For example, I've had people tell me that they don't support unions in tech because they'll be "paid less", or less competent engineers will be promoted faster.
And it's strange, because the other major industry in California - the film industry - is heavily unionised, and you just don't see that happening there. You have vocally supportive multi-millionaire card-carrying members of the Screen Actors Guild, the Writers Guild, and the Directors Guild to name a few. None of these unions are limiting the work their members are carrying out.
This is because those unions are serving a very different purpose to the stereotypical union some engineers seem to fear. SAG, the DGA, and the WGA aren't guaranteeing hours or limiting pay: they're simply trying to curb abuse in what it a very abusive industry, and putting in place procedures to protect members and resolve grievances.
And they don't always get it right, and I don't pretend that Hollywood is a perfect utopia of worker relations, but I think it's pretty undeniable that the industry is a much better place with the unions around.
I think there's another purpose of the film industry unions that doesn't get mentioned much in these (tech industry) discussions. Specifically, that the film unions raise wages by limiting the number of people who enter the industry. It's simple supply and demand.
This works via the following mechanisms:
First, the film unions provide useful benefits (like reasonably-priced health insurance), so most professional actors want to be part of the union.
Second, union members are prohibited from working on non-union productions. Additionally, most well-known actors are union members. This gives a strong incentive for a production to be a union production.
Third, union productions are prohibited from hiring more than a token number of non-union actors (unless they pay a fine to the union). This gives a strong incentive for productions to only use union talent (which also gives actors another reason to want to be a union member).
So far so good. But how does one join the union? That's the catch-22: You must work for at least n days on a union production (n=1 for speaking roles, n=3 for extra roles) to be eligible to join SAG/AFTRA. But most union productions won't hire you unless you're a union member (see above).
I don't know whether something like that would work in the software industry, but it seems at least plausible to me that it could benefit everyone who is currently employed in tech (at the expense of future potential tech employees).
So imagine a union of software contractors - that union would have no power because anyone wanting to use a contractor could sidestep them immediately by hiring a non-union contractor of which there are many.
How it could work is this - imagine you took the top 20 researchers in machine learning and they unionized, and refused to work except under a contract negotiated by the union. If Google wants "that guy" then they have to use that union contract. "That guy" has power, because people want to hire them. That can form an umbrella under which other ML researchers can sign up. Suddenly you can't effectively do ML without working with the union.
Companies with people like that keep those people under extremely lucrative contracts so its unlikely they would be financially motivated to form such a union. There's also the factor that "what even is the top-20 researchers". In movies you know if you have Brad Pitt or not. But you 100% need as many top people as possible to somehow become union-minded. I'd hope that this group of Google workers grows quickly. Its great that they've voted to form.
Note of course I'm just spitballing here and am not at all an expert in labor relations or how unions really form or work. Maybe it didn't go like that. Here's an interesting article thats paywalled, but it at least describes an early unionization and then a big back and forth struggle. It would behoove us all to understand how the labor movement of the 1890s to 1960s came about, because it would appear we are just about to enter such a period.
This somewhat limits entrants. Some IATSE locals use different variations on that work assignment strategy and some entrants get work outside the union, so it varies by location, specialty, sector, etc.
I doubt it, if only because actors are hired in large part due to their celebrity. There are no celebrity SREs (at best they have some cache in the software/SRE community, but not in the general public).
Indeed, sports and entertainment unions probably aren't a good comparison for tech. Other professions like accounting, medicine, law, and engineering might have better examples of cost/benefit, though it's hard to think of another professional industry with the ridiculous level of functional duplication (a million frameworks for everything) in tech.
There's definitely challenges in not turning it into a protectionist thing, but done well I don't think it's a bad thing.
Mentorship programs that bypass the degree requirement are less common, but I made it through without a degree. I would love to see more of them, and more companies willing to help with work-study, but the challenges of that approach are real and may not have an easy solution.
> First, the film unions provide useful benefits (like reasonably-priced health insurance), so most professional actors want to be part of the union. Second, union members are prohibited from working on non-union productions. Additionally, most well-known actors are union members. This gives a strong incentive for a production to be a union production. Third, union productions are prohibited from hiring more than a token number of non-union actors (unless they pay a fine to the union). This gives a strong incentive for productions to only use union talent (which also gives actors another reason to want to be a union member).
Note that by observing important differences between the film and software industries, I'm not arguing that unions couldn't work for the software industry. I suspect this is why I've been downvoted.
I get your point, but I was just using SAG to give a concrete example. The rules are broadly similar for the other film industry unions as well, with similar effects (and other roles have "industry-famous" if not "mom and dad famous" talent).
I suspect you'd get similar dynamics if, for example, a large cohort of the staff/principle engineers plus a bunch of senior engineers in the valley joined the SWE Local 16384. It's probably not necessary that your mom and dad have heard of them.
To be quite clear (and likely this was your point, in which case I agree), if the film/tv unions excluded actors, the effect would be pretty comparable. My friends and family aren't going to see a film because Joe The Sound Guy worked on it just like they aren't going to buy an app just because Collin The SRE worked on it (no matter how famous Joe and Collin are in their respective industries).
Twitter is full of them.
> Twitter is full of them.
In general, I try to avoid Twitter though because the software community there is very self-congratulatory and a bit toxic elitist. Not to mention if you aren't a front-end dev good luck being treated like you are a real engineer.
Is this a typo? I was under the impression that frontend devs were near the bottom of the dev pecking order. At least that's been my experience wherever I've worked and in things I've read.
FWIW, frontend is a suite of hard problems which are distinct from the problems we face on the backend but no less challenging. Frontend development today certainly seems a lot less rigorous than backend development in the sense that there seem to be fewer best-practices and more of an embrace of a certain "cowboy/ninja/move-fast-and-break-things" chaotic ethic (engineers from other disciplines would balk at the characterization of backend engineering as 'rigorous', but I think it's fair to say that we devote more rigor to it than frontend development). I think this is largely due to our industry deciding that frontend was a low-skill position and thus putting most of our most junior engineers there to sort it out, and then we on the backend mock them for churning out new frameworks and tools in a desperate effort to bring some order to the chaos.
My personal guess is it's because front-end people can demo things easier.
I think amongst larger dev circles, it's probably generally true that front-end are considered towards the bottom. I think some front-end developers, like Dan Abramov, show that that's a bit unfounded.
Because everyone talking about unionization refuses to get into the nitty gritty of what I might gain, what I might lose, and the structural changes to the workplaces that are inherent with unionization.
And if/when I/others start spitballing about what those might be we're treated like dolts uneducated on organized labor, and should just shut my mouth and get on board.
>they don't always get it right
This is the closest anyone every gets to saying something, but it doesn't mean anything. Where the fuck is the actual case study about the structure of the system, constraints, influences, incentives? How does it evolve and how does the contract change and evolve that system?
>I don't pretend that Hollywood is a perfect utopia of worker relations, but I think it's pretty undeniable that the industry is a much better place with the unions around.
SHOW don't TELL.
tl;dr: Don't tell me I want a union contract, tell me what the terms of the contract will be and I'll decide for myself. I'm probably on board, but every time someone glosses over the details you push me further and further away.
Nobody can tell you what the contract will be because the contract won't be drawn up until the union exists and has enough members to bargain.
What you DO know is the current contract you have. You DO know that you have virtually no say in what is in that contract, "accept it or leave," is not having a say in that contract. You DO know that as a member of the union, you will have a vote in what employment contracts look like. You DO know that if you have an issue, you have someone outside the company that you can talk to about it--that is, you wont' get fired for bringing it up.
The feeling you're describing is called negotiation power. What if you and your coworkers like your job but are getting slavedriven for 80 hours a week and that just doesn't work out for you? Right now you have the following options: 1. Leave.
If you had a union you could: 1. Leave. 2. Decide to stop working along with other coworkers who are also pissed off until they agree to stop slavedriving you. 3. Decide to stop working along with other coworkers who are also pissed off until they agree to pay you more for being slavedriven.
I like the latter myself. Having people who care about an enterprise means you don't end up getting run entirely by a bunch of MBAs who listen to complaints while watching a spreadsheet of average tenure.
It's 'take greater combined power against the corporation you work for' (and in things like representation of your industry before government) or stand on your own as you do now.
I don't understand how it's possible to lose?
You can even wimp out at the first call for solidarity of you want to.
In my current role there are 3 unions that are well represented in the work place, I chose one that seems best to represent my interests and that has members in industries I might move in to.
Benefits for me are currently advice seminars on career progression and work related issues (pensions!), and annual pay negotiations (which are quite weak, pressing for inflationary pay rises).
Union contracts with the company typically bar the company from keeping or entering contracts with non-union workers that have different terms from those of the union.
In many (23) US states, when a union forms at a workplace, it can compel all non-union workers to pay fees to the union, weather they want to join or not.
I think most US workers would be for unions if they were presented as you described, where you can choose between different options or working without a union.
"Arranged as a members-only union, the new organization won’t seek collective bargaining rights to negotiate a new contract with the company. Instead, the Alphabet Workers Union will only represent employees who voluntarily join, as reported by the New York Times. That structure will also allow it to represent all employees who seek to participate — including temps, vendors, and contractors (known internally as TVCs) who would be excluded by labor law from conventional collective bargaining."
That sounds to me awfully like a voluntary union, though I'm not familiar with the laws allowing unions in various US states to compel non-members to join.
That's not to say I don't like like the idea, which I prefer to traditional Unions where participation is forced.
I believe that's incorrect. IIRC, the contracts apply the specific classes of workers at specific locations.
I have a friend who works in HR and I know for a fact that their company has different locations that do similar work: some are nonunion, some are union, and the union locations do not all have the same union.
That's not how American unions work. If you don't join the union, you can't work there.
That's not a reasonable position, since you're basically asking for someone to predict the future for you (accurately, I hope). Not knowing "how it will turn out" is life, for instance have you ever hired someone new with the knowledge of how they'll perform over the next few years? The answer is no, because it's impossible.
You never know what a contract will be before you negotiate it, and you can always quit and work someplace else if you don't like it. Which is exactly what you probably have now, except your employer writes your contract unilaterally without your input or that of anyone like you.
False. What we can do is look at real life examples of how contracts in other unions have turned out. That is a good baseline for what we could expect from other union contracts.
And the actual, real life examples of other unions, shows me that I absolutely would not want to be in a union.
We do not get to just throw away and ignore the decades and decades of examples of union contracts. That is real evidence that we can look at. And the evidence shows me that I do not want to be in a union contract, based on what other union contracts commonly look like.
Ok, then. There are a lot of "other unions," which ones are you thinking about? They're pretty diverse. I mean you have all the way from autoworkers, to the film industry, the public sector, to engineers (at Boeing for instance).
> And the actual, real life examples of other unions, shows me that I absolutely would not want to be in a union.
Then go find a non-union workplace, then? It's not like they're going to get banned or anything, and they currently consist of about 100% of software engineering workplaces in the US.
There's this weird vibe I get from some people that tech unions shouldn't exist at all because they personally don't like the idea of them. What about choice?
Or, instead of that, I could sabotage any efforts to create unions, thereby making it so I cannot be forced to join a union. That sounds way more productive.
> that tech unions shouldn't exist at all
I don't have any problem with a union existing, as long as they are not using labor laws to require people at a certain company to join that union, or require them to pay fees.
You can form whatever social club that you want, but the moment that you try to use the law to require me to pay your fees, or accept your contract, under penalty of losing my job, as per labor laws, then we have a problem, and I will fight your efforts to unionize.
> It's not like they're going to get banned or anything
A union shop would ban me from working at a company, if I don't join that union, or pay their fee. That is how it negatively impacts me.
> they currently consist of about 100% of software engineering workplaces in the US.
