must be able to just do stuff. As soon as you add a bunch of hoops and sign-offs you lose momentum.

My own hypothesis on this is that it's not just a matter of high overhead but of slowing things down to the point that it breaks the dopamine reinforcement loop for the human beings involved. Humans need to be able to see results or at least movement toward them in a reasonable amount of time or it becomes really difficult to stay focused and engaged.

The work rules and bureaucracy element is like 100% of my skepticism about unions. Get rid of that stuff and I'd be all for them.

That being said, unions aren't the only source of inane bureaucracy of course. Many organizations without unions manage to invent worthless tar pits of their own.

If I told you that I once worked in a shop that didn’t use source control, didn’t have any formal testing, and builds came from dev desktop machines, would you:

1. Vow never to work in the software industry.

2. Allow that perhaps mine is a bad example, that there might be good software shops to work in, and wait for more data.

Though I would not fault anyone for choosing #1.

> The alternative is to force everyone to unionize - and that's got its own problems.

Does it really, though? Because literally every one of your complaints above would be solved, if your companies employees stopped actively fighting the union, and just simply joined it instead.

These rules impact the customers, too, not just the employees.

Have you ever been involved with trade show setup? The trade show unions have elaborate rules about work attendees can and cannot do for themselves.

At low-budget startups, we built our trade show booths ourselves. We had to carefully read the union rules during booth design so we made sure we could install our lighting without the use of a ladder and tools, for example. We used a lot of tool-less fasteners and kept everything low enough that our tallest person could reach it without standing on anything, because otherwise it would trigger union labor rules that required us to pay extra and wait for the union labor to get around to our booth.

Sure enough, on the trade show floor we had a union member watching us to make sure we didn’t get up on a ladder or use tools when installing certain pieces of equipment. Presumably they were getting paid to monitor us and ensure we didn’t actually do any of the forbidden work ourselves.

This is the inefficiency that people see when they think of unions. That inefficiency isn’t going away, because it’s central to how unions maximize income for their members. That inefficiency is why many developers don’t want to form or join unions.

> Sure enough, on the trade show floor we had a union member watching us to make sure we didn’t get up on a ladder or use tools when installing certain pieces of equipment. Presumably they were getting paid to monitor us and ensure we didn’t actually do any of the forbidden work ourselves.

I'm trying to think of how this is different than how the mob operates but I'm at a loss.

How are you bound by union rules if none of your employees are members? I don't understand. Did the trade show organizer include a clause in your contract that you have to use union workers for certain jobs?

Yeah, this is a complaint that a contract they signed had a clause they didn't like. Which...tough? You always have the option to not attend the trade show, or try to negotiate the contract. Sounds like they publicized the rules well in advance; I'm not sure what the point of the whinge is here.

Not just unions though. The IT department in a company I worked for had similar slow processes. I needed more RAM in my desktop, to process really huge log files. "It'll take about a month".

I could have gone to Best Buy, bought what I needed, installed it, and been back at work in an hour. Sigh. So I limped along.

A month later, along comes the new RAM and gets installed. But I was long done with the project that needed it.

Anyway, no fan of unions that get their feelers into every crack, in an attempt to pad union jobs. I am definitely in favor of some feedback that helps them be useful and productive - time-to-response on tickets for instance, that affected their pay maybe. Then we might all be happier.

This happens in non-union jobs. Your issue is not with unions, but with bureaucracy, which is fair. To blame unions is not.

We can blame unions for bringing it to a fine art. Their goals are to preserve jobs and pad pay. That directly results in nonsense like this - 7 days to prepare for a meeting or plug in a monitor etc.

<edit> Sure unions are not the only ones doing this. But unions are doing this. So its 'fair' to blame them.</edit>

Can't argue with someone who has an axe to grind.

EDIT: Non-union shops are just as culpable in the deficiencies you describe (creating and defending bureaucracies from innovation or creative destruction), which is why your pejorative opinion of unions poisons the ability to have a legitimate conversation regarding their benefits to workers (who have very little power against corporations). Unions have challenges, but all organizations of people have challenges.

Doesn't. I can discuss unions objectively. Just not gonna pretend they can do no wrong. In fact, that's the entire discussion right there -how to preserve the benefits without making dysfunctional organizations.

It'd be fair to say, its union supporters that can't have a meaningful discussion. Because they have a chip on their shoulders. So discussing the negative is instantly off the table.

Anyway, I've worked my whole career free of that particular brand of dysfunctional organization. Worked with guys who were part of them, including one 'enforcer' who's whole job was to threaten other employees into line on critical votes. How's that for dysfunctional?

Anti-union critics tend to have as much of a chip of their shoulders as well. There's no shortage of example comments where people are tossing around FUD and anecdata in an attempt to paint all unions as bad. If you're going to make presumptions as to sentiment, then it's only fair for your own side to be held to the same standard.

But there is a direct correlation with unions and an increase in bureaucracy.

Right... that's the point... these processes are terrible. Unions create even more of these situations.

Imagine you did get your RAM in time, or could have bought it and expensed it. ...then you had to raise ANOTHER 2 week ticket to have it installed in your computer.

How does that work at a large company that's already bureaucratic? Where I work, I still have to open tickets for everything. I still have to wait a long time for new equipment. How does a union make that worse if I have to wait for cogs to turn anyway?

I also would like more realistic examples of bureaucracy, because yours are frankly bullshit. Yeah yeah the MTA is bad sure, and I've interacted with unions before that exemplified their stereotypes. But if you really think employees would suddenly not be able to plug in a monitor or move it across the room because there's a union, I think you're completely incorrect.

> I also would like more realistic examples of bureaucracy, because yours are frankly bullshit.

These were real examples that infuriated everyone. I also think they're bullshit. That's what made them infuriating.

> How does that work at a large company that's already bureaucratic?

It effectively doubles the amount of bureaucracy, because it adds to the list of work that requires a ticket.

> I still have to wait a long time for new equipment.

Do the examples in the comment above currently require a ticket? Plugging in a computer? Carrying a monitor one cube over? Grabbing some chairs from another office? I suspect not.

You suspect not, but you'd be wrong :) Those things do require a ticket. We can't install our own equipment, only IT is allowed to do that. Pretty strict about connecting peripherals and USBs too.

> "At our company, a number of job functions are union-only work, meaning it is a violation of the union contract for any non-union employee to perform that work."

That's not a union, that's a guild. A medieval-style guild has a monopoly on a certain type of work. A union merely represents its members in workplace negotiations.

That might be your definition, but unions do this also. Maybe it's different in different places - but here the union clearly forbids non-union workers from doing various types of work.

