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Amazon illegally fired activist workers, Labor Board finds (nytimes.com)
713 points by pseudolus 8 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 380 comments

"The agency told Ms. Cunningham and Ms. Costa that it would accuse Amazon of unfair labor practices if the company did not settle the case, according to correspondence that Ms. Cunningham shared with The New York Times."

That's a pretty nice piece of leverage to have in hand while negotiating a settlement.

Edit: They were both UX/Design folks with Amazon, fired on April 10th, 2020. Costa was Amazon's first ever Principal User Experience Designer, and had 15 years with the company. Cunningham was a User Experience Designer and had 6 years in at Amazon. Guessing the settlement will be for a notable amount.

Is settlement actually a bad deal for Amazon or similar companies like Google? Sure they have to spend a bit of money on the settlement but they have still succeeded at their actual objective of getting rid of the activist employees. This cycle (labour organisation attempt -> leaders fired -> settlement for leaders -> leaders go off to some media job/retirement/academia) happens again and again. Presumably the companies think they’re getting a reasonably good deal out of firing the organisers.

It could make it hard to recruit new Sr people and leaders in their fields. I would never consider working at Amazon.

Maybe some will balk, but not all. There is probably enough overlap between "talented devs and designers" and "people who think unions are bad and/or don't care" that it won't affect their hiring pipeline.

That said, I think highly-paid tech contributors do have the most leverage out of any other labor market participant right now. The more of us that don't want to work for anti-union companies, the better.

The two unions I’ve worked for before getting a job in tech were terrible.

At one I was physically threatened with violence for being too productive and the other allocated work times/roles by seniority instead of ability. If you happened to not be friends with the union president, then you better really enjoy cleaning the bathrooms.

You seem to be under the impression that unions are always good and that certainly isn’t the case. I’ve had zero good experiences and I’m not keen to have another bad experience, thanks.

The more leverage you have as an individual, the less relevant a union is for you.

If you do have leverage, and you don't use said leverage to help those that don't; then you are a bastard. And having policies ensures that your company, at high levels is ONLY staffed with bastards because people who are not bastards won't want to work there.

Granted, that might be exactly what Amazon et al are selecting for; but at some point, a company being anti-union will be a signal to prospective high-level employees that many of your potential co-workers will be entirely self-interested assholes and you will have to decide if such a work environment is for you.

Rubbish. Your assumption is that unions are always a benefit to their members.

I have seen enough actions by unions where the outcomes were detrimental to their members for me to believe that some unions are a net negative for their members.

Someone can choose to not belong to a union because they are a good person that just believes that a union is bad for everyone.

Edit: Disclaimer: I am not stating that I think unions are bad. However the few direct experiences I personally have had with unions have not been a clear positive for the members (as an employee or student, never as an employer).

Edit 2: Or you could just believe unions are net neutral, so be against joining. Because who wants to voluntarily submit themselves to an organisation or people they don’t believe in?

Using leverage isn't the same thing as belonging to a corrupt union. If anything, your leverage should be used to improve said union, if you have it. The same energy and fervor that goes into establishing a union presence and and should also be used to maintain it through positions of leadership and involvement within the union.

I agree that not all unions are fantastic, but staying on the sidelines when you could use your position to influence for the betterment of everyone is a very privileged, selfish act.

Much like democratic government, people get the unions they deserve. Empowering your colleagues is an ethical act, and if they use that power to do things that you paternalistically think are against their own interests, then that's proof that the power is genuinely theirs.

I think that is a misunderstanding of where the power of “democracy” comes from.

I think voting mostly works in democracies by being able to vote a party out after the government has abused us against our wishes and their promises.

In a first-past-the-post system, you often get to chose between two evils... Imagine you were forced to pick a partner for 3 years, one which you suspect will rape you and the other you think will beat you, and you must pick one or the other...

And that is ignoring the fact that usually nearly 50% of the people that voted, voted against the party they got. It is ridiculous to think that the ~50% that voted against a party deserve what they get.

That said, I like this version by H.L. Mencken better: "People deserve the government they get, and they deserve to get it good and hard."

I like to keep business and charity separated. Mixing the two, in my opinion, simply adds a layer of indirection for the bastards to hide behind.

Besides, if you’re in a working environment where people throw around terms like “total comp” and have mortgages denominated in millions of dollars, the self-interest ship has kinda sailed.

>I like to keep business and charity separated.

That sounds like a fancy way of saying, "I don't have an ethical responsibility to others."

To be fair, a lot of corporate philanthropy is executives using their shareholders' money to buy themselves social capital.

Unfortunately it's not physically possible to be neutral on this issue.

It's not analogous to never giving people change on the street because you donate to soup kitchens and mutual aid orgs (or whatever). If you don't support unionization, you are effectively undermining it. This isn't meant to be some kind of woke purity test. It's just the facts of how a market operates.

Every individual that is willing to work without supporting a union, is an employee that hurts the power of that union, because that's one less unit of labor that the employer has to rely on the union for.

Absolutely not. Not increasing its power is not undermining it. It's neutrality. Stop changing definitions to suit your political goals.

We have enough "with us or against us" going on driving violence to let more slide.

I was careful to explain my reasoning in my post, but maybe it wasn't stated clearly enough.

Consider a company for which programmers are fungible, and 5 programmers are required to keep the company running at full efficiency. If one programmer quits in protest over union-busting activity, all it takes is one other equivalent programmer on the labor market to agree to take the job. The existence of 1,000 other pro-union programmers in the labor market are completely irrelevant, as long as the company knows they can find one union-neutral programmer. Morever, the union-neutral programmer is equivalent to an anti-union programmer from the perspective of the employer.

It's "with us or against us" because of the nature of the labor market, not because of any desire to be toxic or exclusionary or whatever. This is literally the whole reason that picket lines exist. You're either a scab or you're not; that's definitional, not rhetorical.

> You're either a scab or you're not; that's definitional, not rhetorical.

No, I'm an unaffiliated potential worker. Scab is a derogatory term. It's not surprising unions are losing support with that attitude.

You're thinking you have a right to the job and that by not supporting you I'm taking it away. You don't though and from my point of view a union is a threat of violence (try crossing a picket line) and is one tiny step away from domestic terrorism. You're demanding to take a job that could be mine but you're not willing to negotiate to win it. Turning a free-market opportunity for me into a political struggle where I'd need to win my way into the 1000 through your support. No thanks.

Every little thing Unionists do is about punishment and control, you can't even not downvote someone's honest opinion. Imagine if your job was controlled by such politics and you had to kowtow to the right opinions just to keep it.

We don't have to imagine. This very article is about employees who were illegally fired for not kowtowing to the right opinions. These politics do control your job, whether you want them to or not.

No, because I don't lie about peeing in a bottle at my job and make trouble.

But if there was a union there'd be a never ending parade of shit I'd have to watch out for. Like having to pretend that we have to piss in bottles rather than using the washroom or else having my stuff vandalized and maybe being beaten in the parking lot. Unions use lies and violence to get their way, been there, had enough of that.

What was reasonable in the early 1900s against literal Pinkertons with guns, because of acid leaching into the mine in a company town a hundred miles from anywhere, is now ridiculous and you should try turning down work you don't like instead of making up these stories.

Isn't it a bit of a stretch to build the definition of what a union is by using anecdotes as building blocks? One could argue the same for pretty much any other organized group (companies, governments, ...) yet we don't define their function by individual actions.

In summary: People don't usually form unions to beat others in parking lots, you know.

Right, they don't form unions to beat people. But pretty much every union involves implicit threats of being beaten in the parking lot. Certainly having your stuff stolen from your locker and broken or left in the toilet. As long as there are picket lines people will hit those trying to cross them. Talk to a unionist and see, they're very free with these stories.

It's not the goal but when you've convinced yourself you're fighting the good fight I guess you take the gloves off.

For the record, Amazon has admitted the peeing in bottles story was true: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2021/04/amazon-admits-it...

No, and this is more union deception. You're trying to conflate employees doing warehouse work (where they have bathrooms) with contract drivers who choose to pee in bottles. Everyone knows the warehouse pee story is made up or you'd stop grasping at straws.

Why, oh why, must socialists lie?

You just didn't specify warehouse workers. But anyway, there are corroborating accounts of that too: https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/16/17243026/amazon-warehouse...

Warehouse workers are the ones trying to unionize so all stories about drivers are irrelevant. You know this. I shouldn't have to specify.

Re your source, 1) The verge is currently lying about the warehouse/driver distinction so their credibility is very low, 2) the claims were anonymous or second-hand, and 3) they aren't saying there weren't bathrooms - but that people were trying to improve their speed.

Literally nothing that supports the need for a union. Nobody claims to have a medical reason that they needed to use the toilet and having been forbidden, or even had pay docked. That would be illegal under OSHA guidelines and they'd have just reported it as such at the time. Courts are extremely friendly to these suits from workers but apparently they never actually happened.

> “From their point of view, we don’t have the right to be ill,”

Nope. Illegal. If that happened there'd have been a lawsuit.

> “I had a fit at work and was taken to the hospital. The next day, someone rung me and asked why I was not in work. I explained to them, but it was still marked, ‘no call, no show,’”

Um yeah, you didn't call or show. That you (may have) had a valid reason to leave yesterday doesn't translate into not having to let them know if you're coming in today. Not a valid complaint.