Yep! Anti union efforts are winning. And as long as union advocates are attempting to creation union shops, which use labor laws in this way, I hope that anti-union efforts continue to win.
> There are a lot of "other unions," which ones are you thinking about?
Yep! And there are problems with most of the ones that you brought up.
Any union that takes into account seniority, and negotiated based on that, is a union that I have a problem with.
Any union that puts up barrier to entry into the industry, by required certain standards, or doing the things that for example the film industry does, is a union that I have a problem with.
The film industry union, for example, has very serious barriers to entry, that make it difficult for new actors to join certain film productions.
Other examples of bad unions would be things like the pilots union. It might be fine for the piloting industry, but the problem with the pilot's union model is that it is literally entirely based on senority. If you leave Fedex, for example, and join Delta, then you start at the bottom, and lose all of your pay raises and benefits that are strictly determined by the union.
(And please don't even try to argue with me about this, regarding piloting unions. Both my parents work for fedex, and are in the pilot's union. I know how they work.)
This situation might be fine for the piloting industry, but I would absolutely hate it if I were defacto required to work at the same company for my entire career, in the tech industry.
Well, at least that's honest.
> Other examples of bad unions would be things like the pilots union. It might be fine for the piloting industry, but the problem with the pilot's union model is that it is literally entirely based on senority. If you leave Fedex, for example, and join Delta, then you start at the bottom, and lose all of your pay raises and benefits that are strictly determined by the union.
> (And please don't even try to argue with me about this, regarding piloting unions. Both my parents work for fedex, and are in the pilot's union. I know how they work.)
While I'm sure you disagree, that's some pretty fallacious reasoning. It's like arguing against the concept of for-profit corporations because you don't like some practice of, say, Accenture, because you falsely assume that practice must be replicated without any any reform to all other companies.
Most instances of things have flaws, often serious flaws, but a lot of people seem to hold unions to a weird standard where they should be rejected unless all instances are flawless.
Personally, I'd also have a problem with a union that "is literally entirely based on senority," but I think it makes more sense to reform the institution than reject it (and throw the baby out with the bathwater).
>> they currently consist of about 100% of software engineering workplaces in the US.
> Yep! Anti union efforts are winning. And as long as union advocates are attempting to creation union shops, which use labor laws in this way, I hope that anti-union efforts continue to win.
And anti-democracy efforts are also winning in China. I mean, CCTV has pretty clearly shown that they're so unstable, with weak incompetent leadership. Don't you hope those anti-democratic efforts continue? I know I prefer to live under a strong, competent leader like Xi.
Anti-union efforts are winning, but mainly because business has long been in a more powerful position than labor and has been more effective at propagandizing its position. IIRC, that propaganda mainly consists of creating a distorted picture based on selectively chosen truths.
You yourself asked me for some examples of problems that I had, lol! Why even ask me what problems I had with unions, if your response was just going to be "Well, we can't look at your real world example"?
Also, I do not accept any hypothetical union, that does not exist, as a justification as for why unions are good.
The only thing that I will accept is a real world example, of a real union, so that we can make judgements on that to see if it would be good for the tech industry or not.
> to a weird standard where they should be rejected unless all instances are flawless
It is not about being flawless. Instead it is that the actual, real world examples that I have of unions, very often include very serious problems.
> reform the institution
So now we are entering the world of fantasy land. If you cannot point to a real world example of a union that you like, then any argument that you are making right now is just a story that you made up in your head that is not backed up to fact.
I have already pointed to very serious problems in unions. That is valid evidence.
And the only response that I ever get, when I point out the very serious problems with real world unions is "Well, all the examples that you brought up don't counts, and no I don't have any examples of unions that I like! Instead, you should just believe me that things are going to be good, even though all the real world evidence proves otherwise".
If pro union people want the tech industry to get on board then they need to show us facts, evidence and real world examples, instead of making up a story that is not backed by anything.
For example, I was a member of the organizing committee for the union at my last job where I worked as a software engineer. After the union was recognized, members held an election for all the union's leadership positions as well as for the members of the bargaining committee that negotiates the contract with management. Bargaining sessions between the union and management is completely open for any member of the union to attend. The committee publishes reports to the membership after each bargaining session on the items discussed. Presuming the union and management come agree to the terms that would go into a contract, that tentative agreement is sent to the members of the union to vote on and either accept the terms, or to reject them, in which case the union and management will continue to bargain a new tentative agreement.
What you're describing "tell me I'm signing up for something that I have no idea how it will turn out" is actually what happens when you accept any new job you take. When you accept a job offer, you know a few things, e.g., your salary and benefits, your manager, etc. But there's a lot you wouldn't typically know, e.g., how performance is evaluated and how promotions and raises are determined, what your workload would be and what protections you might have from overwork or excessive discipline or unfair termination.
What a union provides is not only a voice for everyone in the workplace, but for collectively bargaining and making clear the the conditions and treatment you can expect in your workplace.
Don't you have employment contracts? People will, at least under rule of law, be treated according to their contracts and your country's employment law??
Does your company currently investigate who you've spoken to about your job and seek to punish you for representing your better interests?
One of those is more aligned with your interests than the other.
Completely false. With the ways that union laws work, if the majority of workers at a company unionize, then I have no choice but to be subject to their contract and fees.
Most tech companies are not in right to work states, so I'd have to go along with the contract.
That is how I would be worse off.
The person asked if I was worse off or not. And I am. I am worse off in that I cannot stay at a job that becomes a union job, without having to pay the union.
That is how I am worse off.
Being forced to pay union dues when you've decided not to be a part of that union is literal theft.
This statement is not true, and I have explained exactly how I would be worse off.
I would be worse off in that now I have to give money to the union, and I now have to be represented by their deals, and I don't want that. That is how I am worse off.
I don't care about your moral arguments. Instead I care about what hurts or helps me.
Why don't you care about that? Particularly when these profits are likely far higher than any union dues.
You keep trying to redirect to something that is not relevant. The relevant question was whether or not I would be worse off with a union. And the answer is that I have giving an exact answer as to how I would be worse off.
Glad that you agree that the original person was wrong, and that I was right on how I would be worse off.
Nothing that you said at all disagrees with me regarding this specific issue. You have made no statement that disagrees with the true fact that I would be worse off by having to be under the union contract."
This conversation is about whether or not people are harmed by unions in this way, and bringing up irrelevant stuff does not change that.
Nothing that you said is an actual convincing argument as for why unions do not harm me, when I have laid out specifically how it makes my situation worse.
To address your better off vs worse off question: You'll be better off as a union member, through the superior negotiating power of collective bargaining.
I said nothing of the sort. Instead I responded to someone who claimed that unions make me no worse off. And I have described how that is false.
That is the only thing that I have said. Please do not put words into my mouth or say that I said things, when I did not say them.
Can you please stop lying about me saying anything, when I have been extremely clear regarding my original statement?
It seems like you do not disagree with me that the original person is wrong though.
> You'll be better off as a union member, through the superior negotiating power of collective bargaining
Not if I don't want that contract, or if I don't want to engage in collective bargaining, that I am now forced to join if I want to keep my job. There are many things in actual real life examples of union contracts that I would strongly oppose.
And no, I will not accept you talking about some hypothetical union contract that does not exist, where you claim that this non standard union contract, that has none of the bad things that I brought up, would help.
The only thing that I will accept as arguments, as for why unions are good or bad, is actual real life examples of contracts that have been enacted in the real world, because anything else is just a story that someone made up in their head.
And there are many examples of concrete real union contracts that I would absolutely not support.
> Why not give a straight answer?
A straight answer to things that you are lying about, that I did not say? I have already given you a straight answer about exactly what I believe, and that I have made no comments on any completely irreverent thing that do not disagree with what I said.
You don't need to say it directly. It's obvious from your tone that you're bothered.
> Not if I don't want that contract, or if I don't want to engage in collective bargaining, that I am now forced to join if I want to keep my job.
You don't want higher pay?
What I don't want is union contracts, which have many very significant drawbacks, in the real world, that have nothing to do with pay.
There are many real world examples of union contracts that have very serious issues, regarding many things not related to pay at all.
And yes, I get to point to the problems that I see in real world examples of union contracts, because anything else about some hypothetical that does not exist, is just a story that someone made up in their head.
That just makes the problem worse.
And my evidence is any actual real life example of a union contract, which has many things that I do not support in it.
Most tech companies are located in California, which is a right to work state.
If you're joining an employer with a negotiated contract, there's really no chance to change it when you're hired; it's accept it or leave. You generally aren't part of the bargaining if you're not a current employee.
Maybe the contract is better, but we'd have to see some to know. Maybe I don't want what the union wants and while I have a vote, it doesn't have significance unless my opinions are shared by others.
"We want to wield our power to ensure:
* Our working conditions are inclusive and fair,
* Perpetrators of harassment, abuse, discrimination, and retaliation are held accountable,
* We have the freedom to decline to work on projects that don’t align with our values,
* All workers, regardless of employment status, can enjoy the same benefits."
I'd be much more interested in tackling things like non-competes, employee ownership of side projects, better vesting schedules, better direction for the company, salaries, revisiting how many H1B visas there are, etc.
I want specific objectives that make life better for employees including me (although I don't work at Google, I mean hypothetically, if I did). I don't want generic platitudes.
How does one define "inclusive and fair". Who decides what is inclusive? The Union? I don't want to apply the fallacy of inclusion, but if someone wears a crucifix and that makes an atheist feel excluded, who is right? I know "the Union will decide" but tyranny of the majority is a real thing. See the ban on burkas/hijabs in many "inclusive" countries.
Also, if you are appealing to the public, saying that the working conditions at Google, where you are paid near the top 1% of the all workers and have free food etc, "working conditions" might not be the right term.
We have the freedom to decline to work on projects that don’t align with our values
When do you declare your values? Is it always a moving target? To be a conscientious objector in the United States, there needs to be a demonstrable history of your objection. You can't get drafted and then suddenly find religion. How do you stop the inevitable abuse of this exclusion?
Well, we're talking about working on software projects here. I work in defense and would have no qualms about the whole Project Maven thing. But if all they want is the freedom to decline to work on it, that seems pretty reasonable to me. They didn't sign up for that stuff, and Google isn't primarily a defense company.
The draft is (in theory) an emergency measure for the good of the nation. Just like the government can force you to pay taxes, they can force you to fight in the military. That's certainly not a power a private corporation should have.
I find this sentiment quite weird honestly. The "contract" between the employee and the employer is that the employee does what the employer asks of them, and in return gets paid for his work. If these employees do not desire to work on projects that Google is getting, then they should terminate the contract and find work elsewhere.
So, Actually. That's exactly what they signed up for.
It is bonkers to me that a employee does not work on what the employee wants to work on, within a company, and yet also expects the employer to keep paying them.
This honestly sounds like so much privilege. These workers are top 1% of the world, it sounds like "whining" when you are not in their position.
I have the power to tell my boss "I'm not going to work on that", and they're free to keep paying me to do something else instead. It's the same power I use to negotiate my pay and benefits, and the entire reason I developed this skillset and work in this industry.
Using that power to form a union and wield it collectively is one aspect of the right to freely associate. If Alphabet workers want to use that collective power to negotiate a legal contract protecting their job if they refuse to work on a project, that's their right.
But I am guessing they're not free to fire you, right? So, it's not really "take-it-or-leave-it" but more "take-it-or-choose-something-else". There's not leaving involved.
> If Alphabet workers want to use that collective power to negotiate a legal contract protecting their job if they refuse to work on a project, that's their right.
This is what confuses me, and maybe you can help me understand.
1. Employee and Employer have a contract where Employee will work on what Employer wants and get paid in return.
2. Employee does not want to work on what Employer wants, yet wants to be paid i.e. wants the employer to honor their part of the contract while wanting to renege on their part.
Let's use another example.