Well, it's not how unions work in Europe, and those unions do not create the kind of problems that American unions apparently create, so maybe the US could learn a lesson from Europe here.

Because the argument "the wrong way is the only right way" makes no sense. If it's wrong, you fix it. Being forced to choose between two wrongs is no good.

Maybe - but clearly advocating for unions in the US when you are in the EU is not the message you intend since unions function differently here.

This is why you need a union for IT workers to - tell the blue collar union to piss off or more politely set demarcation boundary's.

I worked at a unionised company in the UK and the CWU would have got short shrift if they Tried that with my members (I was Branch's secretary For the M&P union)

> > Unions will slow us down, and we'll become more bureaucratic Anyone who's actually had to deal with a union can agree with this point.

What about the Writers Guild and the NBA players union? Would the people in those unions say that?

Semi-genuinely asking? ;)

NBA players Union is a great example of how top performers get penalized. The Max contracts that the union agrees to is why top players are underpaid versus what they could command absent that, with most of the bench being overpaid.

Is there any evidence the highest-paid players in the NBA themselves want to get rid of their union? I.e, do you claim this is empirically verifiable?

Or, is this a hypothetical, rational-actor thought experiment you're conducting?

Protecting work in this manner exists because the prevailing culture is that jobs solve social issues - we can't give the disadvantaged money directly because socialism, but we can pressure companies to make-work jobs because having a job means you deserve to be human, and it also creates situations where people want to protect their jobs for their income rather than any other reason.

A UBI can possibly help prevent this type of silliness.

Anyone who wants a job, should be able to get one. Personally, I advocate UBW - Universal Basic Work - A guaranteed living-wage job for any American that wants one.

I have dealt with unemployment in the Great recession and know how nice that would be but the logistics of it are unfortunately very non-trivial, essentially in having everything already broken down to specified commoditized tasks. Annoyingly much of the work is "contextual" and would take far more effort to specify correctly to arbitrary outsiders and that is before work standards and cost of verification. Which would drive down wages of commoditized and halfway "automated" tasks further.

Ironically the best examples that come to mind are Uber and some other start ups which manage to both pay terribly and be hardly viable businesses.

UBW would probably work best in a productive sense in a massive stack of prespecified mini-jobs that could be done without supervision like "mow this section's grass, paint this fence".

Soviet Russia did that by making being unemployed illegal.

The Soviet economy tended to have supply side issues - everyone had enough money but getting things to buy was difficult.

I'm not sure how the two are really related and it's a deep and interesting thing to study which I haven't really done. So I don't know all the nuances but that would be an actual example of it.

The failure mode of UBW is having make-work jobs with high oversight, no productive output, and no path forward to a different job. I'd recommend this essay [1], which goes into the topic in more detail than I can in a comment.

[1] https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/05/16/basic-income-not-basic...

> A UBI can possibly help prevent this type of silliness.

I'm not so sure. That's a handwave past social issues, and sounds like a bandaid-for-a-bandaid.

So if we give UBI out, can I suddenly plug my monitor into a socket without violating a union contract?

This is true of many many unions, but it is neither a necessary part of a union, nor exclusive to unions.

At my company, the majority (all?) employees in my local office are un-unionised. We have the same system (it's just departmental). This is a system that emerges in large old bureaucracies regardless.

Which is why it's present in many unions tracing their formation back to the early 20th century. They're big and they're old.

There are certainly bad unions. But I think that often arises as a reaction to poisonous management behavior, a zero-sum mentality that treats workers as a cost center, not a value generator. It's a "fuck me, no fuck you" scenario.

Your point about the Hollywood unions is a great one. Like tech, in Hollywood everybody has clear incentives to create a great final product. Positive-sum thinking usually part of the culture. In that context, I think unions can be a big help, especially when there are such large wealth and power differentials between the bosses and the workers.

I also think your former colleagues' seeming lack of agency is weird. The union is something the workers create and run. If they think a union they create would be bad, what are they saying about themselves?

> The union is something the workers create and run. If they think a union they create would be bad, what are they saying about themselves?

They think a union would be a bit like a homeowners association - in principle owned and run by them and never acting against their interests, but in practice a threat as much as an opportunity.

US homeowners association are another great example that doesn't match European experience. Why do Americans turn everything that's supposed to be in their own interest, into a vehicle for power abuse? That seems to be the recurring story in American unions, as well as homeowner associations. Are there any other supposedly-good organisations that are toxic in the US? Political parties? News? Boy scouts?

> Are there any other supposedly-good organisations that are toxic in the US?

There aren't many supposedly-good organizations in the US.

According to Gallup[1], in 2019 there were only three institutions in which more than half of Americans had "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of trust: the military, police, and small business. The police probably lost that trust recently, leaving only small business and the military.

Only 29% trusted organized labor, which puts it below the presidency, in 2019. But even fewer trust big business, and trust in organized labor has been rising, so there might be some hope for unions.

1: https://news.gallup.com/poll/1597/confidence-institutions.as...

As an American I strongly agree with your insight, and independently arrived at it. It is an underlying cultural issue -- a lack of community spirit that is relatively widespread.

It is a universal human tendency that is strongly in effect here at the current time and place.

> a lack of community spirit that is relatively widespread.

How did this happen?

For homeowners associations in particular, I think a lot of the history is rooted in American race and class bias. A lot of American suburbs were created due to white flight [1]. And although they're mostly no longer explicitly racist, they're very stratified by income, which can be read as class bias and/or quiet racism.

That desire for exclusion and enforced superiority appeals to some more than others. So it's unsurprising to me that HOA boards frequently turn out awful.

Happily, as older, first-ring suburbs turn into cities in their own right, we're seeing some reversal of that. E.g., as kids and grandkids stay in the area, we're seeing demographic and income diversification. Some places are realizing that things they've previously excluded, like drug treatment and publicly supported housing, are now necessary.

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

> Are there any other supposedly-good organisations that are toxic in the US?


> Political parties?

Check. There are only 2, and cynicism towards both of them is pretty high, as neither really represents the people.

> News?

Check as well. See Fox News, which actually delivers "entertainment" disguised as news.

> Boy scouts?

Probably not, but who knows?

Disclaimer: Not an American, just a Canadian that follows US new a bit.

> > Boy scouts?

> Probably not, but who knows?

Just a long history of homophobia there.

> union is something the workers create and run

I just assume that it's almost never going to be the case.

It might look like it's created by worker, but it's created by a sub group of workers which is unhappy with a status quo. This effort will be led by even smaller sub group of activists that have a drive and skillset to organise and weasel into a leadership positions.