> But despite having legally compliant break times, workers noted they had to walk quite a distance from their main work area to the break area, which greatly diminished how much time they had left to rest.

If you're required to take your break in a designated area then the time to travel there is not part of your break. If some manager got this wrong and stuck to it, it's a reason for a complaint and a maybe a lawsuit which the employee would profitably win. Maybe this happened, but all companies can make mistakes and the fix is easy.

It's not that they can't just want to unionize. That would be fine. Pointless, but fine. What's not is the lies. Their case for abuse clearly has no merit.

Parent's point was that by working for a company without supporting a union, you are giving that company leverage against the union.

That is where the neutrality is lost.

I reject your absolutist ideology. If it's a forced choice of with your or against you, then you've asked for against.

Edit: With them or they'll do anything from downvote you to set your car on fire. This is why people don't believe you, or support you.

Look at the modern intellectual arguing the equivalent of Wickard v Filburn. Anti-union would be going out of my way to lobby my government to forbid unions. Neutral is just not supporting you because I can't tell if you have a valid case or not. As for being a coward, that's the modern unionist screaming slurs at other workers and beating them up in the parking lot.

The sad truth is that original unionists, who fought for safety in mines, etc, are being conflated with marxists who are really anti worker.

I would posit that you aren't rejecting any ideology, you are being presented with the fact even inaction is a political choice, and that seems to upset you. That's okay, there are a lot of facts about reality that upset me, too!

Unfortunately facts don't care about our feelings, and no amount of sulking about it will change the fact that so called union neutrality is an anti-union position. Not only is it anti-union, but kind of a cowardly anti-unionism, at that. It's wanting to be both anti-union, while also wanting to accept none of the social consequences that come with that position.

What you are describing is bullying, plain and simple. Similar to the other commenter I’ve seen unions use the same tactics as well.

Your 'everything is connected, inaction is action' argument is only compelling if you can provide a counter-example. A place where your rule breaks down. A rule without exceptions, in a complex domain, is just wrong.

Yes, we all breathe the same air. But at what point is you not fighting my battles with me reasonable disinterest - neutrality - rather than an active choice to hinder me? Clearly if you don't know me, and if you don't know the facts, etc...

I obviously reject it sooner than you, but if you don't reject it at some point then it's ideology and I reject that out of hand.

A union gains leverage by monopolizing the sale of labor to a company; a company gains leverage when they can buy labor elsewhere. If you don’t support the union, you are necessarily chipping away at their monopoly. There’s no action whereby your choice doesn’t change the balance of power between the two.

Did you try to catch a serial killer today? If not you helped kill their victim.

Now either explain the limit to that logic or turn yourself in to the police.

The limit to the logic is that it only applies where you are forced to choose between zero sum options.

Yeah, like deciding between spending your limited time on here or hunting a serial killer. Zero sum, son.

You don't seem to have realized that you aren't the first group to use these arguments and tactics, or how badly they fail. Sadly only after exacting great societal consequences though.

Here's the point you are missing:

Neutrality can only be achieved by refusing to support both the union and the company.

If you are working for the company without joining the union, then you are supporting the company's anti-union efforts.

Remember, no one is forced to join a company just like no one is forced to join a union.

> Not increasing its power is not undermining it.

This might be true if you were describing a situation with three parties: a company, a union, and you - affiliated with neither. But as almost all unionization takes place after people have already entered an employee/employer relationship, the neutrality has been lost; you are, by default, on the side of the employer if you are not a part of the union, and having employees not in a union does weaken the bargaining position of the union since it's relative representation that matters.

> Stop changing definitions to suit your political goals.

Don't forget to call the kettle black, while you're at it.

If you're working for a partnership I agree, but if you support businesses being organised as limited liability corporations but not corresponding organisation of labour, that's not neutrality.

"Violence", you say? What violence is that? Is it taking place in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Korea, or maybe somewhere else, where we don't yet admit we have troops fighting?

Oh, sorry, you were talking about people having heart attacks while climbing the steps of the capital building. Never mind, carry on. Americans complaining about violence is like plants complaining about oxygen.


JFC talk about a "you're with us or against us" mentality. I tend to be somewhat neutral on unions (depending on the context I think they're sometimes good and sometimes bad), but your rhetoric has pushed me further towards unions being bad.

I already wrote a response to the sibling comment here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26703472

> your rhetoric has pushed me further towards unions being bad.

This sounds vindictive and selfish to me. I wish it wasn't this way. Personally I'd rather just play video games and screw around with Idris than get involved in labor disputes. But to turn against unions because someone who is vaguely pro-union said something that kinda offended you? Come on.

Usually when someone says something like this, I assume they were never pro-union in the first place.

"So-and-so said something I don't like, so now I've changed all my political beliefs to be the opposite of theirs" is something real people don't actually do. It's more likely that their political beliefs were always the opposite of so-and-so's and they were just looking for an opportunity to admit it.

You don’t imagine that “unions are good because of X, Y, and Z facts” is a more compelling argument to anyone anywhere in the middle spectrum than “if you don’t like unions, you’re a selfish asshole” or “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” and that difference in compelling nature would influence someone’s support of unions?

It’s not like any of us emerged from the womb with a strongly decided opinion on unions, but rather we developed one over time by deciding on the arguments advanced and whereby bullying arguments and behavior of intimidation often push people away from support.

> You don’t imagine that “unions are good because of X, Y, and Z facts” is a more compelling argument to anyone anywhere in the middle spectrum than “if you don’t like unions, you’re a selfish asshole” or “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” and that difference in compelling nature would influence someone’s support of unions?

I'm not the OP, but to answer your question: frankly, no - in general it seems to often be the case that the factual merit of an argument is not really important in influencing opinion.

That the argument you mention ("if you don't like unions, you're a selfish asshole") has any influence at all is proof enough of this; note that it makes no direct statement about the merit of unions themselves, and yet is presented as an example of an influential argument about the value of unions - and rightfully so, based on your reaction and the reactions of other people in this thread.

Furthermore, I think it's fairly naive to think that "we developed [our opinions regarding unions] over time by deciding on the arguments advanced," as though it were always a conscious process or that a broadly fair view of unions was widely disseminated with which to make an informed decision. After all, why would it be?

There's an old legal aphorism that goes, "If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table."

If I believe that and see someone pounding the table, I can make an inference about the ability of their position to stand up to scrutiny. I might be wrong in that inference, but IMO the lawyer with the facts or law on their side does their client a serious disservice if they choose to just bang the table.

I think you're missing the point.

If someone comes at me, attempting to persuade me that their side is the right one, but their persuasion style is to be adversarial and say I'm a shithead if I don't pick their side, I am more likely to reject their side.

This has little to do with the "facts are stronger" argument. I agree that many people do not pay attention to objective facts, and instead make decisions based on emotional factors. And that's exactly what would be happening here: this type of adversarial argument would give me a bad feeling, and I would reject it.

Beyond that, you can still make emotional arguments that use facts as their foundation. I would respond much better to something like "75% of your co-workers have shit wages, and a union can help them get fair pay; don't you want the best for your colleagues?" That sort of argument isn't all positive, as it tries to make the other person feel guilty, but it's a much better argument than "if you don't want to join the union you're an asshole".

> I think it's fairly naive to think that "we developed [our opinions regarding unions] over time by deciding on the arguments advanced," as though it were always a conscious process or that a broadly fair view of unions was widely disseminated with which to make an informed decision.

I don't think anyone's claiming it's a rational, conscious process. Very much of it can be emotional and subconscious. But the result is still the same: if you tell me that I have to "support the union or else", I will -- consciously and rationally, or subconsciously and emotionally: it doesn't matter -- gradually develop a negative opinion about unions.

I think this is the trap a lot of people (myself included, sometimes) fall into: they want people to evaluate their arguments on their terms, how they themselves would evaluate them if they were the recipient of them. But that's not how it works. People evaluate arguments in their own way (regardless of whether the argument is intended to evoke a rational or emotional response). If you want to make an argument, you need to focus on outcomes, not on your own personal preferences as to how things should turn out. Tailor your argument to the recipient. Sure, for some people the "you're either for us or against us" type argument might be the most effective. But it's not for everyone, and it can alienate people as well.

> "So-and-so said something I don't like, so now I've changed all my political beliefs to be the opposite of theirs" is something real people don't actually do

Yeah that's not what happened. The commenter in question clearly said "your rhetoric has pushed me further towards unions being bad" from the original position of ambivalence. If I'm being honest, I'm similarly ambivalent about unions and the rhetoric has pushed me in the same direction as well. It's not just this one comment that pushed me on its own, it's a small trend I've noticed in pro-union advocacy that I've noticed.

And frankly, whether someone's political beliefs have truly changed from such rhetoric is not very important, this kind of rhetoric poisons friendship. Political beliefs and movements need friends that actively support it, not people who quietly agree that something is probably technically true. Ever heard of "you're not wrong, you're just an arsehole"? Keep this up and you'll have a fantastic non-coalition of people who may quietly admit that you're right on some things but will never associate/support you or your movement. How you say something matters a lot, this is just the basics of diplomacy.

If such a simple opinion "pushed" you into the unions-are-bad camp then you were never on the fence in the first place.

> JFC talk about a "you're with us or against us" mentality... your rhetoric has pushed me further towards unions being bad.