Would one be supportive of employees wanting to only work FOSS while at Alphabet refusing to work on anything else, and still "protect their job" i.e. not be fired?
Ah, okay. So if your current employer asked you and your coworkers to do something that was legal but highly unethical, you and every one of your coworkers would be financially secure enough to quit at the drop of a hat? Must be nice.
If i worked at Google, where SWE's are earning above 120K at a graduate level. I would hope so. I don't earn that sort of money, nor have that level of a safety net, so therefore, I must compromise and continue to work.
A union is a democratically run organization so the answer is the membership.
Part of this is from how outside leadership has been brought in that is accidentally trampling over unwritten rules and part of this is conflicts in the different interpretations the increasing number of employees have of these unwritten rules.
I'll grant that there is support and perhaps increasing sentiment. I am not sure that there is consensus that those issues are paramount. I'm also not sure it's even enough for overwhelming majorities are sufficient to enact rules. There is such a thing as a democratic tyranny. But some sort of bill of rights might be interesting, depending.
The top two seem fine, but Google is one of the best places to work at on the planet. But I don't mind it being improved.
The fourth one is really just a compensation package. I don't agree that every job should have the same compensation/benefits.
The third one is what I oppose. If you don't want to work on a project, then don't. I don't want to work in a trash dump (oh the pay is great too), so I don't.
I'm also certain that the fourth one will be weaponized and use for deplatforming people.
Not only is "accept it or leave it" very much a form of "having a say" in your work parameters, it's a much more powerful way of exerting your preferences than voting.
If 100,000 people are voting on a contract your 1/100,000th share of the influence functionally rounds to zero. The contract will reflect your coworkers aggregate preferences, which will in general be completely orthogonal to your own preferences. On the other hand, when you shop around for a job you have unbounded freedom to decide where you want to apply to and what working conditions are you willing to accept. If you want more job stability and better working hours in exchange for lower pay, someone will be willing to offer it to you. If you want "fuck you, pay me", someone else will offer that too.
Assuming that you make no effort to influence any of the hypothetical 100,000 people voting on the contract in any way.
> The contract will reflect your coworkers aggregate preferences, which will in general be completely orthogonal to your own preferences.
This is a fairly surprising assertion for me - I can't recall a time I've personally found this to be the case professionally. May I ask how you encountered this in your own professional experience?
And if all 100k people all try to influence each other to different ends that ends up a wash.
> This is a fairly surprising assertion for me
Some people prefer better work life balance, other people prefer higher compensation. Some people want job security, others want higher risk and higher upside. Labour market mobility allows people to sort into the jobs that match their preferences, which is impossible to achieve through collective bargaining because the parts of the collective want different things.
Can you elaborate on your thoughts here or cite evidence to support it? On first thought, it doesn’t ring true to me. E.g., most of the union contract conditions seem to benefit most individuals with the exception of some edge cases
The original comment seemed to lay claim that each individual will sacrifice for the collective to become a net negative. I think there’s a good case to be against seniority rules, but it’s almost impossible to claim they are against every individual self interest.
Flexibility can be built into union contacts, and its unlikely each of the 100,000 people will have entirely different and opposed interested to you
Unionize now, even if you earn a little less, while you have the most bargaining power, so that later you don't have to fight through pinkerton detectives just to get a seat at the table.
There's a reason companies like Google suppress initiatives to form unions, and build strong zeitgeists within their employee base that unionization is bad. If unionization is so bad why do companies spend so much money breaking it up? For the good of the workers? Bahahaha.
If something was bad, why would you take the existence of opposition to it as evidence of it being good?
Suppose unionization was bad for both employers and employees. You would certainly expect employers to oppose that. Even if it was totally neutral for employers and bad for employees, they would oppose unionization at their own company because it would make it more difficult for them to attract and retain quality employees.
The union leadership, of course, describes the employers making their case as "union busting" and "anti-union propaganda".
That’s the same argument people use against immigration.
I realize HN is a diverse place and not everybody has the same opinion on these matters, but I find it interesting that people here generally support labor protectionism when it applies to high-income earners like software engineers, but they don’t support closing the borders in order to increase the wages of low-income earners.
The parent comment seemed to me to suggest that a union would both keep the door open and the price high, and I don't see any clear way a union would do that.
Through actions against specific employers and minimum standards. If unions can have some control over wages, then the gate becomes irrelevant
Maybe google is different, but industry wide wages are falling
What terms improve things for everyone? How should work be?
From there, they build solidarity around those terms.
When the vision maps to 80 / 90 percent of labor at that enterprise, the effort to unionize can win.
The odds of this happening at Google in the next ten years are pretty low, I'd say. That's why they organized this as a members-only union rather than trying to do a real unionization drive.
Members only does lower the bar considerably.
Size matters. If it gets big?
New ideas matter too.
The traditional union struggle has become very difficult in the US. The high solidarity numbers required today are 20 to 30 points more than necessary before.
Solid negotiations basically pay the dues and then some.
This may not be true for all diciplines / positions.
In terms of risks, marginalizing those is worth something too.
For many, just keeping health care sane is worth a lot more than a couple points.
There is no such thing as "improving things for everyone" because different people have different preferences. Some people want job stability, some people want work life balance, some people just want to get paid, fuck everything else. If a union tries to pursue some priorities over others they are screwing over all the employees who have different preferences.
And frankly, sometimes there is no basis for solidarity, and thus no union.
Resolving that is a discussion that actually does determine whether there is improvement for everyone, not just some blanket statement or other.
Finally, yeah. A few people may not give a fuck. Consideration due is consideration given.
If your union refuses to let workers be exploited for unpaid overtime, but you really like working to make other people rich, leave!?
In the US, costs and risks are pretty high. People need more than they did in times past.
Thats like saying if democracy is so good, why wont anyone tell me what the result of the election will be
Voting in a union is actually voting first that you opt in to a collective bargaining agreement, then negotiating the terms of the agreement among members. Later, negotiations are had with the company.
Your POV is common to many that will accept much less with certainty rather than working through a decent amount of uncertainty for the prospect of a whole lot more.
Don't you put that on me. You're explicitly talking about a scenario where we're not even comparing notes on the possibility space of that uncertainty until I'm downside-committed.
Won't answer whether they should get done. That question is open right now.
The market research goes like this:
Who are the influencers?
What do they think?
What does rank and file think?
Is there potential for high degree of solidarity in all that?
There is your basis for an effort to be put forth for you to consider right there.
Then the real work begins. Sort the people out and work toward a winning scenario.
There is risk. The better organizers manage that by how and with whom and when organizing is done.
By the time you reach potential downside commit, there will be a much more clear deal to consider.
No. The organization movement wants me, I don’t want them. They can come to me.
> Where the fuck is the actual case study about the structure of the system, constraints, influences, incentives? How does it evolve and how does the contract change and evolve that system?
These are the questions that some organizers who have written books about organizing are also trying to answer.
You simply asked a great question and I let you know where the answer is found and sketched a piece of it for you.
Do you support dictatorships or monarchies on the grounds that democracy enthusiasts cannot tell you exactly what the populace will vote for?
To use your phrasing, where in the fuck is the actual case study about the structure of the status quo's constraints, influences and incentives?
Apart from the lobbying, the quiet silencing of health and safety and maybe ethics violations, the de-facto expected longer hours and 24x7 on-call, the decades of open-secret poor working conditions in the gaming industry, the constant complaints of tech worker burnout, tech often being considered a cost center and reporting to MBAs and CFOs and not getting a board level representation that reflects the value tech creates, the use of stack ranking that doesn't get applied to sales / management teams, the standard advice that the only way to get a significant salary increase is to change jobs, the often poor or misaligned or unreachable incentives and targets, the situation where a company paying more in perks instead of money is considered good, and etc.
You didn't demand a study before agreeing the current approach is good, did you?
> "Don't tell me I want a union contract, tell me what the terms of the contract will be"
Exactly what people negotiate for will be a representation of what isn't being taken seriously in any specific workplace. "Divide and conquer" - one employer with tens of millions of dollars and a team of lawyers united on one side and every individual employee divided with a fraction of a lawyer and a small amount of money on the other side. How can this ever result in great things for the employee side?
Unless you're the 1% with your pick of FAANG jobs and high 6-figure salaries, in which case you're the exception everyone else should ignore because we aren't you and a system where only the 1% can get desirable working conditions for most of their life, and everyone else deserves to suffer for not being good enough, is a bad system.
It's socialism for the majority. If you want a nuanced argument, meet your union leader at the church he goes to on sunday and see how fervently committed he is to his goals. You're more likely to get a nuanced argument in the face of God, rather than these big dick, black and white union arguments people endlessly wave in our collective face.
The union structure is not free from religious, political and justice problems. Some of the largest unions in the US spend union funds on politically charged topics that easily divide it's own membership.
You won't get a satisfying answer because it has little to do with rational answers and more to do with sexual security. Union members secure and promote their progeny.
Conveniently omitting the 20k strong walkout. That's organizing.
I hadn't heard that it was for all cases, kudos to Google. But of course that is just one example among many.
https://www.foxbusiness.com/technology/cia-awards-cloud-comp... (Not DoD, but the US IC)
Unions are structured in a way determined by the workers who are voting, there is no inevitable path for a union to take. A teacher union is very different from an actor's union, for instance, even if they are covered by the same basic laws.
This has allowed the management to make promises to address concerns and fail to follow through on them. Or have HR take over employee-organized community groups discussing grievances and slowly let them die.
In broad strokes, yes.
Here's an analogy: I know it's not implemented yet, but I want the design doc and market research, not just the elevator pitch.
Unfortunately, through my own experience being in one & observing other unions, they often end up serving the organization of the union itself. They may still work for the workers, but also end up making decisions that are better for the union than for the workers.
Right now, my kids are learning remotely. However, the school district has encouraged teachers themselves to still report to their classroom to teach from there because seeing that environment lends at least a little bit more normalcy to the experience. You might agree or disagree, but the teachers have the choice. However, teachers are being told & subtly bullied by the union into not doing this for some vague justification that it weakens the union. At least one member I know of has said they're teaching like this, but they hope the union doesn't find out because they would "get in trouble".
I think unions can be a good & important tool in equalizing the power imbalance between an individual worker and their larger employers. Unfortunately, those who seek & rise to position of authority within the union structure are often those who end up seeing the union are a "good" unto itself rather than serving the members & their wishes.
It's a real concern
about the safety and working conditions, and how a lack of a unified front can lead to fissures when negotiating that could actually hurt a majority of union members.
The unions members probably mostly prefer work from home due to safety concerns. Should the school district wish to demand all teachers report to the building, the negotiation position of the union is significantly weakened if the administration can say "well 25% of your membership is already in the building" as a justification for denying hazard pay, further health and safety precautions, etc.
"Unified front" That is not the purpose of the union. The union exists to serve it's members. If serving it's members might be slightly more difficult if it actually accommodates the choices of the members it serves, well that's it's job. It's job is not to make it's job easier, it's to serve the members. If the district tries to pressure other members because some make a certain choice, or not provide a safe working environment, That is the fight the union should fight. Not bullying members against making the choice the members feels is the right one to best serve the students.
The possibility of adversarial action by the school district is insufficient to justify the union's actions, especially when, in the case of my school district, the district has otherwise been very responsive to the concerns of the union with respect to health & safety protocols.
Why is it ok for the administration to say "we prefer but don't require you to come in" but not ok for the union to say "actually, we prefer but don't require you to stay home"?
A unified front is EXACTLY the purpose of a union. The threat of collective action by the entire workforce is what unions derive their power from.
If I prefer to work from the building, and the union is pressuring me to stay home, that tells me the union is not working for me.
If the union were working for me, it might demand that work from home be allowed for those who prefer or need it, and that work from the building be done in safe conditions.