Worker run union seems to be even more implausible. It's going to be run by a managerial body composed of said activists, which I absolutely expect to be self-serving, rent seeking and, well, parasitic. Occasionally their interests will coincide with interests of workers they represent, but that will be just some happy accidents.

Unions are run by the members

In theory. In practice unions are run by union leadership. Who are elected. But then again so is Congress and the President - and we know how that works out.

I think that's quite different. Congress has 435 people representing 325 million. A union local can be just a couple hundred people.

Just like democracies are run by the voters?

True in principle, but rarely in practice.

Hollywood unions are a slightly special case: while the studios hold a huge amount of power, the staff are pretty much all contractors per-project, and the entity they're contracting with will be a special purpose corporate vehicle for that film. Most software doesn't look like that - except game development, which is notoriously abusive and can get away with it because of a fresh supply of enthusiastic young people.

> game development...is notoriously abusive and can get away with it because of a fresh supply of enthusiastic young people.

Hollywood also has an endless supply of enthusiastic young people. To me this sounds like an argument in favor of unionizing the game dev industry.

You don’t get into the Hollywood unions until you put in hundreds of hours of set time, most ADs I know don’t get the corresponding benefits until they are about 30.

Why's that? In the Nordics you can already join an union when you're a student without a job yet, and many people do.

Nordic union != US union

Fair enough.

Ok...sorry I'm not seeing the relevance of that.

All those game industry horror stories are an even stronger argument in favour of unionising the game industry.

Hollywood unions are a prime reason lots of movies are made in Vancouver/Georgia/Other Countries now. Hollywood will end up like Detroit.

Favorable tax conditions are more likely the reason for that.

This is correct. I know a few producers who shoot in Georgia and Louisiana and the tax credits are exactly why.

I don't think it's necessarily based on misconceptions about what unions are, but also their own experience and from what they hear from people they know. We've already seen in this thread very different personal experiences with unions, often based on where they are. e.g. folks in Europe seems to have mostly positive interactions, where as folks in the US negative.

I personally don't want an union in my work place. It's not because I've watched too many movies, but because I've worked at unionized environments before and they are absolutely terrible for me. All the usual symptoms often talked about were there.

Maybe there are good unionized workplaces out there (Hollywood has been frequently pointed to as an example), but I've never experienced them. Out of my interactions with unions, they've been 100% negative, hence my views on unions. Until some of these underlying issues are resolved, I think we'll always have this very mixed to negative view of unionizing.

I live in a Romania - an European country - and I don't know of any good union, be it police, transportation, or healthcare. All they do is basically ask for more and more, while doing nothing else.

Their leaders earn a lot, so they have an interest in maintaining the status quo. As one parent mentioned, you can't do much without their approval. Take for example the underground. The commercial property from the subway stations was under the control of the union, all the kiosks and small shops paid rent to the union.

Also some of their former leaders went into politics and got involved in corruption scandals.

What I have learned from U.S. union interactions is that people who profit from bureaucracy love adding more bureaucracy to the system.

The "boxing match" analogy is reflective of the "us against them" power struggle between those trying to leverage their own hand at the expense of someone else in the U.S. corporate-union world.

This is contrasting to the concepts in Europe of labor stakeholders having a roundtable and coming to compromise as a group effort... not that it's perfect, just a different system.

It’s usually a symptom more than the cause.

Unions are formed in environments where people feel it’d bad enough to pay the price.

The same way if we looked at jobs hiring bodyguards, most would look pretty dangerous, but we wouldn’t blame the bodyguards.

Perhaps, but even so I still wouldn't want to work at a place that requires bodyguards, even if bodyguards are not the cause of the danger.

Without getting into the details of cause and effect, look at it from the perspective of the current employees. Currently it's a nice place to work. Contrasting with previous experiences with unions where they've been terrible experiences to work at. Why would I want this kind of change?

> Currently it’s a nice place to work

If they’re seriously discussing unionizing, perhaps that assumption is to be revisited ?

Yea could be. But this particular thread started with how some employees are opposed to unionizing. Views on this will be personal, some will support and some will oppose. I’m just giving one perspective on why some (like myself although I don’t work at fb) oppose unions.

eg I would oppose unionizing at my current place of employment because I’m generally happy and feel having an union will make things worse based on past experience with unions.

> You'd struggle to find any writer who didn't think the Writers Guild had actively improved their working conditions.

Writing and acting are race to the bottom. There are plenty of people who would be willing to act for free. You can't say the same for working at Facebook.

In order to stop the race-to-the bottom SAG-AFTRA artificially constrains the marketplace by forcing studios hire a certain number of union actors. In this case, it doesn't really hurt newbies because they'd otherwise get paid peanuts anyways. However, that isn't something that people would want in tech expect perhaps in the videogame industry.

I'm in a union, and when I mentioned it to my work colleagues at dinner one day there was a kind of open-mouthed aghast shock similar to if I'd announced that I was a visitor from Mars.

Anyway, while you don't really get the benefit of unionisation unless a large number of people join at a workplace, it's still possible to join some unions as an individual, and there are some lesser benefits like free legal and employment advice.

Its even more surprising as the workplace team are mainly london based.

I suspect what actually happened is that a customer said: "my minions are organising on workplace, let me control most viral posts". The PM looked as what it was, and the posts the employer was complaining about, and made a scenario on that.

Knowing some of the engineers on workplace, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that they didn't think about what they were doing, only whether they could do it, and what was the best design.

> Myself and others would end up pointing out that yes, that's true of some blur collar unions, but that's not what we're talking about.

I'm not totally against unions, but it seems like that's probably how all the messed up union situations started.

As far as I know, they probably all started with good intentions to improve conditions where change was really needed. None of them started with the intention of creating a bunch of bureaucracy, nor to negotiate wages higher than the market can handle, thus jeopardizing the financial health of their employer, etc.

But, like all organizations (every type in every sphere of life -- government, private sector, charity, religious, and more), there is always the danger that once the organization gets enough power to fulfill its mission, it then moves on to using the power for things it shouldn't.

That's not a reason to dismiss the idea of starting a union, but it is a hazard to be avoided. So it should probably be part of the discussion, just not in a way that's used to instantly shut down the idea.

I'm endlessly surprised that unions are collectively as bad at PR as their image suggests.

1) A lot of the good PR individual professions have is the result of union PR. Teachers, nurses, cops, etc all have unions that put out endless propaganda (no negative connotation intended) about how great and vital to society they are. A lot of our nostalgia for jobs associated with heavy industry comes from old union propaganda.

2) Good PR can easily be outweighed by negative PR. Coal companies have excellent PR departments, but their opposition has invested a lot in negative PR.