It's a remarkably odd choice to refer to OP's comment as "rhetoric" in this case given that the remark "it's not physically possible to be neutral on this issue" is a literal statement of truth.

Generally, neutrality implicitly supports the status quo; it's a choice like any other, whether you acknowledge it as such or not, and as OP pointed out it is literally true that if you have the option to be part of a union and you aren't, the bargaining power of that union is less than it otherwise would be.

I suppose you'd have to clarify what you meant with respect to your own decisions - have you ever even had the option to join a union? Because if not, then I could see how you might be able to see yourself as "neutral" as it's not an issue that has directly affected you. But if you did have a choice then presumably you made a choice one way or the other, in which case "neutrality" isn't something you can actually claim.

I think it's entirely reasonable for someone to believe that the net result of a union in a particular place would be a negative for employees. They may be wrong, but holding that view doesn't automatically make them a bad person.

Maybe that does mean "you're with us or against us", but I'm pretty sure that kind of rhetoric only works to persuade people on the middle school playground, not in real life. At best, it will serve to convince weak-minded people who make decisions based on fear of being called names.

If you're going to try to convince me of something by telling me I'm an asshole if I don't agree with you, that's only going to push me away. That's just a fact, and if you want to convince me your opinion is the correct one, you need to focus on finding the argument that will give you the outcome you want, not the argument that lets you vent your frustration, even if "you're either with us or against us" is technically true. Because I don't care; if you're going to present your argument in that way, I'm very much fine being against you, even if I'd otherwise be sympathetic to your cause.

For the record, I'm fairly pro-union, though I do believe they can cause more problems than they solve in some situations. I'm commenting here because I'm really tired of people snatching defeat from the jaws of victory through self-destructive argumentation.

That is a very illogical line of reasoning.

Disclaimer: I've made a career side stepping unions in various industries (public unions for hospitals, transportation/trucking unions, medium-sized online retailers on the cusp of unionization).

Unions have given corporate a new legitimacy.

The 'human abuse' component in unions is quite substantial. Internal groups tend to formulate inside unions capable of influencing decisions, leaving a minority without real representation (primarily new union members who don't get grandfather clauses, this minority becomes the majority with no power due to legacy senior union members; seniority is measured by hours worked, not expertise or merit keep this in mind).

Many times this abuse is for personal gain like getting the easier jobs or influencing the hiring process to get their friends/family jobs for example.

I make it my job to get chummy with senior union reps. By using my leverage to help a union rep get his cousin hired (through influencing HR or interviewing managers), I have shielded myself/the company from potential genuine grievances (forging allies). The cousin/whatever is probably aware of the game as well and knows not to rock the boat too, double-plus-good. This is more common than most would want to admit.

Another neat trick to controlling unions: once enough of the legacy employees, who can sway the unions decisions with their SENIORITY (the golden word), fall to your side all one has to do is hire lots of people who don't speak English. The legalese in most union handbooks is worded for lawyers really.

Older union guys don't care about the new blood to inform them what is and isn't okay. Being human they also appreciate that someone else is doing the hard jobs they don't have to.

Ever wonder why unions don't fight to make union handbooks easy to read? Because that would REALLY hurt corporate. Doctors and engineers are forbidden to unionize because they can read. Straight up.

Regardless unions are damaging to labour forces. They reduce efficiency, competence, shatter budgets, destroy the ability to become an entrepreneur (because money isn't tight enough gotta also pay union dues on top right?) and ruin any form of scheduling/time management arrangements. Once a bad culture sets in it is near impossible to root out (its easy for bad culture to set in when alcoholics can't be fired and must be given multiple chances; morale drops for the rest of the employees when they witness such things).

It's one thing to petition for humane working conditions, it's another to get paid for not working and boy did I see lots of the latter.

Don't listen to me, take a part-time summer (or night) job for the public sector with a union. Witness the absurdity yourself.

people often forget that subtlety of reality is NOT something every individual HAS to prioritize, and any amount of namecalling is really a refusal to open a dialogue and an excuse to grandstand.

glad you feel safe enough to echo your opinions. it's important in championing dialogue.

> I like to keep business and charity separated.

I don't know if that really tracks, tho. You still have ethical obligations in your day-to-day business. As an extreme example; if your business is "I sell fentinyl laced heroin to elementary school children" isn't really something you can make up with any amount charitable giving.

But aside from that, I was making the self-interested argument that even complete sociopaths wouldn't necessarily want to work in an environment where "My coworkers can and will try to fuck me at the first opportunity" is a true statement.

Using these false equivalences and “you’re for us or against us” type reasoning might rule up people who’re already convinced, but it likely makes those who aren’t on a side more suspicious of what you’re pushing, because it feels like you’re trying to trick or coerce.

I recently saw a post (maybe here on HN?) about a study where participants had the ability to choose between a strict-no-cheating game environment and a mostly-cheating-allowed game environment. Cheaters self-selected into the latter because it allowed them to cheat, even though they knew that others were also trying to cheat.

Hopefully I'm paraphrasing/remembering correctly.

In business environment terms, I see anyone who takes a "you're either with us or against us" position as promoting a "mostly-cheating-allowed game." You're gonna let things slide for people on "your team" much more than you would if everyone is for themselves. That's one of the more convincing arguments against traditional unions, to me.

It works both ways. When management form an elite club focused on exploiting workers, this induces sides. Workers who didn't care about unionisation are provoked by management to collectivise. Then these workers learn that collective action actually produces results, so the polarisation between "sides" increases.

Concluding that you're "against traditional unions" just places you on one of the sides.

That's a good point and it definitely happens, but it's also somewhat of a whatabout argument and it's not relevant here IMO.

My point was supposed to be that a workplace full of selfish people would not necessarily be a deterrent to other selfish people, because the opportunity to be freely selfish might be worth more than the (estimated) risk due to being surrounded by selfish people.

Game environments usually means there aren't significant real-life consequences, so it's totally plausible that most people would pick the cheating-allowed game for just more fun and entertainment.

When actual jobs and lives are on the line, and the penalty for losing requires most of the participants to give up your basic human needs (such as most of low-income wage workers, they don't have any fallbacks when they get scammed and go under), then things are going to be much different.

Very good point. I wish I knew the details of the study.

I do wonder if, at a certain extreme level of cheaterness/selfishness, there is a minimum level of self-confidence that causes a cheater to self-select into a cheating-OK environment.

It's an extension of the "survival of the fittest" mentality. If you believe you are one of the fittest, you might be willing to enter the survival scenario because you are confident that you will survive.

This perhaps explains the rationale you sometimes hear that more rules/regs will cause people to not even bother trying to start a business. If you set the business climate up in such a way that only permits fair participation and competition you're probably going to alienate a segment that would favor looser rules.

I'm having a hard time seeing the justification here. It's not that the cheaters refused to play if they couldn't cheat, it's that when given influence, they prefered to have things be worse for everyone so that they could cheat more freely.

>If you set the business climate up in such a way that only permits fair participation and competition you're probably going to alienate a segment that would favor looser rules.

The converse, that rules which allow profitable unethical behavior (and therefore prefer such unethical behavior, since profit is the measure of success) are going to alienate people who want to play fair, is exactly as well supported by that observation. And all other things being equal, it seems better to alienate the cheaters than the fair players, which in turn argues for stronger regulation.

It just highlights that the people who want to cheat and make such arguments aren't arguing in good faith, they just want to cheat more easily.

> I like to keep business and charity separated. Mixing the two, in my opinion, simply adds a layer of indirection for the bastards to hide behind.

That's an awful lot of words to say "screw you, I got mine".

Exploiters have it easy when the exploited see basic workers rights as "charity".

Some HN users are apparently very touchy about this, so maybe a gentler way to state it would be:

> It is only possible to see labor solidarity as "charity" if you are privileged enough to not depend on that solidarity.

Of course, accusations of privilege themselves are subject to pants-twisting and fits of downvoting moderation-flagging rage.

"Please don't remind me that I'm privileged because it makes me feel icky feelings so I will get ANGRY instead" seems to be a natural human reaction.

I'm not going to down vote either of these at the moment. But the basic idea is to attack ideas not people. Any statements that name call (e.g. 'bastards') or attack the idea by attacking the author of it (e.g. 'dont remind me that I'm privileged') will not lead to an environment where we are all learning from each other.

> The more leverage you have as an individual, the less relevant a union is for you.

If this was true, why are the highest paid and in-demand stars and directors in Hollywood all still dues paying members of their unions?

Isn't that slightly different and more because the film industry is unusual in that it has adapted around the unionised environment? Stars would have joined the union early in their career for the protection, but late on its minimal expense for sake of keeping the cogs of production turning. I'm no expert, but I imagine there are various on-set insurances which require actors to be a member of union, etc. It's not quite the same as a VP of a tech company joining a union.

Seems pretty much the same to me. Junior devs have to work their way up, senior devs already make big bucks and don't really "need" the union anymore.

There's a hypothesis for why it's different and a potential example of how it's different in my comment. Interested to develop the comparison further, but your response ignores the content of mine and just repeats the grandparent.

>> The more leverage you have as an individual, the less relevant a union is for you.

> If this was true, why are the highest paid and in-demand stars and directors in Hollywood all still dues paying members of their unions?