This is my problem with unions; it's fine if you fit with the majority, but if you don't you're paying a portion of your salary to prop up an organization between you and your employer that's actively pushing for things you don't want. It's just a different windmill to tilt at.
 When the union expresses a preference, and people are worried about the union hearing that they didn't follow the preference, that's pressure.
Otherwise, sure it's fine to have a position on an issue and communicate it to members. What is not fine is to imply to members that if they make their own choice then the union will never support them should they have a problem, even for an unrelated issue, essentially stripping them of union support. This is what I meant by bullying, and have myself witnessed.
But if you insist that a unified front, rather than supporting workers, is their purpose then we fundamentally disagree, and I'll leave things by pointing out that the "unified front" can be to support worker choice & flexibility.
Threats of withholding union protection for making an informed choice would be shocking (and likely illegal!).
I don't pretend to know what you've seen and heard, but in most cases where "threats" were made, my bet would be that a statement like "if you want the union to be around to help protect you, listening to our guidance is the best course", was interpreted as a threat (singular specific you), rather than a general statement on the importance of how vital solidarity is for the survival of the union and its collective bargaining power(general/plural you).
Union members automatically pay dues. They have the option of paying more dues. Someone who paid the automatic dues went to the union for help. Each time, they were urged to opt in to paying more dues. They chose not to, and were left waiting for help. When they finally chose to increase their dues, the help suddenly materialized.
And sure, most speech surrounding the bullying isn't direct. Would you expect it to be explicit? That simply isn't how any remotely intelligent person makes illegal threats. But it's pretty easy to pick up on the tone of "hey it's a nice job you have here. It would be a shame if something were to happen to it"
I support unions, I think they provide a net benefit to workers, but power structures frequently attract people more interested in wielding the power than in the purpose that power is suppose to serve. I see too much of a tendency in supporters of unions to overlook this fact, with any criticism dismissed as "you don't support the workers!". (Note: I'm not accusing you of that. We appear to be having a reasonable discussion)
Having been in two unions in a prior life, I'd say the only reason this is true is due to lack of in-person communication. Anything documentable will be kept to semi-acceptable levels. The true (daily) abuse comes when they return to the classroom. These folks need to prepare for some bullying.
Most teachers defying the union on this will not make it more than another year in that district once classrooms return would be my uninformed bet. It will be a mission of every other union member at each school to make their everyday existence a living hell.
Yes, I have very poor taste in my mouth when it comes to my experiences with unions. I certainly recognize what they've accomplished and could still accomplish; but until they stop existing as corrupt rackets to protect the lowest common denominator employee they are going to be a hard sell to much of the US who has dealt with such creatures.
NY Governor: I disagree and think the vaccine rollout plan needs to be better.
President Trump: Fine, we won't send you any vaccines.
1. Fat cats. What are the due fees? %1 now?, later then? %5 of gross annually? 200 people * 300k year * %5 of salary = 3 million. They will use this on fancy dinners with Google execs? Or spend it in "wrongful terminations" law suites with google for years? What happens when 50x more join.
2. Who runs it? Will it be a 10 year long president? What is her union salary? A non-google person? Will it be full time? A slack group? They dish out favors to win elections?
3. Who gets into the union? Base is on the newest woke culture? Base it on need? Salary? Scan their social media? Popularity contests? Seems like a great way to start discrimination.
4. Will being in this union freak out future employers? If your union spends most of it's time suing - will they want you around? EG. I don't see Tesla wanting a high ranking union person from google.
5. My wife worked at a union. Unions tend to not fire - so (non blue collar) you end up with hundreds of drained, demotivated, incompetent - due payers. This is the direction people at google want to go? Who will actually do the work? Non-union Sub-contractors?
6. Will they become political? Will you have to join this political party? What if you disagree on a few things? You still pay dues right - to the Fat Cat?
7. Will they corner off work? EG. You can't be a designer level III without being in the union.
One thing that wont happen: better working conditions.
They don't function as democratic institutions serving laborers' interests anymore, only their own narrow, elite, institutional needs--often institutional self-preservation at the expense of their members' interests. They're decrepit, corrupt dinosaurs, just like the Right says. But they got that way by losing the fight in the 20th century. Now they're kind of useless vestiges just waiting around to slough off eventually.
So the old unions are no model to emulate here. But just noting that and giving up of course leaves the problem of my lack of power in the workplace completely unsolved.
> One thing that wont happen: better working conditions.
I still want better working conditions though, for me and for everybody. What do you suggest?
Well, a re-brand for one. Don't call it a "union". Call it something else if it is something else. If you make a union patterned after traditional ones, why shouldn't it become a corrupt entity 50 years later just like all the current corrupt unions?
Maybe we should bring "guild" back into fashion.
But there is also an existing phenomenon of various things calling themselves guilds (there are various "freelancers'" guilds, e.g.), but they do not function as an economic bargaining institution at all. They're just professional organizations where people exchange contact info for networking purposes.
I think there's no getting around the task at hand: rehabilitating the concept of a union of workers with shared interests and goals (even shared fraternity, if I'm gonna be super sentimental). It's capital, it's labor, it's unions. New century, same basic stuff.
Their problem is not that they're old, it's that they're not powerful enough anymore to be the kind of adversarial force they once were. They're shrinking instead of growing. Their strategy, if they even have any, is built around defensive self-preservation and survival. It's a siege mentality.
There's a reason for it, and a history to it. In the first half of the 20th century, upstart unions were on the rise, growing all the time, taking over everything, expanding into new sectors, gaining power. There really was a time when it was reasonable to think eventually just about every job in the country would be union, and that's just how things are. Perfectly normal. (And generally speaking, those young unions were more spontaneous and democratic than their progeny today. They were more "bottom up", less bureaucratic. Also much fightier.)
But capital isn't stupid or defenseless and they fought back. The result, for a while, was the Fordist paradigm that ruled the postwar years. The idea was union leaders and management leaders could work together and reach compromises that were acceptable to both sides, and overall productivity and quality of life would be optimized through this kind of give-and-take. We're all Americans, right? We all have the same goals (even if I own the factory and you work in it).
Well, that's all gone now. From the 70s on, the formerly powerful unions got totally pulverized. One major weakness they had is their own leadership had, in the compromise period, gotten pretty cozy with management and formed a kind of "labor aristocracy" whose interests were more aligned with management than the rank and file. This is basically the state the old unions are in today.
In other words, the developments were contingent on dynamics of 20th century history, not the only thing that could have happened. The problem with 20th century unions is not that they have some innate structural flaw, but that they lost the fight.
I don't think we need to re-invent the concept. The boss owns everything you need to do your job, and you have to have a job. You lack power and control over your working conditions. As an individual you can't do anything about it. Banded together with the rest of the workforce, you can. This is a concept everyone can relate to already and I don't see any utility in renaming it for the new generation or something.
I used to drive a 30 year old beat up car. One day somebody crashed into it and smashed it up. I tried fixing up everything I possibly could, but eventually I realized the engine was completely shot, the block had been cracked, and the thing just wasn't coming back. I didn't rebrand and go get a hoverboat or something. I just got another car that wasn't wrecked.
Industry-wide unions can work, they are widely used in Europe, but they essentially act as barriers to progress and create arbitrary barriers to entry.
We don't have industry wide unions in the United States because, although unions were on the rise in the first part of last century, they eventually got beaten down into their pathetic state after the Fordist compromise broke down.
> act as barriers to progress
They give workers a say in what counts as "progress." "Progress," to my mind, does not necessarily equal improvements in my quality of life. e.g. I used to not be constantly surveilled. Then some progress happened, and now I am. Am I better off?
What if we got to decide what technology to build instead of Google and the Pentagon?
One hopes that these old unions could be revived with a bunch of new membership. What I described above is how they are now, not how they have to be.
Worth noting also that even unions with totally screwed up leadership often have passionate and talented organizers with a lot of experience and institutional know-how at the lower levels, just like tech companies.
Eventually I learned to pass on cases that involved unionized employees because having a union involved made it much more difficult to prosecute cases.
2. How are those consequences?
> Base is on the newest woke culture? ... Scan their social media?
What? If they are voted in, Google will be required to provide the employee manifest.
5. First, there are unions in numerous industries with lots of firings/seasonal firings. Second, firing is also not as common in big tech anyways.
6. You have a vote? On what to negotiate on?
Some of these are true, some are not, but workers in unions make more money, have better benefits, and have better working conditions overall
But could that be due to just paying the lowest tiers more and highest tiers less?
Companies usually make salaries opaque, but say you have 9 software engineers. Your 3 underperformers are being paid $10 per year, your 3 average performers are being paid $15 per year, and your 3 top performers are being paid $20 per year. So average worker pay is $15 per year.
Now a union comes in and over the years the pay structure changes so that the most senior employees make the most, not the top performers. Now 4 youngest employees make $14 per year, the 4 middle employees make $16 and the most senior employee makes $18 per year. So average worker pay is now $15.3 per year, and you can now make the claim "workers in unions make more money (on average)", but I would argue this new structure is overall worse for the company since you are basically rewarding underperformers and punishing top performers in order to raise wages.
This to me kind of highlights the disconnect of unions in software engineering. In many companies including Google, there are parallel IC and management tracks. There are ICs in leadership positions but just without any reports. Does that mean, e.g. an L7 staff engineer can unionize but not an L5 manager?
And then it leads to me wonder, why can't managers unionize in a typical union? Even at a big old-fashioned manufacturing company with a union, the managers are still individual people who are separate from the company itself. Presumably the reason is that they already have better conditions, they're highly paid, maybe they're already aligned with company itself because they have an ownership stake or some incentive bonus structure. All of those arguments apply to software engineers as well.
This may be a cheesy analogy, but in some ways all software engineers in tech are already effectively the middle managers. They oversee the "assembly line" that generates the revenue for the business, which just happens to be software rather than people.
It seems more like an association of employees who seek to influence leadership on specific topics. There influence comes not from the threat of a strike, but rather just numbers (eg we have X% of workers, all willing to put up 1% of pay, you should really listen to us).
Not saying that the organizers here have malicious intentions, but if you did have malicious intentions then something like this could actually be a pretty good scam... Re-purposing the word "union" for something that is not really serving that role, and collecting money from people who will ideologically sign onto it without thinking because they automatically think "unions == good". Basically making money off of the current shift to the left in US politics.
IMO, part of the issue here is they made open communication part of the culture early on, and then cut if off, causing shock/backlash.
You might say that as a joke but Unions have a long history of heavily pressuring or forcing members to vote one way and in turn using these "guaranteed" votes to extract "favors" from politicians.
Aren't votes anonymous in US ? Or perhaps you meant "inciting members to vote one way" ?
At the time, Jobs was also running Pixar, which never seemed to have problems in its movies to credit everybody down to the hairstylist of the second unit's caterer by name. Hmm… could it be that… they were unionized and we were not?
"Steve politely declined several times, stating that everything at Apple was a group effort, so he didn’t like to sign and take credit for everything. " 
And with every Keynote Steve will thank all teams who has been working nights and days, often using the phase "separated from their families". And constant and consistently reminding everyone that "We, at Apple." Not "Me, Steve Jobs".
I remember some made the observation Elon Musk is more about selling himself than Tesla or SpaceX. Steve Jobs is more about selling Apple himself.
But at the same time let's admit it, Apple without Steve Jobs is just different. There is no one to keep the balance between everyone. Jony, Eddy, Tim, Phill, Scott Forstall and lots of others. Steve often likes to refer Apple as the Beatles, where the whole is greater than sum of its parts, and they kept everyone's flaws in check.
The credits for God of War PS4 were 28 minutes long listing pretty much every employ of Sony in all countries down to caterers.
Personally I find that insulting and unfair to the actual creative team that made the game.