3) PR images always exist in your head, but regular encounters with union workers can cause that image, rightly or wrongly, to crash against reality. People think relatively highly of scientists, partially because they never encounter them in real life; compare their image with lawyers or corporate managers.

On 1) sure, I'm not discounting that. Great PR for the members. For the union itself? For the concept of a union? Not so much.

2) I said this further down the thread, but isn't that table stakes? If you're going to advocate for your members, you yourself need to have a support base beyond that membership. Otherwise you get the situation we've got now, where a request in support of the members is viewed negatively precisely because it's coming from a union.

3) Again, table stakes. Especially so if union members buy into the negative-PR-driven image and create a feedback loop.

Not much money and rich enemies will do that.

Here in the UK the union leaders manage to look like tits all on their own.

I'd love to have a workable union system for tech workers here, but I just don't see what they offer unless you can persuade meaningful numbers of your coworkers to sign up.

While I don't disagree on your main points, I will mention that there is a UK union (Prospect) for tech workers which is not politically aligned and sensible. (Disclaimer: I'm a member)

How long will it stay politically unaligned though? It seems like it would be quite easy to end up using the Union to push certain politics.

If that happens then members would leave.

Would they though? From what I understood Google has a workplace that heavily leans towards one political side in the US. It seems to even have been used to shame people to stay in line. What's the chance that something similar wouldn't happen with this Union?

There are no "closed shops" any more in the UK[1]. Any member can leave a union any time they like.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Employment_Act_1990

Even voicing the opinion that Right to Work is a good idea causes the pro-union folks to act like they're going rabid, acting like you're trying to tear down their entire world. Passing a Right to Work law is, in the eyes of many, a flat out attack on unions and an act of union busting.

Rendering the contracts that unions sign with employers unenforceable is pretty much the definition of union busting.

It's explicitly about preventing two consenting parties (union + employer) from freely entering into a contract.

Oddly enough there are some (libertarians) people who consider the right to enter into a contract freely pretty sacrosanct, but I've yet to hear one complain about this law.

And that will stop people from shaming you on social media how? All you need to harm someone is to send a Twitter mob at them. If your union becomes political enough then toy can just do that, just like Google did.

In political terms most Google employees are centrists, wet one nation troy or Eisenhower era Republicans.

And Prospect is explicitly not "Political" with the Big P i.e. aligned with a particular party - in fact almost all Professional unions are as they have members of all political parties

I think this is the big problem, I was in the steelworkers union in Canada before going into tech and it made a lot of sense. It was a dangerous job and management was constantly trying to go around safety rules, so it made sense that we had a union to both fight for fair wages + safety practices. It was fairly cheap (vaguely remember it being $20ish/pay period) too.

I'm not sure tech has a similar need, wages are (generally) high, I would say safety is generally not a concern or where it is (data centers w/ noise), it's usually taken seriously. It's a hard sell.

I've been considering it just to have access to independent legal advice.

On our case in France, we have one of the lowest union rate of the developed world (yes even lower than in the US). A lot of unions are mostly still stuck in the communist past and turns out workers don't feel represented by them anymore.

> I'd love to have a workable union system for tech workers here, but I just don't see what they offer unless you can persuade meaningful numbers of your coworkers to sign up

That's what organizing is. Take personal reaponsability and form or join a union together. It's not something you do on your own and that in fact can be dangerous.

Forming a union on your own is bound to fail...

Youn don't form one on your own.

What would a company chose between:

- Spend 1 million to accommodate a union's demands e.g. raise salaries and improve working conditions

- Spend 999999 on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_busting organizations that are specialized on disrupting unions, tarnishing their reputation, and manipulate/threaten/sue/bribe/smear their members

In some countries unions has become corrupted, bureaucratic, ineffective. Companies benefit from that.

I think the trick is making is so that the 1 million they spend to accommodate a union's demands gets them enough benefit (happy, more productive workers, effectively) that it costs less to do that than it does to try to stop the union from being there in the first place.

If the _only_ thing the union does it make life better for the members at the cost of the company, then you have to expect the company to not want the union there.

The media companies are employers and their ad revenue comes from employers.

One hypothesis that may explain the bad perception of unions is if there has been continuing investment and efforts in anti-union propaganda by pro-business or pro-corporate groups.

A similar argument is put forward by Kerryn Higgs' book "Collision Course: Endless Growth on a Finite Planet", to explain why society takes direction from economists, in pursuit of economic growth, rather than taking direction from science. Higgs' book is focused on trying to explain why society is failing to tackle climate change, not an analysis of unions, but some of the history that is presented regarding pro-business propaganda is eye opening. Here is an excerpt of an interview with the author:

> How did scientists lose credibility? When I was young, science was almost a god. A few decades later, scientists were being flippantly brushed aside. How did economists displace scientists as the crucial policy advisors and the architects of public debate, setting the criteria for policy decisions? How did economic growth become accepted as the only solution to virtually all social problems—unemployment, debt and even the environmental damage growth was causing?

> The new corporations of the early 20th century banded together into industry associations and business councils like the immensely influential US Chamber of Commerce, which was formed out of local chambers from across the country in 1912. These organisations exploited the newly emerging Public Relations industry, launching a barrage of private enterprise propaganda, uninterrupted for more than a century, and still very healthy today. Peabody coal, for example, recently signed up one of the world’s PR giants, Burson-Marsteller, for a PR campaign to convince leaders that coal is the solution to poverty.

> Back in 1910 universal suffrage threatened the customary dominance of the business classes, and PR was an excellent solution. If workers were going to vote, they’d need the right advice. No-one expressed it better than Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew, who is credited with founding the PR industry. Bernays was candid:

>> The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the... masses is an important element in democratic society (he wrote). Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism ... constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country… It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.

> PR became an essential tool for business to consolidate its power right through the century, culminating in the 1970s project to “litter the world with free market think tanks”. By 2013, there were nearly 7,000 of these, all over the world; the vast majority were conservative, free market advocates, many on the libertarian fringe, and financed by big business. They cultivate a studied appearance of independence, though one think tank vice-president came clean. “There is no such thing as a disinterested think tanker,” he said. “Somebody always builds the tank, and it’s usually not Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.” Funding think tanks is always about “shaping and reshaping the climate of public opinion”.

-- https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/l...

Ah, bingo: here's a bit out of Higgs' book that discusses how the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) campaign for the “American way” managed to get pro-business propaganda into the school curriculum in the 1930s, and lo and behold one of the early aims of the organisation is to fight against unionism:

> In 1895 the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) was founded to lobby for business-friendly legislation and, under the leadership of David Perry, in 1903 it launched “a crusade against unionism.” [...]