I am trying to parse these two statements and here is my thought. Being a union member can never hurt as long as dues are reasonable. You can always negotiate a better deal but at least you will get a baseline and really if acting is your career, you probably care about more than just total compensation.

Here is what I found on Google:

> To join SAG, a performer must pay an initiation fee plus the first semi-annual basic dues. The national initiation fee rate is currently $3,000 (initiation fees may be lower in some areas). Annual base dues are $201.96. In addition, work dues are calculated at 1.575 percent of covered earnings up to $500,000..

I don't know if this is up to date but assuming it is, 500000*1.575/100 + 201.96 is just over eight thousand dollars a year. Even at USD 10k a year, I think it is a good deal. If I were a highly paid on-screen talent, I would not want to stir a storm in a teacup over USD 10k if I was making over USD 500k a year. It simply wouldn't be worth my time.

Probably because California is NOT a right-to-work state, and all studios that matter have agreements with all the unions (guilds) that make their productions union-only jobs. So, even if you are Tom Cruise, Dwayne Johnson, or Scarlett Johansson, you have to join the union in order to get work.

* Yes, there are small studios and some other ways of avoiding this if you only want to film in certain states, but if you want to earn the big bucks, you have to join the union.

The union helped them on their way up, and they are grateful, even though strictly speaking they no longer need the union.

Not to mention that SAG’s dues are quite regressive, only being applied to the first $500K in earnings, so being highly-paid doesn’t cost them anything additional.

Unions still help movie stars negotiate deals.

So, what individual thinks they have more leverage than Amazon?

Amazon has a 1.6 trillion $ market cap.

Amazon needs a lot of software engineers and needs them more than any individual SWE needs Amazon, no matter what their market cap is.

Amazon needs a lot of software engineers, but they don't need any single engineer.

Which is the whole point of unionizing.

The software engineers have plenty of leverage over every company without unions. A proof of that is high wages across the industry. And for Amazon in particular, where is that extra money coming from? It's not like they have a dividend to shareholders they could stop paying out. They're not some law firm where the partners are profit sharing. It's a publicly traded company that just constantly reinvests in growth. They're practically famous for that. So really to pay more, they must either get more efficient (probably already trying at that) or raise prices or stop reinvesting. I guess they could pay the higher paid workers less, but isn't that already the software engineers we're talking about? Those are the higher paid workers.

As an aside, I sometimes wonder if they could literally have qualified as a not for profit whose sole goal is to grow into new market segments and employ more people. Because if you take a wide angle view of it, that's pretty much all they ever do.

> A proof of that is high wages across the industry.

That's true if you only consider a few carefully-chosen tech corridors like SV and sorta-Seattle. Software developer wages in much of the US, Europe, and most of the rest of the world, are not that great. Usually enough to live off of, yes, but no where near what we in the bay area and a few other select locations are used to.

High wages relative to other wages, sure. High wages relative to the profit generated? Not so much.

High wages without a union only come out of an even larger pool of profit for them to pay wages from.

Sure. And the aristocracy is good for aristocrats. I suspect that engineers, in general, vastly overestimate the amount of leverage they actually have as an individual when considering the merits of joining a union.

Yup, agreed. My experience is that even the "rockstars" get fired or managed out when they become "difficult". The only places where these types of people are tolerated -- but still, not forever -- is very small shops where bus factors are low and firing a key software developer would wipe out a company-killing amount of institutional knowledge. Even then, those people are still replaced, eventually.

It's the height of hubris to believe that an individual software engineer has the power to effect much in the way of change when it comes to wages and working conditions. Sure, we have orders of magnitude more power than someone working for pennies in a sweatshop, but we're nowhere near the point of calling the shots, or even bringing a significant amount of leverage to the negotiating table.

And that's how you end up with a company full of assholes.

> Maybe some will balk, but not all

Sure, that's fair. I guess it really depends on the proportions.

I personally used to work at Amazon a number of years ago. I enjoyed my time there, and if my current work circumstances ever changed would have considered going back there.

Based on what I've seen lately from them, though, I would never go back. In fact, as a customer I've discontinued Amazon prime and won't order from their retail site again. AWS has me a little more boxed in, but I'm going to slowly look for more ways to separate from them there, too, over time.

Then they have probably succeeded. I don't think they want people whom this would deter.

In contrast, I would be very happy too consider a company that is honestly focused on its commercial mission rather than appease the small number of people who believe their employers should give them a platform for their activism.

Expect no one to stand up for you when you, too, are inevitably mistreated.

You mean I will not be protected from oppression by the self-sacrificing activist heroes in tech? The same heroes that so righteously punish the thinkers of bad thoughts and so gallantly protect everybody else from the violence of wrong ideas?

I guess I'll have to fight my fights alone then.

They've not only rid themselves of the activists, they've made it clear that you lose your job if you publicly disagree with them. You'll lose your job and if you try to fight it you'll spend years just to get a settlement.

From here on out everyone will be thinking "is this worth losing my job over, especially when I may have similarly serious concers about any employer I work for?"

You lose your job but then win a big settlement and likely get money out of your role as someone trying to organise labour and getting fired by Amazon. It’s not clear that it’s a bad deal for those who were fired either

That's by no means certain, and getting that settlement will likely cost you a year or two of salary in legal fees (while you're unemployed) before you get it. Amazon's legal team can remain solvent longer than you can. Maybe your lawyer will take the case on contingency, maybe not.

Meanwhile, you have a reputation for bringing litigation against your employer; good luck finding a new job under those circumstances. Not impossible, sure, but many employers will no longer talk to you, and that decreases your negotiating power with companies that will talk to you. I hope the uncertain legal settlement is enough to make up the difference.

This is just another fine example of how employers hold even more power in the relationship than people seem to understand. If you need to sue your (now-former) employer, you've probably already lost the war, even if you do end up winning that suit.

Maybe they get the equivalent of a few years of salary, but have to risk significant personal savings for legal counsel as well. And their name is out there as an activist and might have a hard time getting hired after that.

nah. a wrongful termination lawsuit is expensive (think 7 figures). what i think amazon is going to do is put the workers that try this stunt into positions that are so crappy or the demands are so unrealistic that they’re gonna quit.

>a wrongful termination lawsuit is expensive (think 7 figures)

When you're a company that makes 11 figures, spending 7 figures for a 1% increase in profits is a hundredfold ROI. They're not expensive, they're a bargain.

if it’s one employee yes. if you’re going to be basically liable every time you fire someone it’s not worth it.

That's 11 figures annually. Even if you make that settlement nearly 100 times a year, you still come out ahead

i think that the way a corporation would mitigate this risk is different. if i need to pay you 5million in a wrongful termination scenario vs paying you 250k per year, I could make you work for 20 years doing nothing and make your life miserable.

The key thing is they don't want want people working for them badmouthing the company. I'm sure they view a few million a year in settlements instead of the bad PR of letting it continue, and at such a high level as these people were working at.

Also making a person's life miserable at work is something a person can easily document over a year or two and then bring that lawsuit, so that's not a great option either.

That settlement is still coming from one individual's budget within the company. Even though the settlement amount is not material for a company the size of Amazon, it will be material to that one employee, who may even be fired herself (e.g. if she is in HR), so the incentive structure of the individuals within the Amazon hive mind will still be impacted.

Wouldn't that be considered constructive dismissal, and still subject to this sort of action?

Yes, but awfully hard to prove.

Constructive dismissal is difficult to prove, but generally less so in the context of sabotage of labor activism.

Not really, they have lawyers they're paying anyway, they have to work on something.

It likely depends on the /terms/ of the settlement more than the /cost/ of the settlement in this case.

As activists, they may be balking at NDA or non-disparagement language, rather than at price.

From Amazon's perspective, the NDA/non-disparagement part is probably incredibly valuable.

Wouldn't that go both ways and encourage more activism?

I wouldn't mind being an activist employee if I know that not only do I stand up for what I believe in, but there's a reasonable chance it will result in enough compensation for an early retirement. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

I wouldn't do it without caution and it does require funds on my end, but I'd still do it. That said, Amazon will likely engage in prolonged litigation, to minimize the benefits.

IMO, settlements are a win for Amazon because no precedent gets set with a ruling.

Sounds good for shareholders, but bad for the workers that make up Amazon.

FAANG hasn't been innovators for a long time now, closing in on almost half a decade. They started out that way but have moved full bore into politics. Politics is what happens when the rest of society tries to figure out what to do with the innovators inventions, an when orgs don't innovate, they die, usually a pretty violent and shitty death over time.

they have still succeeded at their actual objective of getting rid of the activist employees.

Activists often get a free pass. So long as they're saying the "right thing," the press covers for them. Since anyone can just put out their slate and become an "activist," this creates a situation where random people people are given enough power to abuse and basically no oversight.

What if we had a society where Doctors got a free pass? What if there were no qualifications, and random people could call themselves doctors? So long as they're saying the "right thing," the press covers for them. Since anyone can just put out their slate and become a "Doctor," this creates a situation where random people people are given enough power to abuse and basically no oversight.

We have historical precedents for this. What you get are the moral equivalents of wild west medicine shows.