Could it be... that crediting is part of the industry norms in one case, and not the other? Absolutely nothing to do with unions.
It sounds a lot less hypocritical this way.
Yeah, a bizarre line of reasoning. Footballers first unionized in 1907 and haven't looked back since. Today, your average footballer (plying their trade in the upper tiers of English football) makes more in a month than most tech engineers make in a year (granted careers are short and there are many more elite engineers than there are elite football players, but still, I don't think unionization had any effect on their salaries).
See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_of_Tennis_Professi...
Incorrect, the first footballer's union was from 1898 .
> I don't think unionization had any effect on their salaries
Despite the existence of the union, clubs could impose a salary cap on players well into the 1960s, and could trade them like slaves under the "retain-and-transfer" system  until the EU forbade that practice in the 1990s .
All in all, football is a very bad example for the success of unions. Unions helped jack shit to get players out of an exploitative situation - every improvement was hard-won in courts by individual footballers.
A salary cap is not a reason unions are bad when the salary cap is 800x the average person's income...
Don't you see a little bit of an issue with this wording? Namely that said players were paid for their labor and could quit playing football at any time?
Seniority provisions are a common feature of union contracts and they’re a direct wealth transfer from younger, generally poorer workers to older, more established employees.
You make the real money after free agency. Draft picks get slot bonuses. If you are on the roster you make $500k+
To be clear, nobody would argue that any of the players are starving, but the agreement is structured to reward seniority. That’s literally what I argued. The “real money” comes in free agency, access to which is restricted by service time.
Meritocracy is orthogonal to unionization, I think, though I doubt there's an employer in the world that doesn't believe that their decisions are entirely meritocratic.
The argument "[institution]* tends to towards corruption therefore we shouldn't have [institution]" is a logical fallacy in all cases, since all human institutions tend towards corruption but we still need them.
* replace [institution] with government, government department, police, corporations, unions, etc. and the fallacy remains the same.
This statement holds true regardless of which side of the argument you’re on.
The modern discourse around unions seems to revolve around a lot of stereotypes that aren’t entirely accurate.
Yes, unions can be effective for changing working conditions. However, it’s important to remember who those unions serve.
The most common misconception is that unions serve the general public in pushing back against the corporation. Not true. The unions serve existing employees of those companies, usually as prioritized by seniority.
This is a great situation if you are already a senior member of that company, but it’s not as beneficial if you’re a young person trying to break into that industry or move up within a company.
The screen actors guild is a flawed analogy because film productions are very time limited operations. This would be like Google creating a new company for every project and picking which workers to “hire” into the new company. This conveniently skirts all of the issues around seniority that unions tend to bring to a company, because people are only involved in productions at whatever level they’ve been hired into. It’s also not as easy to break into the SAG as you might think. Ask young actors about the hoops they have to jump through and fees they have to pay to get into the SAG at the beginning of their careers.
For examples of how unions don’t always benefit employees, especially younger employees, listen to This American Life’s podcast about how bad teachers can’t be fired due to union rules in some districts, so they’re kept on the payroll and placed into an empty room to avoid running afoul of the union. Now imagine how much better off we’d all be (kids, aspiring teachers who could take those jobs, taxpayers) if the unions allowed the school district to simply fire the bad teachers and hire good teachers without fighting the union.
Unions don’t protect the general public against a company. They protect the ranking members of a company.
That means the union also protects members of the company from the general public who might be looking to take their job by offering to work harder or better or cheaper.
If you’re a young person getting started in this industry it might be fun to imagine working in a unionized environment, but remember that the union would be working to protect its members from you breaking into the company and entering the senior ranks.
First: it's really hard to get fired in germany, almost impossible.
Second: they help formulate who gets laid off when, when there are layoffs, and prioritise people who can and will find a job more easily. So young people and people without families. This is because older people are more vulnerable to discrimination.
This is what a society does to protect each other and to use power against a company because the employer-employee relationship is adversarial. Unions don't exist to protect the brass, i don't even know what you're on about
Second: this is the worst. Instead of shedding the dead weight it insists on protecting the people who've been paying dues the longest, at the expense of young people.
No this is not what I call a just society.
A just society is one where people doing more work get more pay. This exists fine right now. Workers have tons of companies to choose from. Companies have lots of workers to choose from. There's a vibrant market and most people end up getting paid what they're worth.
There are reasons why an employer may fire a worker. "Refuses to work" is one.
> Second: this is the worst. Instead of shedding the dead weight it insists on protecting the people who've been paying dues the longest, at the expense of young people.
Maybe if people did not understand "dead weight" when they read "older people" employers could be trusted to decide who to keep and who to fire.
> A just society is one where people doing more work get more pay.
That cannot be the only or even the main criterion else people who can't work starve.
"They" help formulate - I don't think the young people who get fired belong to the "they" very much. Otherwise, again, there would be no need for unions. The young people would just volunteer to quit for the sake of the old people.
It is also not a given that young people will have it easier to find a new job. Youth unemployment is at staggering heights in many countries.
And by your logic, there still is no incentive for young people to support the unions. They could just give up their jobs voluntarily, if they are so convinced that it is the right thing to do.
That would seem to be entirely contrary to the idea that union's goal is to make it harder for people to join these companies.
Since unionization is essentially a fight for power with management and fights are, well, confrontational, its kind of a given that there will be casualties and fallout.
Whether that's worse than yielding all collective power to management depends on many variables, including how confrontational and revenge oriented management tends to be.
As such, it's still in your own interest to join a union and be represented. And, with Boomers retiring, this power imbalance in unions can be lessened or reversed.
It’s definitely not the case that there are more “boomer” software engineers than younger engineers. One look at charts of CS degrees issued by year will clearly show why.
That's the law actually, IIRC. It also protects people with children.
Agree, things that a union can address:
- Pay transparency, Have detailed info about pay bands, and ensure some new hire from a hot company doing the same job as you is not making 2-3x your salary.
- Broken promotion process, at my company promotion is completely broken with really talented engineers leaving all the time as they are not getting promoted(alot of politics at play etc), a union can ensure promotions are granted in an even process.
- Age discrimination, This one will affect everyone as we all will get older. Alot of companies abuse this one under the guise of "culture fit". A union will ensure that talented older engineers are not discriminated against either while working and being fired for being too old or at the interview process under culture fit nonsense.
- Interviews, I think most people can agree that tech interviews are pretty broken. They are designed to be extremely hard to encourage people to stay in their position and it usually takes months of practice to be able to pass one. Unions could fix this broken process.
- Working with bad actors, When google started work on a secret search engine with the chinese govt. googlers were outraged, a union could ensure its members do not work in any way with a govt that does not support common human rights.
Pay transparency: union mandated pay band helps - no 2x/3x pay for the same position that's for sure. Though I do think this problem could be solved without a union. It's really about opening up compensation information.
Broken promotion process/age discrimination/interviews:
First of all, broken processes are not going to get better with a union. They will still be broken, just in different ways.
Union favors/protects seniority therefore the promotion process will still push out high performing employees because they need to "wait for their turn". In fact the running joke we had about promotion was that you could only get promoted if someone:
Age discrimination happens less than in SV tech companies but not by design. In general the workforce in a union shop is older but you also have a lot of low performing lifers counting their days to retirement. On the other hand, interview is far less rigorous since the key factor is "likability" (aka culture fit). Many interviews took place just to satisfy a policy when a pre-determined candidate was already chosen.
Will I ever work for a unionized IT shop again? Not a chance.
> but you also have a lot of low performing lifers counting their days to retirement
I see this as a huge issue with unions. But I feel you have the same folks in large tech companies, they fall into a large team, the company is profitable so its not looking for layoffs, the person/s fall under the radar and they contribute as little as possible.
Is the problem really “we know how to fix tech interviews, but the upper management don’t like it”?
Going by HN discussion I thought that the problem was “There are tens of totally different interview methods, everybody thinks one method is obviously the best and all the others suck, but nobody can agree on which one method that is”, and I’m not sure how a union would fix that :P
Go through the Leetcode gauntlet once and get credentialed then, instead of every single time you want to change a job, with multiple prospective employers.
The issue here is thinking that the Leetcode gauntlet matters at all in most jobs. A certification for Leetcode shouldn't matter when all I do is HTML, CSS, and JS to call various APIs.
I do agree with the general idea that some certification could prove some base level knowledge, where furthur testing beyond that could take place. The issue lies in deciding what is "base level knowledge".
Given the number of young people in software and entering software, seniority based pay and losing the ability to job hop for increased salary is pretty much the last thing on earth they would want. It would also kill the company's ability to hire top talent by being able to offer more money.
The SAG isn't a typical union. The SAG constitution  contains a special provision requiring a supermajority to ask for a pay cap or to call a strike. Acting, like tech, is largely meritocratic with a huge talent dispersion. A prohibition on pay caps is necessary.
I somehow doubt the Google tech activists will be copying the SAG's meritocratic philosophy. Every single thing I've seen from Google activists and their ilk is about prioritizing technical excellence way behind having the correct ideology. The people behind the Google unionization effort are not genuinely concerned about working conditions. They really want two things:
- to be gatekeepers that keep their ideological opponents out of big tech companies (even moreso than now), and
- to gain power to pressure big tech companies into punishing their ideological opponents (for example, banning advertising from certain websites, refusing cloud services to oil and gas industries, censorship intensification, and large donations to their favored organizations).
If you'd been at Google and watched all this unfold over the past few years, it'd be obvious to you what these people are really about.
Because the median annual wage for SAG-AFTRA members is about $7500 . And that doesn't even include members who failed to find any work during the year. 85% of members don't make enough to get health benefits through the union, which kick in if you make over $18K/year . These are poverty-level wages.
The only actor I personally know just does it on the side for some extra cash rather than it being her day job.
And they absolutely do limit the work that union members are carrying out. To name a fairly recent example, that's how Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog came into existence, making it a web series allowed Joss Whedon to still make something without running afoul of the Writer's Guild strike rules.
I don't believe that this is a truthful statement. Does Global Rule One in the SAG not limit the work that members can carry out? If they union doesn't want you to work on a production then you are not allowed to work on that production.
It’s not about whether the union likes you or thinks you deserve to work. It’s about whether the production is willing to play by union rules.
If you're a member of the union, you can't work on productions without certain agreements, yes? Your ability to work on productions you want to work on is... limited... isn't it?
This is something that has always amazed me.
Your typical tech worker does a lot of unpaid overtime under the guidance of a manager whose only merit to management is being friends with someone. It also has to retrain him/herself for free on it´s own spare time and by the time it reaches 35/40 it tends to be let go by not raising his/her salary anymore or by putting him/her in lower status position. (Not to mention working as a contractor for years, etc.). These are the kind of problems unions are expected to fight for.
But every time someone mentions unions they go after the salary cap, time of service, etc, discourses.
The screen actors guild and all the movie-related guilds seem interesting, but aren't those kind of like freelancers more than closer to fully employed people? I guess it would be beneficial for salary negotiation for non-software engineers and maybe contractos, but I don't really see the incentive to join one as a fulltime software engineer.
Maybe I have a bad opinion on unions due to how they operated in my country that's not US :D.
I've personally seen people put through the wringer by HR teams, and even when the HR team acknowledges they've fucked up, there's no apologies or an attempt to make things right. Unions can provide protection in these case, whether that's access to legal help, or just having a 3rd party on your side sitting in on employee dispute meetings.
I think a lot of people don't appreciate how badly they can be screwed over by a HR team, accidentally or maliciously, until they find themselves in a meeting with three members of the HR team, with no one telling them what's going on. At which point, it's already too late to save yourself. A union gives you recourse and support, something invaluable when it you're up against the entire HR team.
There are organizations that provide legal services to labour which do not require one to be a member of a union. It might be better for all if the money spent on dues was instead contributed to an organization that doesn't discriminate.
