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Programming United States IT

Does Silicon Valley Need More Labor Unions? (salon.com) 187

Salon recently talked to Jeffrey Buchanan, who two years ago co-founded a labor rights group "that highlights the plight of security officers, food-service workers, janitors and shuttle-bus drivers in the region." An anonymous reader quotes their report: The situation among Silicon Valley's low-wage contract workers has become so perilous that in January, thousands of security guards working at immensely profitable companies like Facebook and Cisco followed the shuttle-bus drivers and voted to unionize in an effort to collectively bargain for higher wages and better benefits. The upcoming labor contract negotiations between the roughly 3,000 security guards (represented by SEIU United Service Workers West) and their employers is one of the biggest developments in Silicon Valley labor organizing to happen this year. Buchanan says there's also a broader push this year to get tech companies to be proactive in ensuring these workers can make ends meet, even if these companies have to pay more for the services they procure...

A paper published last year by University of California at Santa Cruz researchers Chris Brenner and Kyle Neering estimates between 19,000 and 39,000 contracted service workers are employed in the Valley at any given time... An additional 78,000 workers are at risk of becoming contract employees, according to the study, a number which includes administrative assistants, sales representatives and medium-wage computer programmers. This is part of a larger societal shift in which salaried workers are converted to contractors -- a transition that benefits business owners, in that they don't have to pay benefits and can hire and fire contractors at will.

Buchanan's group represents contractors typically earning "as little as $20,000 a year." But Salon's headline argues that "programmers may be next" in the drive to organize contractors.
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Does Silicon Valley Need More Labor Unions?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 11, 2017 @06:23AM (#54595345)

    Is more housing projects so that prices sink to a bearable level.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Lots and lots of house boats. When the bay is full of house boats, cloud boats! That's right, in the cloud, literally! And when the cloud is full, contract out to Amazon! They house you right in the warehouse!

    • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Sunday June 11, 2017 @11:17AM (#54596189) Homepage Journal

      I know someone who came from the housing projects in Brooklyn.

      He said that during WWII, they needed housing for the shipyard workers, so the federal government hired contractors (I think) to build the projects. It was good housing, and a good community built at a time where everybody was working at a good salary. After the war, the projects attracted a lot of middle-class working people, such as teachers and salesmen.

      Then some politicians turned the projects into welfare housing. If the projects had 5% unemployment, the unemployed could plug into the network and get jobs. But if they had 50% unemployment, full of people on welfare, the projects would decline. Some projects are well-maintained and highly desirable with long waiting lists, while others are not.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 11, 2017 @06:54AM (#54595387)
    Dev and IT folks are convinced that it's all a meritocracy until their jobs get outsourced to India or they find themselves being let go for being born before 1977 (or next year, 1978). But it's okay because those younger not yet outsourced or retrenched folks are convinced that they are different and that those guys that were let go or made redundant simply didn't have what it takes to succeed and that outsourcing or age related discrimination *won't happen to them*.

    In the employers favor there are endless new people fresh willing to get sucked in to replace those that figure out that a lot of silicon valley these days is a venture capitalist money laundering scheme. The recent book Chaos Monkeys draws the argument out in stark detail. Convince IT and Dev folks that they are wolves and only that sheep need collectivism. Keep up the illusion and that way you can keep fleecing them.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by swb ( 14022 )

      It's too bad the conventional union system has nearly all the rot and inefficiency of government. It gives it such a bad name that it's easy to see why so many IT workers see it as a turn for the worse.

      I think what you say about IT workers deluding themselves into thinking that it's a meritocracy is true, and much of this is just a byproduct of the general growth of IT. As long as it was new and on a path of large-scale growth, it's easy to see how the large demand for bodies and skills translates into "I

      • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Sunday June 11, 2017 @09:58AM (#54595849)

        It's too bad the conventional union system has nearly all the rot and inefficiency of government. It gives it such a bad name that it's easy to see why so many IT workers see it as a turn for the worse.