> The NAM campaign for the “American way” was massive. It replicated Creel’s World War I model in establishing local cells, “Special Committees of Public Information,” which enlisted local Chambers of Commerce, Rotary Clubs, and churches, as well as lawyers, teachers, and local dealers of the appliances and cars made by the corporations. These committees of influential people were responsible for the regional face of NAM’s multifaceted “publicity program”; they funneled articles, features and films to newspapers, radio stations, and movie theatres; they sent speakers to the theatres as Creel had done, as well as to every local group of any sort (including women’s groups and what were then called “negro groups”); they distributed pamphlets and weekly bulletins to schools, clubs and libraries. Aware that the adult population was cynical about the corporate claim to “service,” they aimed specifically at schools where _Young America_, their weekly children’s magazine that portrayed capitalism as dedicated to looking after them and their communities, was sent to thousands of teachers, who used them in classroom assignments. _You and Industry_, a series of booklets written in simple language, linked individual prosperity to unregulated industry, and was distributed to public libraries everywhere. One million booklets were distributed every two weeks by the US Chamber of Commerce, which, along with the giant industrial corporations, was also involved in the campaign.

This massive propaganda effort is detailed in a chapter of Alex Carey's Taking the Risk out of Democracy. The scale of it was incredible.

Oh, absolutely. I'm taking active anti-union action for granted. But isn't that table stakes?

There is no broad support for unions not because of the bogeyman arguments your co-workers were raising but because for most US based software developers there is no acute problem they feel that unions would solve because almost all of us are doing pretty well. On the other hand no single developer really has that much leverage because the importance of even the best individual devs doesn't compare to an individual LeBron and/or there isn't the massive amount of money at stake that depends massively on the work of specific people. Unions for writers, actors, NBA players, etc are frequently representing for extremes of the totally destitute who are easily taken advantage of or groups of the ultra important where the Unions are essentially acting as high powered negotiators for those they represent. All very good reasons for unions, none of which is true for developers in the US right now.

I'm not saying there aren't things a union could help with, I'm just saying that for most devs, those things aren't pinching very hard. Also, you have to be realistic about the impact of unions, they are a double edged sword. Police unions aren't a straw man, they are a real example of the worst case scenario for abusive concentration of power and agendas at odds with the public good. The best examples always come with some bureaucratic overhead. So it is valid to consider the cost/benefit of unions. Again, I'm not taking a stance on what is right here, just saying unions are not as obviously a good idea in every case as you might imagine and the hesitance of your co-workers, right or wrong, is at least understandable.

The tech industry in general might not need unions yet, but game dev industry is a clear example of where they're sorely needed.

Oh and to be clear how I feel about the larger question here, I'm not at all defending Facebook. Zuckerberg is the vilest piece of sh*t for allowing this and for profiting off Facebook as tool for misleading so many people. Recent events have really made it clear what a massively damaging thing Facebook's complacency really is.

> It was always clear that there was a huge misconception about what unions are, and how they work, based on the depiction of unions in popular culture or the past.

Police and teacher unions are very much current events in the U.S. between COVID and the protests.

Even on a professional level, anyone who has dealt with trade show unions or construction labor unions can attest to how awful it is to deal with these as a customer.

Many people assume unions are simply squeezing their employers, but unions also put the squeeze on customers. We had union members protesting in front of our office building and harassing our visitors for an entire month because our building owner refused to pay 3X the cost to use union labor for the drywall work.

From my personal (limited) research and observations. I am in no way an expert.

Unions originally seem to have made a very positive impact on the working conditions of workers. Just think of the horrible situation of steel workers (and others) during the start of the industrial revolution. Workers organized to make a change and improve their lot.

Fast forward a few decades: Unions seem to have become self-sustained entities whose incentive have switched from helping workers, to sustaining the union's economic interests. They also sometimes help some workers, but it's not free.

There is a very well known case in Quebec, Canada. It's the Gaspesia debacle:


"Work on the mill conversion began in the spring of 2002. From the beginning, the project -- established as a limited partnership 50 per cent owned by the Fonds de solidarité with the SGF and Tembec each holding 25-per-cent stakes -- was plagued by delays and mismanagement. The FTQ was accused of blocking workers affiliated with other unions from getting construction jobs on the site. Contractors complained that workers were paid for eight-hour days, but put in only three hours of productive labour."

This is only the tip of the Iceberg, and illustrates why there seems a negative perception of unions.

There's no oligopoly of tech companies like hollywood studios though. Even the salary-collusion BS was a very small group of companies and illegal without union protection.

Also the Rock may pay his union dues because (a) he's required to be a memeber and (b) the cost is immaterial to him. The top performers are usually hampered by unions they'd be fine without; he's not going to need the pension and health insurance the collective bargaining agreement gets him.

At the moment I negotiate my work against one entity: my employer.

If I had a union I'd have to negotiate my work against two entities: my employer and a union.

Why on earth would I want to do that? Seems more complicated and I'm less powerful in the negotiation.

Because the union would be 'on my side'? Lol I don't buy it. I think the union would be on the side of their management and whatever political hobby opinions they held, and possibly the majority of the members, but not on my side.

No thanks.

Many tech people have had very limited interaction with unions, and usually those interactions are negative.

For example, I was not allowed to run ethernet through the paneled ceiling to hard wire our conference rooms for the startup I was at.

Why? Well the building had a contract with a unionized cabling company so every cabling job in the building HAD to be done by them. We would have been charged thousands and had to wait weeks for a job I could do myself in 30 minutes.

Maybe pro unionists should focus on the possibility that they could negotiate for getting their members better internal tooling/more focus on tech debt. At all companies ive been at, ive seen sooo many managers ignore internal tooling and ignoring tech debt, leading to engineers having to be on call 24/7 for legacy stuff.

Then again, how many tech-workers at Facebook have previously been unionized employees?

Software development is rarely, if ever, unionized - and I'd imagine the majority of FAANG workers starting at said companies within 5 years of graduating from college.

For an example of how unions can get involved in unexpected ways, take a look at the SAG releases for participating in hobby projects (eg 48 Hour Film Festival). It's just an additional piece of paperwork, but it does demonstrate a dynamic that the union has a legitimate interest in overseeing and could just as well prohibit. A software union would surely become involved in bootstrapped startups, hackathons, and work on Free software. It's possible for these areas to be treated intelligently by a union, but it's also possible they wouldn't be.