Not every union strangles their company like automotive unions. Though those unions start to look better looking at nonunion companies like Tesla which somehow manages to pay their workers less, in one of the most expensive areas in the world, and maintaining an accident rate that would shut a union shop down.
Also it makes sense that Google would fight unions. Since the current implementation of unions for SV companies has been Kickstarter. And that union mostly exists to drive profit to their competitors by choosing what is allowed on Kickstarter. Something like that for Google would just end up making an easy paper trail for a prosecutor to follow for SV platform bias.
But setting up or carrying things things during the day had to use union people.
Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe the union electrician is there because once upon a time someone setting up a booth daisy chained a bunch of extension cords of small gauge to run lights and demos and started an electrical fire in a crowded convention hall.
This doesn't sound like an advantage for software engineers. Surely unions can't decide on someone's competency. It kind of raises a red flag about potential gatekeeping methods (e.g. the tax status where you have to join or else).
Also disallows noncompete clauses. So if your current employer says no, you can go to another. Which is how I've seen quite a few promotions. The latter of switching employers is far easier, since life changing benefits (medical/retirement) aren't tied to employers. (Considering SV workers get their "share" by switching employers every few years, that would be a nightmare scenario for big tech as well. Since it further reduces employee stickiness, if SV unions decided to offer benefits).
But yes, there are gatekeeping effects, as the union is incentivized to prevent increases in membership or decrease in collective skill. It typically works out great for those in the union (and things like the Bar or Medical Association), not so great for those kept out.
I'd much rather have 8 companies with bad interviewers and 2 with good interviewers than 10 companies with the union who block me because I made one of their evaluators personally mad at me.
This just sounds like it is ripe for corruption and nepotism.
They have that ability already without unions - much more easily because they can reduce staffing without the entire company falling over due to strikes.
and know workers have a minimum level of training
They have that ability already without unions.
Not every union strangles their company like automotive unions
By and large the only unions that remain large and powerful in the west are those organising government employees, where strangling the host is impossible because tax revenues mean it cannot die. In most other industries they did indeed strangle their host industries until they declined.
Look at this thread. People keep talking about Hollywood as an example, apparently unaware of just how much business foreign film studios have taken from it, particularly the UK, due primarily to a much less aggressively unionised workforce.
Just because the union made them do it, doesn’t mean it was a bluff or the right decision. And if those investments pan out, the stock gains are often worth substantially more to the employee than the token merit increase.
Sure, management have to turn realise they can no longer dictate what is solely in their interests, but in most companies they're probably up to the task.
Plenty of workers have forgone monies owed in order to keep their employees companies afloat. If both parties respect one another a lot can be achieved.
It's not like it's in the best interest of the workers to see the company go belly up. Or be less competitive. If the company can show that this is why they're defering merit pay there's no reason to believe that unions won't accept it and agree with them.
It gives employees leverage, and healthy competition in all aspects should just strengthen the company.
There's a real consideration of whether X% of employee compensation over N years is better than the same over M years.
So they kicked the can down the road and chose 1 until they just went bankrupt and the courts allowed contracts to be renegotiated and high cost union employees to be replaced with younger employees at a far lower compensation package.
Way easier to just have standardized union contracts, pay rates, and expectations for everyone involved and have the union provide benefits.
I remember when working in games you couldn't even write blogposts about any type of unrelated to programming thing (e.g. not even about playing guitar) and that was super frustrating. Likely those clauses weren't enforceble but still anoying.
Second, they negotiate for higher wages and benefits. Given that tech is churning out billionaire ceos, we certainly could be paid more. I have never met a dev who said "I don't want to be paid more". Yes, we make decent wages, but we still produce far more value than what we're paid for.
Thirdly, they negotiate for better working conditions. Examples from the past were things like the 8 hour workday, safety measures, etc. I suspect there's a lot of opportunity for growth here in the tech industry, through I haven't had enough coffee to come up with a list. The 8 hour workday is certainly one of them, as I've heard endless nightmares of people being forced to working extremely long hours. The lack of overtime in our industry is a big deal, and "get a new job" is a crappy answer and hard to do in practice, especially if you're being worked to death.
From what I understand, even middle-managers are usually not allowed to unionize or allowed to talk to other employees about unions. Where would the line be in tech? If you decide to switch from the IC to manager track, do you have to leave the union?
Just the mere fact that this seems like such an odd distinction, because IC software engineers are generally treated just as well as if not better than managers, makes me step back and wonder what problem we would actually be trying to solve by unionizing within the engineering track. What would the tangible benefits be?
On the other hand I'm already imagining of all sorts of potential downsides. A lot of tech companies tend to be very open about company details with employees. In my experience, most managers tend to work very collaboratively with their employees in terms of helping them set goals and figure out a path to getting a promotion. There often feels like there genuinely is alignment between the company and employees - if the company does well, employees tend to do well. Not just because they already own stock in the company, but also because companies tend to expand when they're doing well and this opens up opportunities to promote from within. I imagine all of these dynamics would completely change in a world with tech unions, where the employees and the company would be pitted against each other.
With a more centralized organization as a check on management decisions, the employer can find out earlier what the employees will tolerate by asking the union representatives (and not have the employees walk out when an unappetizing project is discovered). I expect the AWU would also fight against the reduction in transparency across the company, as that is a common concern among people I know that work there.
1) there is an us vs them mentality. You are in or you are out. If you are out, it’s harder to get in. This also leads to dead weight staying around and people doing the bare minimum. This might be good for those already in the union, but terrible for anyone not.
2) a lot of politics / corruption / nepotism. Hired are made based on relationships, promotions are either tenure based or based on relationships.
Not saying these things don’t happen at non unions places, but from what I’ve seen they happen a lot more at unions. Some times the stereotypes are based in reality.
America made a massive shift from labor-backed economy to service-sector-backed economy, and in doing so, the percentage of workers in unions dropped drastically. Unions aren't for only labor; they're for any situation where there's an asymmetry in negotiating power between the company owners and the employees (which is, basically, every company).
From a person who doesn't work in Google, or Big Tech, or even in SV. This is one of the reasons why these attempts at unionization from Google employees tend to annoy me slightly.
These are the few people in the world that would get hundreds of job offers in seconds. Yet instead of moving out if they don't agree with Google's projects, they would influence the projects and maybe affect the future of the company rather than give up their place for the hundreds like me who would gladly work on any defence-related project.
These are examples of true privilege.
1. > These are the few people in the world that would get hundreds of job offers in seconds.
AWU is wall-to-wall, so not only are the cushy FTEs represented, but also all the less cushy contract workers, part-timers, etc (of which Google employs many!)
2. > Yet instead of moving out if they don't agree with Google's projects, they would influence the projects and maybe affect the future of the company
Isn't that their right? Shouldn't the people doing the work of the company get a say in that company's future? The "if you don't like it leave" attitude is so strange to me. What if they like their co-workers and parts of Google, and want to use their (supposedly) meritocratically-won power to exercise control over the things that are close to them? That hardly seems like privilege to me.
That's a great question. I don't know if it is. Unless they are shareholders of the company (granted, many FTEs are shareholders), what is it that gives them the right to influence a company based on their own personal values?
> Shouldn't the people doing the work of the company get a say in that company's future?
I mean if the outlook is for the company to continue to make profits. Sure. However, here, the profits are trumped by politics, and personal values. Why do the personal values of some employees get to decide/influence the future of a company?
> What if they like their co-workers and parts of Google, and want to use their (supposedly) meritocratically-won power to exercise control over the things that are close to them? That hardly seems like privilege to me.
It's called compromise. I have stayed in jobs where I wasn't paid enough but my manager was pretty awesome. I compromised.
Same for these employees. The "take-it-or-leave-it" attitude stems from the fact that the "contract" implies a give and take relationship. The power granted to the employee is only if that employee continues to provide value. If they stop providing that value i.e. provide their skills and knowledge to work on projects that benefit the revenue of the company, then that power is gone.
It seems to me that the personal values at play here are redefining what people seem to think of this. Let's pretend that the personal values were something else. Let's say that I, an employee of Acme Company, refuse to work on any work that is not FOSS yet also want to continue to be paid by the company. That sort of thing would usually not be defensible. I believe that most people would side towards the employer in that scenario.
Why is that essentially the same situation i.e. Employee refuses to work on projects based on "personal values" is somehow acceptable?
Nice job, Itd be a shame if anything happened to it.
More seriously I just mean that having a good manager or boss can change on a dime, past performance no indication of future success and all that
The first thing is strictly true. Every union takes dues. It is not strictly true that pay/compensation will increase in all cases.
The second thing is true a lot of the time. Unions tend to wind up using seniority as the primary metric for positions and compensations.
Why ignore those things?
They are outnumbers ~2:1 by the blue collar workers I know who make that kind of money by working for themselves or by making themselves so indispensable to some employer that the employer pays them well above market to retain their experience in a non-union environment (e.g. the maintenance guy at a factory who's been there forever and a half and knows exactly why everything is the way it is, this maps pretty well to a lot of the highly paid "architect" positions that a lot of tech BigCos have).
I'm not sure how these situations map to a salaried workplace.
Yes I know this is just an anecdote.
>"Editors must demonstrate 175 days of non-union work experience within the last three years, prior to the date of application."
">Colorists must demonstrate 100 days of non-union work experience within the last two years, prior to the date of application."
Each of those is less than 3 months a year. I have many friends in that Union as well as SAG that have other pursuits but always make sure to do the minimum number of hours in order to maintain Union status in order to maintain the benefits. The only guarantee you have is that a union candidate has more hours that a non-union candidate working on union movie productions.
>"... as an employee I know a movie using non union labor is not going to run as smoothly."
Do you have any evidence that movie production in countries without unions runs less smoothly? For instance New Zealand’s uniquely non-unionized film industry has produced many blockbusters - the "Lord of the Rings Trilogy" and "The Hobbit Trilogy" being good examples. Is there any evidence that actual "boots on the ground" movie production ran any less smoothly? Would the latter trilogy have even been attempted had the former trilogy been so problematic as a result of it being non-union labor?
Because everyone prefers union workers, it creates a situation where the non-union worker has to get noticed somehow (nepotism or exceptional work) to convince someone to take a risk and hire them to earn enough work to gain union membership.
To users who are following along who aren't familiar, this is not how all unions works. Presumably the commenter is talking about "trade unions" which is one of many types of unions.
Everyone? What union are you talking about?
There's way more union members than there is work. So if the pay's the same for union or non-union (not much either way), why wouldn't you go with union labor?
When hiring union members, there's more paperwork to fill out and regulations that the production will have. For example, union members must be paid within a certain timeframe or else there will be late fees the production will need to pay. This is not the case with non-union members. Generally, it is a lot easier and less expensive to hire non-union workers if you can get away with it.
The downside of unions is that they’re functionally a protection racket.
Getting into the union isn’t easy because union members don’t want to dilute their clout.
Being outside of the union makes it harder to get good work because the union will literally invest effort in shaming companies that hire you.
It’s fun to imagine the benefits of being inside a union, but we need to remember that creating the union will make life worse for those outside of it (young people, workers new to the industry).
I'm not sure all teachers like the fact that seniority is king, and I'm also not sure that it is in fact a Net Benefit to teachers as a whole.
This doesn't make unions not worth pursuing; it just means that we should be appropriately skeptical and not make blanket statements about how they surely operate.
Unions don't require unanimity.
> not make blanket statements
Do I really need to add modifiers to everything I say to indicate that I'm not speaking in absolutes?
Fair and I do try not to do this wantonly. Here I feel that your gp argument breaks down in the absence of such an absolute. If indeed, we cannot prima facie trust that unions work in their members ( and their students') best interest; why shouldn't we use the troubles of unionized education ( or unionized policing...) as a caution against a possible bad outcome?