Further symptoms: When you start giving [X] a free pass, you'd start to see a degradation in the follower's understanding of morality, ethics, and fundamental principles which have far-reaching game theoretic consequences. These consequences aren't that easy to understand, so we'd expect to see people do shortsighted things which bring about those consequences. One would expect to see an ethos of totalitarian obeisance in [X] groups replace an ethos of free inquiry. One would expect to see forms of bigotry and the shallow judging of people by surface characteristics, sneaking in while disguised as other names. One would expect to see some scummy people who latched onto the moniker of [X] for a variety of reasons, who later on show their true colors.

One would expect to see the behavior of the mob.

Presumably the companies think they’re getting a reasonably good deal out of firing the organisers.

Some activists are genuinely speaking truth to power. Some are exploiters. Some are somewhere in between. There need to be checks and balances. The fundamental right of free association isn't so bad a place to start.

I fully expect it. With “other ways of knowing” becoming not only a slogan but effectively being applied to our learning institutions, it is only a matter of time for restricting medical practice to credentialed medical doctors to be labeled as “white supremacy”.

The exam isn’t fair so we should believe someone who has a lived experience that makes them a doctor (with a claim to insurance/government payments to their practice) or something like that.

Meanwhile, kids in China are learning the skills to invent the actual, real future.

It's effectively the same thing as Cunningham and Costa themselves saying they would pursue a ULP charge. It's just that in labor cases, the NLRB screens complaints first and then steps in to represent the complainant for complaints that are credible.

That is not a final determination, though: the piece of paper that Cunningham and Costa held does not say that the NLRB will find that Amazon did engage in a ULP and exact a penalty. It merely says that an NLRB attorney will represent Cunningham and Costa in resolving the matter.

"the NLRB screens complaints first and then steps in to represent the complainant for complaints that are credible"

That's a pretty big difference.

How so? On the whole, it saves Amazon the hassle of dealing with "unfair labor" complaints that really aren't. And it's not like the NLRB attorneys give the employee some special advantage. Frankly, there are a lot of cases where the employee would probably be better off working with a private attorney whose incentives are more aligned with the employee's. And either way, Amazon had a piece of paper from a lawyer that said "we will pursue this if you don't settle."

The NLRB are appointed by the president and can behave with incredible political bias: https://republicans-oversight.house.gov/release/oversight-re...

The reach of the executive branch has extended far beyond what is healthy for the nation of the United States.

Sure, but they're still constrained by the Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court. And that bias would show up in the final decision: merely having a letter saying the NLRB will take up the case is multiple steps removed from the political appointment concerns.

Tell that to Boeing: https://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/10/business/labor-board-drop...

I'm pretty sure no one wants to start a dispute almost guaranteed 0-1 before an appeals court that may or may not be sympathetic to your plight.

Even in Boeing's case, which was incredibly high-profile, they decided on an a very expensive settlement rather than fight the case.

> That's a pretty nice piece of leverage to have in hand while negotiating a settlement.

Isn't that how things usually work? If one party does something illegal, then the other can offer a settlement using the threat of other legal action as leverage?

I think it's a pretty unusual situation in an unlawful termination negotiation, yes. That is: having a piece of paper in hand, from the Federal government, undeniably saying government intervention will happen if a settlement isn't reached.

I believe this particular settlement, especially the one for Costa (based on Principal title and 15 years tenure), is going to be a very big number. It's also terrible timing for Amazon with all the anti-trust sentiment and gaffes in the warehouse union situation. I imagine they really want this to go away.

When you file a lawsuit, you get a summons to serve on the other party. That is "a piece of paper, from the government, undeniably saying government intervention will happen if a settlement isn't reached." The government intervention is in the form of a legal proceeding. But the summons certainly doesn't mean the government/judicial system has made up its mind about the substance of the suit!

Same here: the government intervention is in the form of a legal proceeding, it's just one that takes place within NLRB channels rather than in the judicial system. It doesn't mean the NLRB has made up its mind about whether a ULP was committed.

It's a very specialized venue as opposed to a regular court, and the NLRB is able to take quite a lot of action without a trial or court proceeding, as well as to take a very specific position on the matter. They also very regularly reject claims. It's not the same thing, it isn't an impartial judicial process. It's more similar to, say, the FTC.

The 'agency' in this case is the National Labor Relations Board, and 'settling' in this case doesn't just mean paying money, it also means changing their practices. It basically means accepting the findings and taking remedial steps, instead of denying the findings and trying to fight them.

This isn't like a law firm threatening to sue if they don't settle.

Would the labor board have provided such a convenient ruling if it were right leaning political activists masquerading as employees fighting for employee rights? For that matter why are the actions of political activists protected at all? From past discussions on HN, my recollection is that these two were not fighting for labor rights or wages or conditions. They were climate change activists that would spam employees with political activist content unrelated to work. Big tech companies are already very much taken over by left leaning ideology, and forcing companies to allow such employee activism seems highly inappropriate and bad for society.

The labor board may well have done nothing if Amazon had fired them for activism. But they fired them once they did start bringing up labor issues:

> Amazon has fired two employees and asked a third not to return to work, after the group organized a virtual event for warehouse employees to speak to tech workers at the company about its workplace conditions and coronavirus response.

> The two employees who were fired on Friday, Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham, had in late March circulated a petition on internal email lists that called on Amazon to expand sick leave, hazard pay and child care for warehouse workers. The petition also asked Amazon to temporarily shut down facilities where workers were confirmed to have the virus so the facilities could be sterilized.


Yeah but that's pretty meaningless, because left wing activists have figured out that there's no specific requirements on what a union is meant to achieve, therefore literally any activism can be connected to "agitating to form a union" in some vague way and instantly become not only legally protected, but will rope in government agencies that are themselves captured by left wing activists.

This is how you get stuff like Kickstarter being "unionized" to force management to keep online violent anti-conservative campaigns that were violating the ToS. It's got nothing to do with conventional labor protection of the sort unions were historically meant for. The only similarity is that it's about capturing institutions from the inside to take them over without having to actually buy the firm or get into management directly, except you don't even have to strike or win an employee vote. You just make yourself unfireable and spend 100% of your work time on self-aggrandizing political activism.

If this stuff keeps up the already bad reputation of unions in the USA will get drastically worse, as they won't even have the classical workers rights arguments to fall back on.

What are you on about? Pay, benefits, and safety are core workplace concerns. There's no roping-in going on: Amazon fired them once they began bringing up labor issues.

There's a discussion elsewhere in this thread about how they were engaged primarily in climate change related activism.

Which Amazon didn't fire them for.

This must be somewhat validating for Tim Bray, the VP/xml guy who quit over their firing


hats off to him for putting his money where his mouth is. Wish more tech workers who appear to be outspoken on labour rights would stop enabling companies that actively fight them.

This case is something to keep in mind anytime Amazon comments on any labor matter, be it minimum wage, visas, diversity, work conditions, contractors, anything at all. Amazon is not commenting on those issues with anything in mind other than its own interests.


"Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, is using a heat map to track stores that may be at risk of unionization"

"a “diversity index” represents the racial and ethnic diversity of every store. Stores at higher risk of unionizing have lower diversity"


In October 2020 Google, Amazon & 44 Tech Companies Sued the US Govt Over the H1B Visa Ban


European countries make up only 2.8% of the H1B intake.

Makes you wonder if THIS is what's behind all the pushes for diversity

The push for diversity is not that sinister, they just want the widest customer base they can get. Neoliberal diversity and identity politics lets them be moral without threatening their power base.

What we've seen from Amazon's anti-union efforts this round is that they are not sophisticated enough to be pulling some kind of machiavellian plot.

If unions are going to work in America, they have be able to navigate a diverse group of people. The American working class is incredibly diverse, more than the country itself. It's a challenge but it's not insurmountable. But the left/union approach to diversity and the corporate approach are completely different from each other and have different material motivations.

Have you ever in your life seen someone look at a company's diversity stats before buying something?

Are you saying advertising, marketing and PR have no effect? Because if so, I'll notify those billion dollar industries they've been made redundant.

The marketing isn’t the stats, it’s the public claims they can make about tracking them.

No but I do remember media headlines about a company.

Why do people think the promotion of diversity is part of some nefarious global plot?

Because of the well funded propaganda networks in the US that push that notion.

That people should be given equal opportunity and not just the opportunity they were born with because their parents where lynched for voting?

Poster meant propaganda networks that push the idea it is a plot.

They don't think it's an explicit plot, obviously. They think it's global because it mostly is (within the Anglosphere at least), and nefarious because its stated objectives do not align with the actions people in that 'movement' take.

For instance, diversity programs are invariably justified by reference to needing a diversity of perspectives or ideas. But the resulting personnel policies are never about ideas, they're always about gender and skin colour. In fact the typical diversity program often results in hiring lots of ideologically homogenous people.

That disparity between claimed goals and actual goals invariably makes it appear like there's some sort of hidden agenda at work.

That's misinformed and presumptuous.

Study the working class movements from the mid 19th century to the 1970s. Look at their coalitions and demands.

Study the woke movement of the 2015-2021. One was pushing for collective unity and demanding concrete rights, including healthcare, working hour limits and unionization rights. The other wants to fire racists and change language. Which would you prefer if you were a corporate board member with the interests of your company at heart?

Which is more of a threat, a movement that demands corporate tax pay for a single payer healthcare model, or a movement which demands we make it easier to fire people accused of racism?

This is an extremely reductive and uncharitable take on the conversations being had right now and calling it the "woke movement" shows you know what you're doing.