        Union management got its culture from the nature of the businesses whose workers it organized in its days of growth and greatness: steelmakers, cab drivers, longshoremen, and mostly in large Eastern cities where graft is a way of life. Today's tech workers see this as old-fashioned and irrelevant.

        A Silicon Valley union would have to arise from its own culture and be run in a way that appeals to local workers. Give it some California name like Bargaining Coop, and you're off and running.

        • This might be sensible. However, TFA talks about SEIU doing the organizing, and that union is the nastiest gang of evil ultra-violent thugs this side of MI13. (Video that sticks in my mind, a nearly spherical "union boss" toad in a $1000 suit, gesturing to the two thugs next to him, pointing to a black guy doing nothing but carrying a Right to Work sign, and they beat him nearly to death.)

      • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Sunday June 11, 2017 @10:41AM (#54596025) Homepage Journal

        It's too bad the conventional union system has nearly all the rot and inefficiency of government.

        I'd like to see the data.

        I don't know of any (non-anecdotal) evidence that unions generally or even government generally has rot and inefficiency. I think there are good and bad unions and government agencies.

        First, government. I once did a study of nuclear power plants, in which I interviewed engineers and managers in the best-run nuclear power plants around the country. (Nuclear power plants have well-defined, clear-cut criteria for good management, starting with minimum down time and good safety.) Some power plants are run by the federal or local governments; others are run by private corporations. Some of the best-run plants were government (Tennessee Valley Authority), and others were private (Commonwealth Edison). There was no correlation between government/private ownership and good management. I found the same pattern in other industries. (Despite what the Koch brothers would like you to believe, the Veterans Health Affairs system has among the best outcomes for major diseases like heart disease, if you believe in peer-reviewed literature.)

        Second, unions. There are good and bad unions throughout the U.S. I haven't studied them so I can't tell you definitively which ones are good. But the first goal of a union is to negotiate wages, and union wages are about 50% higher than non-union wages in comparable jobs. Unions also negotiate working conditions, such as job security and safety. (If somebody has published a study I'd like to see it.)

        I think economists generally agree that middle-class wages have remained static or declined since about 1980, and one of the major factors was the loss of unions.

        One of the interesting comparisons is between American non-union jobs and union jobs in Europe, particularly Germany and Scandanavia, where salaries are about twice U.S. rates.

        In the 1950s, corporate management, government agencies, and unions cooperated in many industries, like the aircraft industry. This led to the greatest expansion in wealth and industry that the world has ever seen. It seemed to work.

        • "One of the interesting comparisons is between American non-union jobs and union jobs in Europe, particularly Germany and Scandanavia, where salaries are about twice U.S. rates."

          I have to ask your data because I find it hard to believe.

          Anyway comparing US to EU unions is an apples-to-oranges exercise. In EU you don't have a union for a single company but more like a party across the country, either generalist or sector-focused. Then they don't negotiate wages and conditions on a given company but across t

          • Oh! and I forgot about the other critical difference: not only unions are not company-bound, but they aren't monopolist either: you can belong to a union, or another one or a third one, the one you think that best cares for your interests and all unions go to negotiations with representatives weighting as per their representees.

          • by nbauman ( 624611 )

            "One of the interesting comparisons is between American non-union jobs and union jobs in Europe, particularly Germany and Scandanavia, where salaries are about twice U.S. rates."

            I have to ask your data because I find it hard to believe.

            http://www.forbes.com/sites/fr... [forbes.com]
            How Germany Builds Twice as Many Cars as the U.S. While Paying Its Workers Twice as Much
            Frederick E. Allen
            12/21/2011
            In 2010, Germany produced more than 5.5 million automobiles; the U.S produced 2.7 million. At the same time, the average auto worker in Germany made $67.14 per hour in salary in benefits; the average one in the U.S. made $33.77 per hour. Yet Germany's big three car companies-BMW, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz), and Volkswagen-are very profitable.
            How can that be? The

            • "the average auto worker in Germany made $67.14 per hour in salary in benefits"

              Sorry man, but something smells veeeery fishy there: 67.14x8=537,12; 537,12x21=11.279,52;
              67,14x8x21x12=135.354,24. There's nooooooo way that a German autoworker makes north of 130K year, simply nooooo way.