> I'll be paid less under a union

This is a valid point. Your two examples are guilds not unions; they're inherently geared more towards contractors and individuals due to the nature of the work. While job hopping has become both more prevalent and more frequent among software engineers, it's certainly still mostly an employee-oriented field. It's very true that under unions, high performers specifically are paid a bit less and low performers a bit more. This is both the upside and the downside of collective bargaining and a fundamental characteristic thereof rather than a flaw of a specific union. As someone who's generally been promoted faster and paid more because I worked hard and put in long hours, unions are anathema to me. I'd likely be paid less and a less-productive peer paid more. I can see, however, why such a prospect would appeal to most people. But as an outlier among most employees, I see no reason to entrust my situation to majority rule as that takes it from a negotiation between me and an employer (a person who represents my interests and one who doesn't) to one between someone who represents the average employee and an employer, both of whom probably don't represent my interests.

Maybe it's one of those things where a good union is good and a bad union is terrible.

It's easy to say how good a union could be, but will it actually be that good? What kinds of things can go wrong? What weird laws are in place and how could that complicate things?

The bottom line is that if I am happy already, a union is more risk than reward.

I don’t think any of those examples are really misconceptions. You even admit that many people have this experience with “blue collar” unions. Most developers are not foolish enough to think they are immune to these foibles. We have a lot more in common with blue collar workers than big name actors.

If you want to be a unionized software engineer you could always work at Boeing. God knows they need the help.

Aerospace engineers at Boeing with PhD's are part of the union SPEEA. It seems to work well for them.

I wonder if significant part of their compensation is stock as in FAANG companies

many engineers were actively against - aghast, even - at the idea of unions

“Union” is a trigger word but call it an association like BMA, BALPA, or a Federation (Police) or even a guild, and everyone would be if not on board, at least willing to have a non-emotive conversation.

I have no doubt in my mind that most programmers would at least listen to the pitch if it was to join a guild.

And yet guilds are traditionally vehicles for monopoly and control. All the things Americans complain about with regards to unions, are actually guild-like behaviour.

Yes, but guilds are also the names of player-formed free associations in MMOs, which are what jumps to most software engineers' minds when they hear the word.

And in labour organisations "guild" has some unfortunate racist conations in the USA.

Serious question - maybe the word "union" or "guild" is a branding problem? We could do some basic user research and come up with a more appealing name.(Think Universal Basic Income -> Freedom Dividend)

I'd be more likely to join an organization called "Gathered Friends for Salary Negation And Fair Treatment".

A lot of early US workers organisations where called guilds and one of the aims was excluding BAME (to use a modern term) workers.

Also Guild does imply exclusion which is the medieval guild system which I think others have mentioned.

What racist connotations?

The good old game of term switcheroo, Americans like to play it a lot

You know unions are effective because all the most powerful groups have them—actors, athletes, doctors (AMA) cops, firefighters, and other professional guilds... America just seems against the working class being able to organize in any way.

> Are the various Hollywood unions perfect? No, they're not.

How are they not perfect?

how exactly would a union improve working conditions for engineers at Facebook? Engineers at Facebook are probably the most catered to and sheltered workers in all of capitalism.

Support for unions is based on a basic misunderstanding of economics.

It is not mandates from the state that lead to wages and work conditions improving. It's rising demand from employers, as their revenue increases, and they compete with other employers for a limited pool of workers.

Unions obstruct the flexibility and freedom of the market, and thereby hamper economic efficiency and competitiveness. Firms will, all things being equal, see less revenue growth in a unionized labor market, than a non-unionized one.

Precisely. A union is a cartel. It exists to restrict supply of the product they sell (labour) in order to fetch a higher price. They work just like any other cartel, for instance OPEC. Cartels benefit at the expense of everyone who is not in it. They perform rent-seeking behaviour to extract more than the product they sell is worth.

From the perspective of an economist, all cartels are bad, whether they deal in oil or labour or anything else.

> all things being equal

The whole point of unions is to affect change, so what does that sentence even mean?

All else being equal means the union did nothing to change anything, and therefore is 100% overhead.

The changes that unions make will not neutralize the negative impact they have on an industry's efficiency/competitivess.

The outlier is if unions succeed in changing immigration policy to restrict the inflow of foreign labor. That can have unexpected effects that boost the country's economic growth rate or at least help its wage growth rate.

Depending on the situation, immigration restrictions can also harm the country's economy/wages.

Yes, but all else is not equal, so...

Unions are there as a counterpart to business screwing employees.

I understand the US has a different experience with unions than the rest of the world, but they can be really good.

Employers have certainly tried to screw me (e.g. "you need to work overtime with no pay"), and it's really useful to have someone have your back saying "uh, nope that's not legal", instead of being alone as a newgrad.

Communal support (e.g. telling your friends about your work situation, and receiving advice from those who are informed) and legal mechanisms like lawsuits already ensures workers are by and large receiving the best the market can offer them.

The effect that unions have on ensuring employment contracts are not being broken by exploitive employers pales in comparison to the effect they have in restricting the labor market by giving unions what effectively amounts to government-enforced monopolies over various work units, which lets unions exploit companies.

There are numerous alternatives to granting unions enormous extra-contractual powers over employers that are available to society to prevent employer violations of labor contracts.

What if the person to fight in my corner is me? Unions drag everyone's wages to an average. Poor performers get paid more, top performers get paid less. No thanks, I can negotiate for myself.

Look at teachers and police unions for a prime example. Great police get paid the same as the police who racially profile. Great teachers get paid the same as the teachers who phone it in.

Additionally unions protect incompetent employees, which I don't want.

So the value prop for unions seems to be: get paid way less money, we'll make sure your incompetent colleagues never get fired and we'll make a stack of money for union bosses in the process.

I want to negotiate my own pay and benefits, and it's worked out excellent for me. A union only serves to harm my interests.

To me it seems "top performers" are not really recognized and job jumpers are the ones that are paid more.

I'm not the person you replied to and I get where you're coming frorm but...

* Job jumping is what forces employers to actually recognize performance. That's both for the person leaving and for everyone else left behind.

* Not so much for the company a person leaves or joins, but for the economy as a whole, job jumping IS performance. Your job isn't just being good at whatever you do right now, it's finding and moving to roles that are more useful economically (aka pay more).

I agree with that it is not bad the economy that people change jobs, but I believe that the employers overvalue others employees and undervalues their own, a bit.

Not counting the most dull sweat shops, programmers experienced in the company's code and processes just are like X months/years of salary more valuable on average than everyone else in their hiring pool on average.

I worked on my prior workplace for three years and at the end I worked half as hard for twice the result as in year 1-2. In the first 6 months I got sort of nothing done. I think this applied to other hires too. Is anyone agreeing with this, numbers approximately of course?