"Concrete" things like healthcare reform, voting reform, policing reform, tax reform, immigration reform, and women's rights have been front and center. You'd have to be looking through a very distorted lens to not see it.

The topic at hand - the subject at the top - is unionization and Amazon. Your reply seems to forget this with a focus on me. And we're talking about how wokism (I know what I'm doing, what is that supposed to mean?) is embraced by corporations. Several commenters said that the woke stuff is compatible with capitalism, and I supported that view by contrasting the historical (anti-corporate) worker's movement with the current, very recent pro-corporate woke movement. The point is this - companies like Amazon want us to worry about race and gender quotas because that's an easier way to appear to be ethical than the other criticisms we can throw at them.

I don't know why I am responding, but I'll continue with another one, Nike. Nike has for decades been the subject of human rights criticisms of their factories abroad. That's bad PR. So they went woke by taking public stands on racial stuff within the U.S. That's good PR.

You can say I know what I'm doing (which is arguably a personal attack implying nefarious motives). But you don't seem to understand the point, not at all!

Please, please do a little reading on the labor movement and don't put woke in scare quotes like it is not a thing. A local politician here has a pin, Stay Woke. It's a real term.

I don’t think anyone is claiming that it is “part of some nefarious global plot” in the discrete, conspiratorial sense you are suggesting.

When modern Americans and Europeans rail against "diversity" as being the cause of their woes, it's almost certainly based on what boils down to some flavor of the "white genocide" conspiracy theory.

When corporations push diversity as a terminal value it's almost always to suppress labor costs. It's very easy to win arguments if you just assume everyone who disagrees with you is a racist.

Give an example? You yourself are putting forth what amounts to a conspiracy theory.

Because its most visible effect has been the suppression of the working class? Because its most prominent advocates are nefarious global plotters?

[citation needed]

r/stupidpol is worth a serious read.

Dīvide et īmpera has been a strategy since the Roman Empire.


Well no, it's not. More diverse stores may have tensions that lower the cohesiveness of the group, and some of their members may be economically more vulnerable and thus more weary of the risk of retaliation, but once (if) diversity is normalized and racial inequality subsides, then this disparity will almost certainly disappear.

And once it does, one of the most major lines exploited against economic and social progress becomes much more difficult to exploit.

Why would big Capital let racial inequality subside when they profit of it? And even if it were to subside, history teaches us that's it's very easy to divide and rile up people along ethnic and cultural lines.

As cynical as this take is, you aren't alone in thinking it. This has been a repeating theme among some Bernie Sanders/economic left folks. For example, the concept that the center uses racial politics against the economic left to defuse their efforts has been discussed a number of times on the Chapo Trap House podcast. I'm personally not sure whether I subscribe to this belief, but I can see how people might feel this way.

I like to remind people that "Identity Politics" as envisioned by Barbara Smith and the Combahee River Collective in the 1970's as an approach to left-wing organizing is virtually unrecognizable when compared to today's neoliberal "woke" corporate identity politics. The former is about recognizing individual and group needs while organizing towards a universal, collective goal. The latter is about internecine conflict based on differences and the rejection of a collective goal entirely in favor of means-tested and targeted "reforms".

It's rare in the economic left to reject identity politics entirely (outside of some wretched nazbol twitter types), because people like CTH, Adolph Reed, Mark Fisher, Barbara Smith, Bernie Sanders, etc. all recognize the need for navigating identity in left movements. Where they reject neoliberal identity politics is in accepting a need for a greater collective goal.

It's bizarre that this even needs to be said IMO.

Unfortunately, it really does. There's so many people who are unable or unwilling to turn a critical eye to the actions of these companies. This applies doubly to social and political issues. Amazon and ilk carefully weigh the options and make decisions according to their own interests.

It applies much more so to the actions of unions and workers seeking to unionize. They have their own interests, and they are not aligned with the public's.

Case in point: Vox writers, who eventually unionized, spent years publishing articles arguing for laws limiting the gig economy, like this one:

"The gig economy has grown big, fast — and that’s a problem for workers" [1]

Three years after the above article was published, its agenda succeeded, and a new anti-gig-economy law was passed in California. That law in turn forced Vox to let go of hundreds of gig economy freelancers, thus reducing competition to the full-time journalists who used their media platform to lobby for the law:

"Vox Media to cut hundreds of freelance jobs ahead of changes in California gig economy laws" [2]

[1] https://www.vox.com/2016/10/26/13349498/gig-economy-profits-...

[2] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/16/vox-media-to-cut-hundreds-of...

That’s literally every publicly traded company, not just Amazon.

Who said it’s a crime for businesses to keep their own interests in mind or even to weigh them heavily? Seems prudent

> Who said it’s a crime for businesses to keep their own interests in mind

Nobody? Certainly, not the person you're responding to. This comment _almost_ feels like a non-sequitor to me. Someone saying to "keep something in mind" is _not_ them calling it a crime.

Some would argue that that shouldn't mean Amazon gets to impose conditions that cause a non-trivial amount of workers to be forced to do things like pee in bottles, or fight for their right to not endure such conditions (amongst other harsh conditions like extremely high quotas).

Nobody said it's a crime, but I really don't want to live in a world where the interests of corporate profits outweigh everything else.

We're already pretty far down that path; too far, IMO.

Not a crime, a reality, cheers to anyone who tries to keep that reality at the forefront of the conversation.

"Amazon is not commenting on those issues with anything in mind other than its own interests."

Isn't that what any company should do?

You should keep it in mind when other company's make PR statements, yes.

I would like to think that a "good" company should also consider other factors like when they make a PR statement (things like: "is this statement a lie"?). I'd certainly have a hard time arguing that a company should lie in a PR statement, even if it appears that such a lie would be in their interests.

Are there any apps to streamline the unionization of businesses? It would seem quorum discovery is the hardest part of creating a union -- who is ready to join. Being in a union myself, even with some of the political issues that come with it, I very much appreciate what they do for me.

The incentive structure is bad. However much money you make for organizing unions, I'm positive the company they're attempting to unionize will pay you several times that to give them the list of workers who want to unionize. It's the same problem review sites have; companies that want to game the reviews will pay more than users who want honest reviews.

You'll also have issues with companies paying someone to join the unionization effort to spy on it. That's not insurmountable with proper designs, but it makes it a lot harder to assist with organizing when you have to silo users from one another to prevent espionage.

> The incentive structure is bad. However much money you make for organizing unions, I'm positive the company they're attempting to unionize will pay you several times that to give them the list of workers who want to unionize. It's the same problem review sites have; companies that want to game the reviews will pay more than users who want honest reviews.

That's probably solved by having a union or a nonprofit develop and run the app, instead of a for-profit company.

Is seems like the default assumption is for-profit companies are the best vehicle to accomplish any task, but there's a lot they just can't do or can't do well.

> You'll also have issues with companies paying someone to join the unionization effort to spy on it. That's not insurmountable with proper designs, but it makes it a lot harder to assist with organizing when you have to silo users from one another to prevent espionage.

Yeah, that's harder problem, but it's an issue that needs to be solved for any such effort. Maybe you could have some kind of validation/referral type feature, e.g. refer your coworkers anonymously, and part of on-boarding they verify a list of people and their roles, including the initiator. You could probably structure it so every person gets vetted, but it's unclear who started the process [1].

[1] e.g. initiator refers the effort to 10 coworkers. You have a list of 11 potential employees. Send random 3-worker subsets that together cover all 11 to each referral for vetting of employment location and title. At the end of it, you should have some confidence that you can filter out bogus people and management. Though you still have the problem of snitches and spies who actually work the job.

Could the first problem be prevented at a legal level? The app company itself files some sort of legal document preventing itself from falling prey to that sort of corruption (although, really, the first time they did that the company would go under because nobody would use it ever again)

The second problem is harder... maybe the tech could be designed such that nobody, including the makers of the app, could see the list until/unless a quorum is reached? I can't believe I'm saying this, but could the blockchain be useful here?

Edit: a simpler solution would be to give each person voting a unique, nonpersonal identifier, and then end-to-end encrypt their attached personal details, so after the voting period is done they would have exclusive authority to de-anonymize their information (so it can be verified as part of the final vote tally)

That solves the actual vote but that's not the big issue. At the start you have to get enough people interested and talk to other people to get them interested and the company can use that to do some 'totally not retaliatory firings/performance reviews of key organizers.' If it were as simple as just needing to make an up or down vote there wouldn't be so many issues but there's a lot of anti-union propaganda out there you might need to convince people out of before trying to vote.

Maybe we finally found an application for Blockchain...

Literally none of the hard problems in forming a union are technical. I can't stress this enough—the hard problems in organizing are much squishier and amorphous.

You're trying to get a majority of people to feel like they have a personal stake in improving the material conditions of others. It's not quorum algorithms, it's not apps, it's not encrypted communication platforms. The hard part is organizing people.

> The hard part is organizing people.

That's the hard part of most things, to be fair.

Are you saying that technology can't be used to more effectively organize and influence people?

No, I think pje is saying that existing tools are just fine & new tools are unlikely to improve things on the margin.

If something is hard, the tools to do it aren't fine.

Yes, my friend is working on this


Is this tech really needed for union organization though? It seems much better to be using conventional chatrooms like Telegram/Signal for the best outreach among workers. And Telegram/Signal seems to be far more trustworthy of not leaking your stuff to the companies than some random startup, as a lot of people are already using it...