              • by nbauman ( 624611 )

                If you have a more reliable source than Forbes, I would be happy to see it.

                (BTW, you seem to have assumed an 8-hour working day and a 12-month working year. Germans told me that they get a 1-month vacation every year, sometimes more. They also work fewer hours per year overall than the average European or American worker.)

                • "BTW, you seem to have assumed an 8-hour working day and a 12-month working year. Germans told me that they get a 1-month vacation every year, sometimes more. They also work fewer hours per year overall than the average European or American worker"

                  Yes, I saw it later: I wanted to show a monthly number, since in Europe is more easily understandable and I multiplied by 12 months instead of by 11.

                  Nevertheless for a more suited number, it's about 1500 hours/year, which still puts it at over 100K which is simply

              • "There's nooooooo way that a German autoworker makes north of 130K year"

                They do. Go and check for yourself if you don't believe it.

                • German autoworkers don't earn any US Dollars at all, they earn Euros, which are a different currency.

                  If you use market exchange rates then yes the figures are probably true. If you use purchasing power parity rates then the difference reduces by about 30 - 40%. (PPP indexes currencies by what they will actually buy, rather than by what rate they are traded against eachother on the FX market, and so takes into account differences in the cost of living in each country).

                  It is of course fine to use market excha

                  • "German autoworkers don't earn any US Dollars at all, they earn Euros, which are a different currency."

                    It's a different currency, yes, but it happens to be the currency I'm most comfortable with, as it happens to be mine one too, thanks.

                    "It is of course fine to use market exchange rates, but then you have to add some caveats to explain that not everything in the
                    German economy costs the same as it does in the US"

                    True, but it's still quite out of scope when the real salaries are not even half that figure as w

                • "They do. Go and check for yourself if you don't believe it."

                  No, they don't... by a stupidly big margin.

                  You need go to a senior engineer at Audi or BMW to reach about 60.000~65.000EUR gross/year (and I happen to have some two or three friends in such positions at the VAG Group). And then you need to go into management to go over that ceiling.

                  A blue collar "senior" would reach around 35.000â gross/year.

                  Average salary in Germany is about 45.000â gross/year, which despite of being quite a substantia

        • by swb ( 14022 )

          There's just too much anecdotal evidence of government and union inefficiency and corruption. Even if both organizations are cleaner and better run on an at large basis, the perception of unions' and their historical problems of corruption, etc, is enough to make the adoption of trade unionism by IT workers unlikely, especially with the mindset that it's an actual professional meritocracy that doesn't need any kind of collective bargaining.

          I agree with you that unions have been a historical good for worker

          • by nbauman ( 624611 )

            Unions cover a wide range of efficiency and inefficiency, corruption and honesty, etc. I believe that unions are corrupt in the same proportion as other American institutions.

            For example the theater unions (SAG/AFTRA, etc.) are well run and provide a lot for their workers. Acting is certainly a creative profession far from the industrial assembly line. I know retirees from SAG/AFTRA who have better health insurance than I do, who are drawing a reasonable pension to supplement Social Security, and who are li

            • by swb ( 14022 )

              Don't get me wrong, I'm not fully opposed to unionization of IT workers, more skeptical that the traditional, American blue-collar union template would be attractive or effective at organizing IT labor.

              It would be nice if some Scandinavian/German cooperative labor union model could be adopted, but the problem is you'd have to start a new union that operated under different principles than traditional American unions and probably exclude them from participating as well so they wouldn't co-opt the organizatio

          • "I'd also argue that in some ways, unions have also created a legacy of adversarial relationships between workers and management "

            You forget that militant unions arose because of management abuse and exploitation. Look up the 19th century history of the Pinkerton agency and its involvement in systematic bullying of workers, up to and including murder.