I don't think you're wrong, but I have 2 tangential points that might challenge you...

The first point is Why do you care? 6m of not producing anything but still getting paid is a problem for the company not you. If there were a way of getting 6m production from you for no salary, they'd do it. They're undervaluing usefulness, but you're over valuing it!

The second point is that too few people move. Why does that matter? Because it explains the companies actions. Imagine If you have 10 employees who could get jobs elsewhere, and you have to pay them all 5k to prevent that happening. But you know 9 of them are not even going to look. So if you do nothing, you'll save 50k but lose 1 employee. Rehiring will mean 6m of lost usefulness of 1 person. So unless the average salary is 100k, you're better off losing 6m worth of work and saving 50k...

If more people moved more often, companies would do more to encourage people to stay. The fact that such a big chunk of the workforce are basically lifers is why companies don't have to value long service...

If a company isn't meeting your salary expectations then leaving for a better offer is itself a negotiating tactic in a way.

...which only proves the point that people are not rewarded for their skills and efforts.

Instead: being good at doing interviews including "looking the part", being strong negotiators, changing jobs often.

Free Society doesn’t benefit much from the hammer that does the nails the best of the best. Society benefits more from the good hammer that finds the right nails to handle. Thus, rewards the latter behaviour more

Sure changing job is good for everyone given that you have the wrong programmer on the wrong post.

Likewise a OK programmer at their present job is worth maybe half a year to 2 year in salary in company or narrow product specific knowledge, for the company.

The way changing company gives raises doesn't make sense for the company losing an employee. The employee is worth more for the prior employer than the new. And the new employer's present employees are worth more than the new.

To me it seems like the scene in Game of Thrones: "Power is a curious thing. Three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man. Between them stands a common sellsword. Each great man bids the sellsword kill the other two. Who lives, who dies? Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick. A shadow on the wall."

Value is what someone will pay, the highest salaries go to those who can get them.

So averaging salaries makes it better?

Seems to me like teachers and police like their unions.

As for the tech industry, remember, your already getting paid less because of companies like Apple and Adobe who had the non-poaching agreement. This stifled salaries for everyone involved.

Unions are so bad, but companies will collectively bargain if they can.

> "Poor performers get paid more, top performers get paid less. No thanks, I can negotiate for myself."

The two retorts to this are: 1) it's selfish arguing. "Fuck you got mine" style, dismisses what happens to everyone else as long as you're OK. Which may be fine for you, but why should the rest of us agree that you being wealthier is the thing we all want?

2) You negotiating against the resources of a multi-million dollar company who can hire any legal or negotiating team of experts against you? Can you, really?

> "Additionally unions protect incompetent employees, which I don't want."

Unions don't have to protect incompetent employees, but they can demand that the employee be proved incompetent and not falsely accused of incompetence and sacked without "trial" - which could happen to you. Unions protect exploited, abused, unfairly treated employees too, which you might become one day.

> "I want to negotiate my own pay and benefits, and it's worked out excellent for me. A union only serves to harm my interests."

Voting sure is worse than having me as dictator, isn't it? Democracy only serves to harm my interests. Surely you will agree that's a good reason for FaceBook to suppress talk of Democracy and voting in nation-wide FaceBook chat?

>dismisses what happens to everyone else as long as you're OK

Not really, because it's not like tech low performers are in poverty. Tech salaries bottom out at $60-70k in most places in the US. $60k is far from poverty and far from nothing.

>Which may be fine for you, but why should the rest of us agree that you being wealthier is the thing we all want?

Well, the collective in this case has already agreed that I should be paid the market rate that I successfully negotiate. Unionisation is extremely unpopular in tech.

>You negotiating against the resources of a multi-million dollar company who can hire any legal or negotiating team of experts against you

Negotiating isn't 1:1. If you are an effective negotiator and perform well then you're usually negotiating multiple offers and using them as leverage against each other. In reality, it's less "David vs Goliath" and more like "Goliath vs Goliath vs Goliath". If a company refuses to meet my expectations, I move on. No harm done.

>Unions protect exploited, abused, unfairly treated employees too, which you might become one day

I willingly give up those rights. No, really. My current employer can terminate my contract for any reason with minimal notice required. I don't really care, because I know they won't do that as long as I continue to deliver value. In return for those contract stipulations, I am paid more.

But you seem to gloss over the inconvenient facts about police and teachers unions.

In fact, teachers unions regularly protect sexual predators. [1]

Similarly, police unions regularly protect officers who commit heinous abuses of power.

>Democracy only serves to harm my interests

Maybe I just think a bloated organisation that protects incompetent employees shouldn't be the moderator of so-called "democracy".

If I have a problem within an organisation, I make my thoughts clearly heard with management. If management refuses to listen and the issue is serious enough, I leave.

For example, I once worked for an undisclosed company who refused to allocate resources to fix security issues impacting our customer's privacy. I pushed the issue as high as it would go in the chain of command and left when it was clear they refused to do anything.

[1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390443437504577547...

> "I willingly give up those rights. No, really."

And by so doing, you give them up for others too.

> "the collective in this case has already agreed that I should be paid the market rate that I successfully negotiate."

Is there any reason to think you + (more resources, more experienced people, more leverage) could NOT negotiate a higher rate? That you are the best imaginable negotiator, despite having no specific training and only practising once every few years?

> "I don't really care, because I know they won't do that as long as I continue to deliver value"

/r/LeopardsAteMyFace will be there for when the company decides it's in their interest to eat your face.

> "In reality, it's less "David vs Goliath" and more like "Goliath vs Goliath vs Goliath"."

It's more like (Goliath + Goliath + Goliath) vs you; remember when "the Department of Justice alleged that Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, and Pixar had violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act by entering into a series of bilateral "No Cold Call" Agreements to prevent the recruitment of their employees [...] The alleged intent of this conspiracy was "to reduce employee compensation and mobility through eliminating competition for skilled labor.""? - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-Tech_Employee_Antitrust_L...

> "I pushed the issue as high as it would go in the chain of command and left when it was clear they refused to do anything."

I refer back to your claimed excellent negotiating skills, and suggest that a better negotiator - or a large percentage of the employees "united" in some way - would have much more chance at effecting change, and that this is evidence that individual action is weaker than you wish/imply it is. To be clear, when the employer had the power to ignore you until you quit, leaving the injustice to be perpetuated against the customers, you didn't win.

> But you seem to gloss over the inconvenient facts about police and teachers unions.