Honestly you also don't want your app to be something your employer can use the presence of on your phone as a signal that you are involved in union organizing, which is another win for a generic platform.

Under what circumstances would an employer get access to that information?

My employer should never look at my personal phone, for any reason.

If you want to technologically verify desire for union membership in a given workforce, you need to credibly authenticate employment, and there's no way for the person on the other end of that transaction to be totally sure you're not doing so on behalf of an anti-union employer.

coworker.org and another that has been posted on HN that I can't recall the name of.

I'm clicking through all the links in this article and can't find a single bit from Amazon's point of view. But my hazy memory says Amazon's story is they were fired because they were sending mass emails through the internal Amazon email system trying to unionize and wouldn't quit and use some other means of communication even after being counseled.

You'd expect the NYT's to give both side's at a minimum, or is Amazon a cartoon villain ran by a duck who swims in a silo of gold coins?

There's 2 quotes from an Amazon spokesperson there:

“We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against our internal policies, all of which are lawful,” said Jaci Anderson, an Amazon spokeswoman. “We terminated these employees not for talking publicly about working conditions, safety or sustainability but, rather, for repeatedly violating internal policies.”

Ms. Anderson, the Amazon spokeswoman, said the company disagreed with allegations made in Mr. Bailey’s case. “We are proud to provide inclusive environments, where employees can excel without fear of retaliation, intimidation or harassment,” she said.

There's also a response to one of those reasons.

> After Amazon told them that they had violated its external communications policy by speaking publicly about the business, their group organized 400 employees to also speak out, purposely violating the policy to make a point.

So, Amazon fired then for publicly speaking about the business. Their statement saying that it was for violating internal policy seems deliberately misleading, because the internal policy that was broken was to not speak publicly. That Amazon had a policy against speaking publicly is not a point in Amazon's favor.

> That Amazon had a policy against speaking publicly is not a point in Amazon's favor.

Not to defend Amazon, but on this point, every job I've ever had included a policy that amounted to "do not speak publicly about the business."

Do others think this is unusual?

It is legal to prohibit employees saying or implying that they are speaking on behalf of the company or in any capacity, but it's actually forbidden by the National Labor Relations Board to tell employees they are forbidden from saying anything about their employer (notwithstanding sensitive, confidential or classified topics).

There are specific rights in this regard.


> In a memo released on April 15, the agency evaluated a case where a company maintained a policy that prohibited employees from speaking to the media at any time. The NLRB found this rule to be unlawful and explained: “Employees have a statutory right to speak publically about their complaints or concerns with their terms and conditions of employment, including to the press, without employer authorization.”

> In other words, employees have a right under the National Labor Relations Act generally to discuss their employment – including with the press. Based on the finding that the policy was unlawful, the NLRB also found that the company violated labor law when it terminated two employees pursuant to the policy for speaking to the media about a workplace issue. A more narrowly tailored policy may have passed muster, but the broad media prohibition, in this case, crossed the line.

But these two were not speaking about the “terms and conditions” of their employment. They were broadly criticizing the company on other matters ranging from climate change to more directly political issues. I feel like the scope of the NLRA is extending to include just about everything.

You've got it backwards the law allows companies certain things they can forbid people from doing not an explicit list of things employees are allowed to say [0]. Companies can only prevent employees from speaking about specific things like trade secrets or other confidential things.

[0] This would have some pretty obvious 1A implications.

What? It sounds like you are implying that you need your employers permission to speak your mind, broadly, on any topic?

I'm not necessarily saying that's how it should be, but I am observing that this is how it is in practice. Otherwise what do you make of companies regularly firing people for saying something on social media or on their own time? For example Disney+ fired Gina Carano for holding certain political positions and expressing them online. It seems like left-leaning activists want it both ways - protection for their own activities but not for the activities of moderates or conservatives.

'protection for moderates or conservative' I see this opined frequently, but what specific views are in need of protection here? Real question because it usually seems like a smoke screen for troubling or racist views.

> I feel like the scope of the NLRA is extending to include just about everything.

You say this like it's a bad thing.

Unusual or not, it's still restrictive. I think it's reasonable to prohibit employees from speaking publicly on behalf of the business, but restricting speech otherwise is a pretty shitty thing to do.

That depends, is the policy:

a) As an employee, you are not allowed to make statements about internal matters on behalf of the company.

b) As an employee, you are not allowed to talk about internal matters outside the company.

If A, then I have no problem. Companies have PR teams and random employee #13554 might not have all the information about an issue.

If B, I have a huge problem as the first amendment is a thing that exists.

You limited B to internal matters, which generally means company confidential. Unless the matters concern legal violations (a different conversation about whistleblower regulation and protection), why on earth would you have “a huge problem” with confidentiality agreements and NDAs? Especially when you sign those agreements as a condition of employment?

When I said internal matters, I did not have any specific information in mind, just internal company matters.

If engineer #34529, profiled liked to SpaceY says on Twitter that his group has lots of overtime. He could be fired in a case B situation. And yes, information like that could be coupled with other information to figure out what projects the company is working on.

It is my belief that confidentiality agreements and NDAs, along with non-compete clauses are overbroad and expand beyond what companies are allowed to ask of their employees.

Companies regularly fire people for expressing political opinions they don't agree with. I feel that speech should be protected, but if so, it should be protected across the board for all points of views, all ideologies, and all political positions. For instance, an employee who publicly criticizes Black Lives Matter should be able to do so without risking their job. Would you be OK with that?

Right. But it would interesting to hear how Amazon claims these employees violated internal policies. That seems newsworthy.

Their spokesperson did not wish to say what policies they claim were violated. They were presented an opportunity to state their side, and chose not to.

The spokesperson had no choice. Speaking publicly in ways that harm the company's brand is against policy, a fireable offense.

The spokesperson is a representative of the company, what they say is what the company wants said publicly about the issue. I wasn't blaming them personally, I was saying the company's point of view was given in the article.

Maybe an intrepid journalist could find out...

Perhaps, in doing so, that journalist would discover that Amazon had no real argument for any internal policy being violated at all. Or perhaps they would discover that these employees did, in fact, violate some internal policy, whether or not their firing violated their rights.

The intrepid journalist linked to it, why is reprinting it necessary?

I generally don't like the New York Times either, but you're grasping at straws here.

Which is why these things shouldn’t be decided in a court of public opinion. If you’ve ever been involved in the employment dispute world, you know there is a lot of liability for employers talking about internal investigation matters publicly. It’s not realistic to expect Amazon or any employer to talk openly with the press about an ongoing dispute with an employee in detail. Meanwhile, an individual fighting the company has every incentive to air everything (as they understand it) and little liability for doing so. Consequently, news stories are seldom going to give you a full accounting of facts.

They violated their internal policy of not talking publicly about working conditions.

Apparently the NLRB didn't think the specifics of Amazon's explanation for why they were fired was compelling. Why should the NYT then?

Because the NLRB isn't some opaque body; it's a public body accountable to voters, and as a voter it's impossible to know if their explanation is valid if the press doesn't accurately and fully report on why a particular decision was made.

Maybe after presenting all sides of the decision, an NYT reader might agree that the NLRB's decision was correct/valid; but with the way the article is written, it's impossible for that to happen.

> Because the NLRB isn't some opaque body; it's a public body accountable to voters, and as a voter it's impossible to know if their explanation is valid if the press doesn't accurately and fully report on why a particular decision was made.

Since they’re a public institution their decisions are published for anyone to look up, read, and understand the rationale behind their decision.

It seems NYT got the scoop on this particular case but you can expect the decision to be posted on the NLRB site when it’s finalized. I suspect the NYT (and the person who tipped them off) does not yet know the reason for the Board’s decision. It’s very likely no one involved in this article has read the document yet and, for now, they’ve only been informed as to the outcome. NYT, Amazon, and the aggrieved parties will probably have to wait to read the Board’s written decision along with the rest of us.

They printed Amazon's statement on the matter. I'm not sure why they have to go farther and print Amazon's now disproven legal theories too.

In general, it's more or less impossible to litigate a legal decision based off of 2 quotes in a public statement. It's why we have courts of law, it's why the legal system is predicated on deliberation.

> now disproven legal theories

Disproven? According to whom? The whole point of the press is to show its work to the public. Maybe you're correct that it's disproven! But I would have no way to know how/why it's disproven as a NYT reader. Anyone that wants to demonstrate to voters that Amazon's legal theories are disproven needs to show their work.

The NLRB is the legal system for deciding such matters.

Correct, and it's accountable to voters, it isn't some opaque black box (or rather, it shouldn't be). The whole point is that, in a democracy, the press (NYT et al) is responsible for fully reporting on the workings of the government (NLRB). The GP commenter is pointing out that the NYT hasn't adequately done that, and I tend to agree.

I thought the press was supposed to hold the powers that be to account? Surely you don't want the press to parrot everything the government says with no context or additional information?

To do it’s job as journalist institution.

Though, in the NYT’s case, they’ve been predictably going straight downhill since they adopted Fox News’ high level strategy of chasing, fanning and profiting from political and social polarization.

So, nobody’s holding their breath that NYT would rise to that challenge.

Why does a journalist institution have to go above printing Amazon's statements on the matter, and print their now disproven legal theories as well?