Perhaps I misunderstood; and this has just been another internet argument for the wind .
When unions function as an exclusionary fraternity, they are actually pretty horrible. A good indicator of a well-functioning union is: the union doesn’t have negative effects on people who don’t join, and they are free to do their jobs side by side with union members and nobody cares, nobody judges anyone for their personal choice, no one discriminates on pay or opportunities.
Have you ever worked on a film set? Want to drive film to the airport? Can’t get paid to do it unless you are in the teamsters. Want to sweep a floor? That’s the janitor Union. “Hey light guy, could you bring me that empty film canister?” Nope. The light guy isn’t in the camera Union. Hey camera guys, can you tape down that cord you keep tripping over? Nope. That’s the gaffer’s job. Are you a brand new sound recordist and want to worn on a Union production? Cant do it unless you join the union first. Need one guy to do a job? If the Union requires three, you end up paying three people to do the job of one.
Hollywood unions are better than the auto workers or teacher unions, but it’s far from “good.”
The film industry has way more talent supply than the employment demands, which naturally suppresses pay. The guilds/unions are a way to increase scarcity to maintain pay and ease hiring.
The tech industry has much less talent supply and much much much more employment demand. Tech might be better modeled after high skilled trade unions (which have a labor shortage) than the comparatively lower skilled film/auto/factory unions (which have a labor surplus).
Yes, the idea for health benefits was great. But now we see that the SAG is just like corporation - cutting benefits because the highly paid big wigs don't want to pay for them.
I agree they've done a good job at curbing abuses, and again, I'm pro-union overall, but the film/tv/theater unions definitely force some tough decisions for the lower end of the worker spectrum
This is an important point, and one I haven't thought of before - I think Americans often think of Unions as organizations that prevent layoffs and gain ever higher benefits, to the detriment of the company. Indeed, this announcement confirms their goals are slightly different from a typical union's goals:
> Its goal will be to tackle ongoing issues like pay disparity, retaliation, and controversial government contracts.
So basically this is a political union forcing the company to adopt certain political stances (i.e. to force the company to refuse DoD or ICE contracts)
I have nothing but respect for the many workers who have to unionize, because they won't receive acceptable pay and working conditions unless they do. If the WGA feels that writers are in that position, I'm not going to tell them they're wrong. But I don't think software engineers are, and I have no interest in working in an environment where my coworkers might disappear for four months and demand nobody else step in to do their jobs.
I've certainly been taken for a ride before, with one Series C+ company's board delaying all equity grants for a year because they didn't want to pay for 409A valuation until they raised more money ( they never raised more money, everyone got screwed).
a) put democratic process
b) buy majority of the leader or minority is veto is available to influence a particular decision.
A large fraction of a group can easily be bought by direct or indirect transfer of common human motivation like wealth, power, social validation, sex (maybe given them access to your currated harem), maybe promise them after retirement job or give referral to one of his kids or pay for his education abroad.
The transfer doesn't need to be direct so many times it's hard to trace what got what and why they influenced a particular decision.
This is why such organizations where you elect leaders will never give you those who want to do good for the society at large.
The funny thing about unions is that the HN community believes that every other organization and industry can be disrupted...EXCEPT unions.
It’s hilarious. The comments are usually all anecdotal with some story about an uncle or father who was “screwed over” by his union back in the 80s or 90s.
We are capable of creating a new type of union and making collective bargaining better than what previous generations had in this current era of the greatest wealth inequality since Rockefeller and Carnegie.
What do the tech elite and robber barons have in common?
- They are all anti-union and collective bargaining.
Would you please review the site guidelines ? They include this: "Please don't sneer, including at the rest of the community." One common kind of sneering is this sort of supercilious dismissal of everybody-else-in-the-community and their dumbass "hilarious" opinion—this is an internet genre we need to avoid in order to have real conversation.
If you're posting here, you're as much the community as anyone else is.
I understand what it's like to feel surrounded by enemies/jerks/assholes when you constantly run into comments saying things you strongly disagree with. But it's important to understand that this effect is largely a consequence of the fact that everyone is crammed into one big room here—there's no self-selecting into silos the way other sites do it (follow lists, subscriptions, social graphs, and so on). If you don't understand that, this place will feel much more fractious than it actually is , and the consequences of that are pretty stark: one ends up feeling surrounded by demons , and tends to retreat to things like defensive sarcasm, putdowns of others, etc.
If we’ve reached the point where the strongest arguments for unionizing is that maybe this time it will somehow be different than other unions, that’s not encouraging.
One thing that every disliked union seems to have is the goal of permanence for the union itself. Maybe instead of having elected or long-term leaders in a permanent union, some should try a sortition process in a conference-like structure that reconvenes when enough employees vote to convene, then disbands until called upon again.
I think the strongest argument for unionizing is that we know that this time is different from other times - wealth inequality is staggeringly high.
Seems like a leopards ate my face moment.
Similarly in tech, unions can be a way of gaining greater profit sharing for the high-skilled workers necessary for the business to function. Where tech workers lie in income percentile is irrelevant and distracting to this question.
From a societal standpoint, it doesn't particularly aid widespread inequality if a small number of tech workers receive a bump in income; the union may cause the situation to worsen, as the union has an incentive to keep the supply of employees restricted in order to maximize their compensation. The unionized employees would be protected from public competition.
Having pro-sports players in a union hasn't exactly improved widespread inequality.
Moreover, much wealth (especially at the top) is held in equities, often that aren't sold before being passed on to inheritance. That means:
a. that this wealth isn't counted as income
b. that decreases in equity prices due to unionization (and corresponding decreased expected returns to owners/shareholders) will burden the non-working rich disproportionately.
Sure, it won't solve wealth inequality - but where there is a zero-sum tradeoff, that tradeoff will mostly be from rich tech owners + management to affluent tech workers, not from the rest of society to the tech workers.
Zuckerberg making $80 billion instead of $1 billion has literally no impact on the homeless in the bay. He only buys one or two houses at most. If the Facebook employees made even more money, that would only exacerbate the housing crisis because they could bid prices much higher (thousands of Facebook employees vs 1 Zuck).
The thing about this is, when other organizations and industry are "disrupted", according to the usual west-coast definition of "disrupt" this typically means exploiting a market to the benefit of shareholders by eroding labor standards. What does one erode while disrupting a union, when those same standards are that org's goal?
The only thing I can think of that the modern form of "disruption" would do to unions is to allow them to "screw over" their members more efficiently.
- The market is labor
- The shareholders are the union members
- The labor standards are the current status quo, which made Apple, Google, Intel, and Adobe owners and managers believe this (https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2015/01/16/37...) was acceptable until the government forced their hand on it. "Erosion," here, would be a disruption that makes the status quo worse for company owners... Makes that kind of one-sided back-room dealing no longer safe for the companies that engage in it, since they no longer fear merely government intervention, but their own employees banding together to say "Knock it off."
Did Google workers have other options here?
The advantage of affiliating with a larger organization is their weight becomes a part of your collective bargaining strength. That is, if Google does something the union doesn't like then the entire CWA might get mad at them. I don't know that there are any clear disadvantages from a union's perspective, which is why basically all organizing efforts do it.
From a bird's eye perspective, the disadvantage is that there's no meaningful competition or innovation, because all new unions see themselves as part of the traditional union movement where solidarity is prized. If someone else formed a competing union with a clever new idea for how to organize Google workers, the CWA-backed union would denounce it and demand that Google refuse to talk to the second union.
1) a substantial part of your dues are passed on to support the larger organization
2) some member services are delegated to the larger union, and some larger unions are better at member services than others
3) some larger unions spend a lot of money on political activism instead of member services
4) less independence of action, as larger unions might have different priorities than what ground level members want (e.g. wanting to get a contract settled instead of fighting for more; external organizing over internal organizing)
Can you give examples of such new types of unions that have been established the last 1-2 decades, and how they differ from the "legacy" versions?
This is a great article about them. Maybe paywalled, sorry!
If you Google "IWGB deliveroo" or "UVW St. Marys" you will find interesting case studies where each have represented delivery riders and nurses and won concessions where a bigger union wouldn't have bothered cos of the risk involved. Echoing the comment a few levels up, this can definitely be seen as a "disruption" of what a union is or is expected to do.
I heard Hitler liked dogs, so if you like dogs you're obviously anti-Semitic.
EDIT: The point of this was to show how absurd adjunct comparisons like this are.
Taking the same salary to live near Seattle (Everett, I suppose, but the point stands) is a substantial pay cut.
I now work at a different defense contractor, across the street from said Boeing plant and came in with ~3y experience for ~$110k. Certainly much lower than a true "tech company", but it was tens of thousands of dollars higher than where I'd fall on the Boeing pay scales.
At the same time the Hollywood unions obviously were not there with all these scandals of the last years. Essentially it was both traditional and social media that helped with that.
This doesn't matter too much for Hollywood because plenty of people are willing to write/act for peanuts, but I don't want to see these in-group/out-group in tech.
If you need an example to back this up, the million-dollar television news anchors in the United States are all union.
I thought this is why we have laws. What aspect of the industry is abusive that you are referring to?
Great examples of the success of unionization?
Engineers at Google are very well paid and have very nice perks (at least that the general perception), so I think what many people might wonder is what better deal do they feel they need strongly enough to unite in order to get it?
Also hope to gosh that there is a membership rate cap.
1% of every Google engineer's salary every year is an absurd amount of money. I don't understand why Sally Joe making $200k needs to pay more for her protection than Billy Bob making $150k.
"Arranged as a members-only union, the new organization won’t seek collective bargaining rights to negotiate a new contract with the company"
It's not really a union. It's a political faction that calls itself a union to benefit from laws protecting union members from being fired for "organising". The assumption was that unions would "organise" to benefit their workers via better pay or conditions, but that isn't the case here.
I'm not familiar with that industry (nor the US) but those sound more like professional bodies than unions? I am a Member of the IET; I wouldn't join a union.
Tech companies behaved in a way that they deserve uncompromising worker representation. But I believe it will currently end in a group of sociopathic individuals that will put a strain on tech. I don't mind to be proved otherwise, but I don't see the wrong people getting elected to represent workers.
I think that attitude rules the day because tech related industries are in an extended growth period, and the more “legacy” aspects of the industry use offshoring and guest workers to maintain total control. (The armies of programmers churning out Java at banks, etc.)
While rockstar engineers exist, and everyone on the internet is a genius, the reality is that almost nobody has meaningful negotiation power over a big tech company. I’ve seen more than my share of top talent at big tech companies get dumped in hardship roles or be mistreated because their big boss/sponsor retired or moved on, and they were held hostage by vesting periods, etc.
Growing up, I had family who were steamfitters, firemen and operating engineers. All of them were treated better as skilled labor or with clear work rules than the bullshit that I’ve been forced to deal with in my career. Not complaining -- I've lived a charmed work life in many ways!
This is even more strange when you find out about police unions - that are widespread -, and what their power is. From my point of view actions of police union are usually borderline "mob-like" (as in, I mostly hear about them when they save the necks of abusing and / or corrupted officers). It's like people think unions are generally bad, but then they have police unions everywhere and nobody bats an eye... even when their actions are on the shadowy side of things.
I didn't know about the film industry, thought (Even thought I remember about the writer's guild strike of a few years back).
Just like democracy, unions might be the worst solution, except for all the others.
It's in part because the US has a storied history of corrupt unions and their affiliation with the mafia and organized crime.
There's a related facet in that, to an outside observer, the UAW chased American automakers out of the country through unsustainable demands for wages and benefits.
Another part comes from the direct experience of many Americans as members of unions and some portion (we can argue percentages) of those people arrive at the conclusion that the union at best isn't worth the dues and at worse is pathological, in some cases by protecting underperformers and in others by lacking a spine when it is needed. This is where my personal experience the Teamsters and vicarious experience via my wife's membership in the NEA landed me.