I think this is an irrelevant diversion; that the courts sometimes lets guilty people go free is not a reason to ditch the legal system, that unions have people who do bad things in them, or that some unions are bad, is not a reason to reject the principal of uniting to make larger negotiating blocks to balance power dynamics which are almost entirely on the employer's side, with tactics like dividing and conquering - setting all employees on individual permanent competition with other employees.

>2) You negotiating against the resources of a multi-million dollar company who can hire any legal or negotiating team of experts against you? Can you, really?

I take it you've never actually gotten an offer with a large tech company. You're negotiating against some HR rep or hiring manager not some blacks ops negotiating team. Teams of lawyers cost a lot of money and paying them $40k to save $20k is stupid for a company.

>Unions protect exploited, abused, unfairly treated employees too, which you might become one day.

At the cost of also protecting the incompetent as they look very similar to those who are abused. Working with incompetent people is something engineers really dislike.

A well paid tech employee can invest their money, spend less, start passive income streams, etc. They have many options to hedge against future issues that don't include having to put up with idiots.

>Voting sure is worse than having me as dictator, isn't it? Democracy only serves to harm my interests. Surely you will agree that's a good reason for FaceBook to suppress talk of Democracy and voting in nation-wide FaceBook chat?

Governments are a necessary evil many would say, Democracy is simply the least bad of many bad options. Unions are not necessary.

> You're negotiating against some HR rep or hiring manager not some blacks ops negotiating team.

"some HR rep", you say dismissively. Are they not an extremely competent professional negotiator? They can't out-negotiate a (typically young, inexperienced, antisocial) programmer? Perhaps they should be fired and replaced with someone who can? Someone who will quietly make a no-poach agreement with competing companies, say.

> "Teams of lawyers cost a lot of money and paying them $40k to save $20k is stupid for a company."

The teams of lawyers have already been there, drafting the employment contracts in favour of the company, rewriting the hiring policies in favour of the company, adding the terms and conditions which say "anything you do on your own time on your own equipment belongs to us" and "you can't work anywhere we think is a competitor for years after leaving us" and so on.

> "Unions are not necessary."

Unions came as a response to employer abuse. "many would say" they are very necessary. Either way it's a step from "not necessary" to "they shouldn't be allowed".

ok, but hear me out on this:

how do you know you are earning as much as you should?

I mean if we take facebook as an example, you can't negotiate pay. You're slapped on a scale and thats it. You might be able to up your share offer, but actual pay is fixed on a scale.

Which is the same as what it would be if it was unionised.

Also, you have chosen two professions that are run by public organisations, so pay is always going to be low[1] However in other countries, teachers unions are very effective at settling compensation. (The UK for example has reasonably well paid teachers)

I think the problem is that you seem to be labouring under the pretence that you are special, and earn a specially high wage. Statistics say that in practice your probably earning close to median for tech. Make of that what you will...

[1] well yes and no, depending on country, but lets assume the USA

>I mean if we take facebook as an example, you can't negotiate pay

Stocks basically are pay, because anyone who doesn't immediately sell them as they vest is fiscally irresponsible.

>Which is the same as what it would be if it was unionised

Firstly, no. The scale is wide and you are placed somewhere between the low and high points of the scale for your level. Not every L5 engineer earns the same thing. Secondly, total compensation is what matters.

>Also, you have chosen two professions that are run by public organisations, so pay is always going to be low

Tech contractors for public organisations in my area are paid more or less market rate.

>However in other countries, teachers unions are very effective at settling compensation

Not for top performers, they are paid the same as low performers.

>The UK for example has reasonably well paid teachers

If you are the best teacher in the country, you get severely underpaid.

>Statistics say that in practice your probably earning close to median for tech

I earn 110% more than the median wage for my particular level, according to Glassdoor/Levels/etc. I don't think I'm special, but I think I perform highly and are paid in kind for that. Given I'm capable of analysing my own impact, it's pretty clear I'm paid a fraction of the value I provide to the company too.

Regarding stock units, if I had sold my AMZN RSUs as soon as they vested, I would have missed out by a lot of pay.

History is full of rock solid tech giants who have faltered. Amazon isn't invincible and cannot climb forever. In fact, they're under more competition than ever before.

Just because this worked for you doesn't mean it's a good strategy at every company every time.

My view of RSUs was always to see them as a bonus, money that is nice to have but that I don't need. If I can't live my life with the base pay, I don't tke the job.

Sure, AMZN exploded over the last years, no idea why so. I had doubts i would ever go above 1k, not to speak about approaching 3k.

> Stocks basically are pay, because anyone who doesn't immediately sell them as they vest is fiscally irresponsible.

I got stock 10 years ago at $13/share and now it's worth $201/share. I don't feel irresponsible for still holding it.

> Stocks basically are pay, because anyone who doesn't immediately sell them as they vest is fiscally irresponsible.

citation needed

Unless their financial calculus led them to conclude that they needed to buy exactly that much stock of their company as they received as stock compensation, they should be selling and redistributing as they see fit.

There are very few companies who can consistently outperform index funds. Of course there are exceptions, but there aren't many and I'd wager they won't be forever.

Obviously, I have no idea how unions work in the US. But there was the example of Dwayne Johnson, earning 90 Million and being a union member. The collective bargaining I am used to, has the effect in some cases of maybe overpaying certain individuals. IMHO that always happens. It doesn't drag salaries anywhere but up so. And there is a cap on salary levels and job levels being covered by unions collective bargaining. Above these levels, it is what you negotiate with your employer.

>Above these levels, it is what you negotiate with your employer

Teachers cannot negotiate salary, thanks to unions. The best teacher in America is paid the same as the worst teacher.

In most parts of Europe teachers are public servants / state / government employeed. As such, they are bound to predefined salary ranges. Upside, they are employeed for life.

And no every union is about teachers, which are by defenition not comparable to white collar tech employees (coming back to the FB example).

And how would an individual teacher negotiate salary ?

How do you reliably measure teacher quality?

How do you reliably measure developer quality?

The same way you measure anybody else: performance reviews, which are usually executed around here by an administrator or 2 coming to observe a class every semester. Coupled with standardized tests as a secondary measurement, it's pretty easy to tell who's good at their job.

The problem is that developers and teachers are not assembly line workers, and any performance measurement metric you come up with will be optimized for with poor results.

Grade teachers on their students' test scores? Okay, now you have teachers spending inordinate amounts of time on overfitting the curriculum to the local standardized testing requirements and less time actually ensuring their students are educated.

Grade developers on their lines of code or number of features shipped? Be prepared for needlessly verbose code and buggy garbage shipped out to meet the metric.

Throw these objective criterion out the window in favor of a more judgment-based approach? Be prepared for lawsuits when the mistake is eventually made.

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