It’s not an endorsement, it’s information. As a reader, I want to know which legal theories specifically were disproven. For example, would my own employer’s “no public statements” policy be invalid based on this ruling, or was the problem something specific to Amazon?

So it's your point of view that the NYT's shouldn't be doing journalism, but advocacy? Readers don't get to make up their minds, but get spoon fed just what they need to know as determined by their betters? It's a brave new world you're creating.

The NLRB is the legal system for deciding such matters. Amazon's legal theories no longer hold weight.

Do you expect the NYT to publish every failed, specious motion filed in standard court cases in the name of "both sides" after the case has been decided? No, you take statements from both sides, and report what the legal system has decided.

I have a feeling that you wouldn't be making this argument if the decision was reversed. The law is important, it's how we resolve disputes like this. But rulings can be disputed and one is not obligated to dismiss "Amazon's legal theories" from one's mind just because some legal body ruled one way or another.

As a reader, I am interested to hear exactly how Amazon claims these former employees violated its internal policies. The article's lack of curiosity is interesting.

While I agree with you in this instance, I think there are cases where the different opinions in a case are relevant, such as the majority and dissenting opinions in SCOTUS cases.


Amazon's POV is explained directly in the article. There's also this link [0] from the article elaborating on the firing.

[0] https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/01/02/amazon-...

You'd expect the NYT's to give both side's at a minimum, or is Amazon a cartoon villain ran by a duck who swims in a silo of gold coins?

News doesn't do that anymore, but more importantly, Scrooge McDuck is not a villain.

> You'd expect the NYT's to give both side's at a minimum

30 years ago, I would have had that expectation from NYT and other trustworthy media sources. I haven’t had that expectation for at least a decade now.

They link to their original article about the firing, which says

>Amazon told the employees that they had violated its policy against solicitation, which forbids Amazon workers from asking their co-workers to donate to causes or sign petitions.

The article is part of a briefing with a headline about the airline industry, somewhat understanding how you would miss it.

I remember their advocacy from internal mailing lists. They were staunch critics of Amazon's effect on the climate and environment. I don't recall either of them calling for a union, but I do remember them as passionate, eloquent, and consistent advocates of the environment, and I was very sad to see them be fired.

I hope they have better luck with WaPo!


Maybe socially, but NYT leans right economically.

It would be unsurprising to me if Amazon had buried this claim and didn't want it to be repeated, because in my opinion that would be clear evidence that they were breaking labor laws.

Since corporations aren't alive how can they have a "point of view???

That's a funny euphemism for "statement written by a corporate PR person who may not have any clue about what they are talking about, and may be repeating someone's lies."

> You'd expect the NYT's to give both side's at a minimum, or is Amazon a cartoon villain ran by a duck who swims in a silo of gold coins?

This kind of “both sides” journalism has been weaponized by bad actors to the point it does a disservice to readers. They use it as a way to inject talking points into the public discourse. I think the last 10 years have showed us that there are definitely some points of view that are more valuable than others, and that treating all points of view as carrying equal weight is a false equivalency that simply creates openings for bad-faith actors (and Amazon is hardly the first company / politician to act in bad faith).

Wouldn't it be better for Amazon, in the long term to let workers get the best salary/benefits in the industry and even cooperate in their unionization efforts (if the workers want to)? Would it such a big hit to their bottom line?

Or am I just being to too naive?

[Edit: Grammar]

It’s not just about the bottom line, it’s also about power. Without unionization, Amazon has complete control over their workers wages, benefits, and work contracts. Unionization shifts some of that control to the workers themselves. Amazon doesn’t want to lose that power.

If they had provided good benefits and working condition, the workers will not be incentivized to form unions, right? Why are they not doing that?

Because they’re betting, with a good deal of historical justification, that they can have their cake and eat it too.

US has unfortunately been union-unfriendly since Reagan.

The US has been union unfriendly since the 19th century when union leaders were regularly assassinated, and in the 20th century when striking workers were aerially bombarded and killed.

Things had to change after the Great Depression though, the Roosevelt government had to actually make amends with and negotiate with labor unions, since the alternative was widespread economically-induced unrest which might possibly lead to communist or fascist uprisings. I think the parent comment was talking about that particular era, and commenting on how Reagan dismantled that whole deal.

mind you this was historically the case nearly everywhere in Wurope too. This only really changed drastically after world war 1, which saw the fall of many empires (german, ottoman, astro-hungarian and russian) which resulted in a lot of political instability. Trade unions and other labour organisations where able to demand representative power in a turmoil time when many new countries where created. (having a nationwide strike or even a revolution was a really bad thing for the (newly established) establishment).

This got further cemented when the USSR was formed, and it actively supported many left winged militant organisations in europe. This was used as leverage by trade unionists and social-democrats to demand further rights (or else the militant forces will get into power and things will end much worse for the establishment).

This dynamic only really changed right before world war 2, when stalin (and other USSR leaders) focused on a policy of "socialism in one country" instead of a the dogma of a worldwide workers revolution.

Well they are doing some of it for just that reason, like they raised the minimum wage to $15 (which is actually pretty good) and wave that around in their anti-union propaganda.

I bet they’ve done all kinds of risk calculations around increasing benefits and decided they could stop there. Personally, I hope their calculations are wrong and the workers unionize anyways.

"minimum wage" should be for jobs that are minimum work - jobs were you stand around doing nothing (cashier at a slow store), or are apprenticing a skill.

Amazon warehouse jobs are physically demanding and damaging (which should carry a premium) and extremely optimized to negative downtime (which should carry a premium). (Employees are required to do work while off the clock, walking between work area and break area, and waiting in line for security checks).

“Wages” (or prices) should be determined by supply and demand curves. If the government wants minimum wages to rise, then it should lower supply of labor and/or increase demand for labor.

The government can lower the supply of labor willing to work for low wages by offering a basic income, pay for people’s education, etc.

The government can increase the demand for labor by decreasing the number of hours needed to reach overtime (per day and per week), mandating vacation time and parental leave, etc.

All of this, however, very explicitly increases government expenditures requiring tax increases and clearly shows the wealth transfer, so it’s politically less popular than trying to foist it onto select businesses.

This isn't the government's minimum wage, this is amazon's minimum wage, ie the lowest wage that amazon pays to its employees, which is more than double US federal minimum wage.

There is a push to raise federal minimum wage to match Amazon's minimum wage, but for now they are paying a hefty premium everywhere in the US except Washington D.C., the only US state-like entity to yet match it.

Sometimes we forget that all these amazon warehouse employees could take jobs as cashiers at slow stores and similar such easier opportunities, but choose not to.

Because good benefits and working conditions are fleeting without the power of collective bargaining behind it. Without a union, employees are depending entirely on the goodwill of their employers.

This. Amazon became a ripe unionization target because they get noticeable productivity per worker. Its rates are closer to manufacturing compared to typical retail and the other prevalent, low-income jobs.

With Amazon's massive investment in robotics and other opportunities for automation, they think they can become exponentially more efficient. At that point, a non-unionized workforce will lose that goodwill and be slashed into a fraction of its current size.

On the other hand, regarding automation...

In an ideal world unions shouldn't have to be anti-automation, because people should have access to other sources of income (yes I mean income, not specifically employment) if they lose their jobs. This way we aren't holding back technological progress to protect people from poverty.

I have no idea what that ideal world looks like, maybe it's not possible. But I do feel uncomfortable with the idea that automation is somehow inherently anti-worker with no opportunity for reconciliation.

Huh. I've been under the mistaken impression that there is more than one employer in the US

Because that costs money, why just give workers more when you can use some of the money saved on suppressing organization instead.


Jeff Bezos has plenty of slack for treating workers better while still being a billionaire. To start, he could each of 1 million employees $2000 more every year ($1/hour raise or 30min/day in more breaks) and not break a sweat.

This must be why googlers are infamously paid so little.

Agreed; human resources are the same as natural resources: fodder for exploitation.

> Wouldn't it be better for Amazon, in the long term to let workers get the best salary/benefits in the industry

The dirty secret is that Amazon basically already has the best salary/benefits for the job types that are looking to unionize. This isn't entirely true, but very close. Warehouse work is not well compensated anywhere and Amazon's $15/hr min wage plus really solid benefits is pretty much comparatively incomparable.

Assertion: a primary objective of most organizations is to establish and maintain independent control over resources (such as humans).

If true, then it follows that Amazon would reject unionization as the union would claim some controls over human resources. Amazon's interests might be in alignment with a union part of the time but anytime it does not the presence of a union means that Amazon has lost a degree of freedom for action.

They’re doing well now, so from their point of view why take on the risk? Service disruptions caused by strikes would hurt Amazon’s product offerings. Competitors may draw away their hardest workers, leaving Amazon with an uncompetitive, unfireable labor pool.

A thought of theirs could be drawing a correlation to industries which unionized and became less nimble (eg: auto industry). Now was it unionization or a 'fat and happy industry' disregarding competition. Probably a little of both.

I know little of unions - but my impression is that the unions often overreach human conditions with business decisions. In that case, having people without business experience making business decisions.

Why shouldn’t a grown adult stick their hand near a jet engine to warm it up, when they’ve never had any bad experiences with that maneuver? Corporations are full of brains; even if they aren’t directly sensing the downsides to some crappy position they hold, it’s often fairly trivial to discern the logical outcome in advance.

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