It's also in part because many Americans have direct experience working alongside unions and some (again we can argue percentages) become frustrated with the rules and the pace. I've had some experience with this in the HVAC industry and in home building. I was already tainted a bit by my experience as a member above so I'm sure there was some confirmation bias here.
Lastly America has a pretty strong ethos, or myth if you prefer, of individualism and some unions and union members lay on a very thick collectivist twang in their communication that can be off-putting.
I'm not ideologically opposed to unions in any way, I just haven't seen one do a great job in the US. I hope Kickstarter is able to pull off a good example and am all for workers shooting their shot if they feel it is a good idea. I'm just not particularly optimistic.
The joke is, that isn't even history. Mafia families do still exist in NY and everyone knows they own both the unions and the companies.
I'm from the 'birthplace' of US Auto unions. This part of your reply is actually a good place to start the explanation, because that's actually the perception of some other unions, and at times there is historical context to that.
> From my point of view actions of police union are usually borderline "mob-like" (as in, I mostly hear about them when they save the necks of abusing and / or corrupted officers).
- The UAW and Teamsters in particular had ties to actual mob organizations in the past. "Jimmy Hoffa" is a name to look up if you'd like an example of what some people think of when they think of unions.
- The examples you give of corruption/status quo in police unions are present in the Auto shops as well; whenever I heard a story from an auto worker about why 'they' did not like the unions, it was usually a story like what you said; a worker getting 'protected' by the union when their actions were unsafe. IOW even some of the people -in- the union see it as a broken institution.
The UAW and related issues absolutely killing the domestic US auto industry is late 1970s, early 1980s. It wasn't just unions there, but that was a major contributing factor.
Police unions create issues today.
Taft-Hartley barely even registers.
We should definitely abolish police unions, though.
I got a lot of good other comments, but the reason I'm replying to you is this: You miss understood what I said. (My bad?)
I was not saying that unions are good, or that unions are bad.
I was just stating how contradictory the opinion on unions is on the US. A large % of people think that unions are bad, but they accept as a matter of fact that police unions exists.
The fact that _they_ exists, means - IMO - that their associates get benefits from that, more often than not, considering how widespread police unions are.
I don't think that unions are inherently bad or good; I think that depends on the culture of the country.
In my country, almost everybody is in a union, and they do a general good job of fighting for salary increases on a yearly basis.
The downside of unions here, is that the truck drivers unions have lobbied extensively over the years against new rail roads, and that goes against the well being of the general population.
I follow a "UK Legal Advice" subreddit  (I don't live in the UK, but I work for a company there" and more often than not the advice given there is "Adhere to a union". Basically, unions good / bad depends on the country.
I'm no expert on unions nor am I an expert on labor economics or game theory, however, I had a few thoughts that I would love references to explore.
1. the union is for employees in Canada and the US. Google employs economists. Is there some game theory solution that would show google should end up transitioning all labor overseas over time? With remote work caused by the pandemic is there really a barrier to eliminating US and Canadian jobs?
2. what's the distribution of google's labor force? As best as I can tell, google has 223,000 total workers. About 45% (102k/223k) are full-time, the rest are temps and contractors. Where are these jobs? What percent are in the US?
3. I have seen employers in the US close up entire businesses and relocate to Canada when the US business unionized. I've seen Canadian businesses close up and move to new provinces when the employees unionized. When the profit loss caused by unions exceeds the transition costs, transitions happen.
4. how many employees are truly irreplaceable? I know a lot of people like to think they can never be replaced, but companies move on. is it like for like? not always.
5. how much of this extra profit employees think they deserve is enabled by google and google scale? i.e., if you're saving google 1 million per year and you think you deserve a large chunk of that, what happens when you try to go to a company that has 1/1000th the scale of google? Note: these union doesn't seem to be aimed at capturing value for them (full-time), but instead seems to seek to distribute the full-time benefits to the part-timers and temps. That's commendable.
6. I'm sure there are more unions than the oversimplification that follows. The google union doesn't seem to be a collective bargaining agreement type union for salaries. Salaries are still up to individuals.
Let's roughly define CBA (collective bargaining agreement) unions vs "superstar" unions.
- Hollywood and professional sports have unions where they have minimum salaries and working conditions, but the stars can end up negotiating a huge salary (some sports have salary caps across a team). Will tech workers start taking on agents to negotiate tech contracts on their behalf?
- Sports has drafts and minor leagues, will the hoops to get hired at google become even more outrageous? Look at the meat market that is the NFL combine .
- contractors and temps still exist in these situations. Now full-time jobs are split into permanent part-time (PPT) and full-time (FT). Permanent part-time meaning you can get 40 hours a week, but you have no benefits. This can take years to move from PPT to FT.
- Teaching and nursing unions enforce a minimum level of credentials. Trade unions do too, in the form of apprenticeships, which still require formal education.
- in the negative extreme, the Vancouver longshoreman union jobs are nearly impossible to get. you need to have a family member (yes, these are passed from grandpa to father to son) endorse you to join the union. union call for new members happen every 1-3 or more years. if you're endorsed, you end up in a raffle. if you're lucky enough to be drawn, you still have to wait your turn before you can work and then become full-time. it's a many year long process. or, supposedly, you can buy endorsements for tens of thousands of dollars.
- jobs get opened up internally before being opened up to external candidates
- companies have to provide training to get internal employees who are more or less qualified up to a level suitable to accept the next jobs.
7. There has been mention of other fields such as accounting, law, and medicine. I don't think these are the same types of unions. In Canada anyway, you have to go through certain education, professional exams, and professional development in engineering and accounting. At a first level, you need to get professional licensing. That doesn't seem to be the same type of union presented here. If anything, moving tech towards accounting, engineering, law, medicine, etc. will add more gate keeping, and I've seen lots of arguments against gate keeping on HN.
8. Canadian engineering has three levels. Technician (1-2 years of post-secondary education), technologist (2-3 years of post-secondary education), and engineer (4+ years of post-secondary education). Typically these roles are not interchangeable. It's very difficult to transition from one to the other without going back to school. The education (there may be exceptions) levels are not stepping stones. Technician can ladder into technologist, but technologist to engineer often means 4 more years of school. Maybe this will start to break the different SWE roles up.
9. Anyway, this is probably all for the betterment of employees working in tech, so it's commendable that some in such an envious position are leading the charge. If this is the start of "professionalizing" tech, then it'll be interesting to see how this impacts innovation (no more move fast and break things) and educational / meritocratic diversity in the long-run (professionals require licensing and other credentials). Maybe that would be the big kicker to make an impact in the outrageous costs of US higher education.
10. I hope I'm wrong, but this could be the start of tech salaries in SV (a couple of other American cities and some Canadian cities) regressing to the mean of professional engineers. They are still good salaries, but it's not like you can decide to move to a city and 2-10x your salary / TC like you can with tech and SV. Tech seems to be a good way to have social mobility, but if the salaries regress to the mean, there will be even more inequality and less mobility in America.
"As of March, Google worked with roughly 121,000 temps and contractors around the world, compared with 102,000 full-time employees, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times."
Pro capitalists view unions with skepticism or hostility because challenges the system, pro socialists view as a way to fight the power structures and injustice.
Other people just don't want to be involved in unions because is a sensitive topic and are afraid to lost their jobs.
We can see what kind of union this is by the fact that:
1. They aren't going to try and bargain collectively
2. Their announcement claims Timnit Gebru was fired and that was terrible, instead of the obvious truth that she said made obnoxious requests and said she'd resign unless she got them, then was told "OK, we accept your resignation". They're a brand new organisation and they're already misrepresenting reality.
In other words it's going to be nothing like the IBEW or whatever. It's yet another left-wing campaigning organisation, pretending to be a union to try and make the members un-fireable no matter how nasty they become.
But the left/right pendulum swings both ways. It would also protect people from the next kerfuffle over Cancel Culture.
People should have the right to not be threatened with the removal of their livelihood for arbitrary reasons. I mean, there's nothing unreasonable in that position, and its merits can be examined outside of the left/right lens.
I am such a person. For most workers, you're right that a union will probably increase wages. But for me, it will do the opposite. In most jobs I have worked, I ended up paid significantly more than counterparts in the same job. I usually was better at my job and put in more hours, so this was warranted. And for promotions, I don't see how this is wrong: most every union of which I'm aware ends using seniority as a factor in promotions, which I generally resent.
I never liked the mandatory nature of unions, either. If they're that good for workers, quit trying to force the whole company to join. I also hate the idea of being forced to strike.
As far as my interests are concerned, a union would end up taking money and promotions from me and giving it to others. So, I will always vote against them. If one shows up at my workplace, I will probably move because someone else offers better terms of employment.
I'm skeptical of unionization in tech, but the one thing I can imagine unions would fix is the constant unpaid overtime that's associate with tech jobs. In a union situation, you'd be paid more if you were working more hours period, rather than hoping somebody would notice and give you a pay raise at some indeterminate time in the future.
1. Tech workers unionize, negotiate with employer that any work > 40 hours / week get paid overtime.
2. The company now has two choices: A) Pay their employees more than their competitors for the same work. Or B) Don't authorize any overtime.
3. In scenario A, they're either running at (much) higher cost than their competitors, and thus a disadvantage. In Scenario B, they're either slower to ship products, or there's a bunch of "off the books" work done by engineers trying to ship things anyways (which is basically the status quo today, except now it would cost you 1% of your salary).
I could see the first scenario potentially attracting better talent for the significantly higher pay in the short term. But it's also a perverse incentive structure where if my 8 hours of work suddenly takes 9 hours, I get paid more, so why would I finish it early? Oh and because I'm in a union, it's now much harder to get rid of me, even if I'm half-assing it.
The only thing a union brings to the table in this situation is now I'm either explicitly forbidden from working more on a project even if I want to, or I have to hide what I'm doing and go all cloak-and-dagger about it, probably breaking some kind of labor laws in the process. All for 1% of my salary. Doesn't seem like a good trade for me?
> I'm either explicitly forbidden from working more on a project even if I want to
This sort of nitpicking is always cited as a reason for why unions are bad but would a union really get up in your case over something like that? And furthermore, would a tech union birthed natively in this industry, created and populated by tech workers who have also worked spent evenings or weekends voluntarily to work on projects they themselves were passionate enough to finish, really penalize its all members for doing the same? Wouldn't they, you know, have an insider's insight of the needs and interests of working in tech?
I think not. The idea is to guard against when management oversteps its boundaries, not to police other workers. And if the union inevitably does fall short and do the latter, then by being part of a union, you would have the power to make changes within it.
But the single most important thing, to me, is that white collar union members report higher life satisfaction than their non-union peers.
> I never liked the mandatory nature of unions, either.
No one is forcing you to work a union job.
> No one is forcing you to work a union job.
They kind of are. While this one is a minority union, those are usually steps towards mandatory ones. I shouldn't be forced to join a union because enough of my coworkers voted on it; they have no say in a private agreement between me and my employer.
To summarize: unions might in general be good or bad, but any talk of tech unions on HN will be controversial because of how massively—and this cannot be overstated—, stupendously better the average HN reader is compared to the average tech worker. Thread over.
I think there's something to be said about quality, but if we look at unionization at just the company level, you are likely to get a much higher average at some companies. Even if the assumption on the average HN reader's ability is true, this doesn't end the conversation: it refocuses it onto other levels than a union over the entire industry.
As far as pay goes, the ubiquity of software engineering roles is already causing a down pressure on salaries. In the next decade it's only going to get worse. We might as well get ahead of the curve and use our current leverage to put us in a better position when it inevitably arrives at our door.
Also unions are democratic, and you only even have to pay agency fees