            Sociopaths will manipulate their way to the top in any organisation, which is where the corruption side comes from and there's no arguing that organised crime

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The cure is worse than the disease. I might get replaced, but I can find other jobs.

      What I can't deal with is having two bosses and a union that will work hard to retain the incompetent.

      • by ranton ( 36917 )

        What I can't deal with is having two bosses and a union that will work hard to retain the incompetent.

        This would be one of my biggest fears regarding joining a union as well. I work hard to ensure the teams I work with are competent. This not only helps increase the quality of our work, but gives me the opportunity to learn as much from them as I hope they learn from me. The dead weight which comes from incompetent coworkers is not something I'm willing to deal with. It's usually useful to have a few of them to do the grunt work no one else wants to do, but if management allows them to creep into the majori

    • OK, but how does a Union help with that? It doesn't. The only difference is a Union takes a fee from your paycheck every month. They can't magically stop outsourcing or ageism, no matter what they claim.
      • by nbauman ( 624611 )

        Suppose you looked around and saw that union wages were about 50% to 100% higher in your field for the same work. Would that justify the union dues?

        One of the main functions of unions is negotiation. A large group can negotiate better terms than an individual. McDonald's can buy ketchup on better terms than Joe's restaurant on the corner.

        • Suppose you looked around and saw that union wages were about 50% to 100% higher in your field for the same work. Would that justify the union dues?

          Not when any programmer could just go somewhere else and get the 50-100% themselves with no union dues... or simply point that out before they left and get paid equally.

          The fantasy that unions can help programmers who are already making tons of money is absurd, because programmers can easily obtain equivalent pay and get it - thus rendering a programmers union s

  • by zifn4b ( 1040588 )
    The inmates are running the asylum
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I left the area and I have never been happier. Yeah, it's my home and my family is still there, but the grass is greener outside of the Bay Area.

    Between the VCs, tech "entrepreneurs"', the fruits and nuts; you are better off just about anywhere else - I would say leave California completely.

  • Stupid Question (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Maclir ( 33773 ) on Sunday June 11, 2017 @07:34AM (#54595461) Journal

    Anyone who is not senior management needs to be in a union. Don't expect your bosses to be concerned about what is in your best interest - the sole function of a private business in a capitalist society is to return the maximum amount of money to the company's investors (stockholders). You, as a mere worker drone, are just fodder

    • The intelligence and skill level necessary to work most tech jobs places employees in a precarious position.

      Unions are a difficult sell to employees who consider themselves tough to replace, and without that little bit of arrogance, it's unlikely an individual will excel in a challenging field.

      It is the belief that unions only protect the below-average worker in a room full of exceptional individuals that will keep organized labor out of tech.

      • Also, it seems that many younger programmers have been propagandized into a useful delusion. They sincerely believe that if they enthusiasticallyâ cooperate with abusive labor practices and kiss enough ass, someday they will graduate from running dog to capitalist. Never mind that winning the startup lottery has little correlation with individual work performance and very very rarely lifts one from the working class to the owning class.

      • by mvdwege ( 243851 )

        In other words, tech workers are particularly susceptible to Dunning-Kruger.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Anyone who is not senior management needs to be in a union.

      Bosses wish to exploit my productive labor. But union organisers wish to exploit my paycheck too, and will use it to advocate for political goals which I may or may not endorse (now or in the future), buying themselves political power and clout. If I'm going to send money to the leftmost wings of the DNC, I'd much rather it be at my discretion, and not have it anchored to my paycheck indefinitely.

      And a union is only capable of reshaping the employee

      • by Anonymous Coward

        How do you explain that in an era when unions were strong, my grandfather could support a large family on a single blue-collar income and look forward to a decent pension when he retired? He worked at a foundry, by the way.

        Now we have educated people with decent jobs struggling to support themselves and make ends meet. Unions are much weaker now overall. Do you believe this is a coincidence?

        I'll throw in one fact that you can easily research yourself. American worker productivity has steadily risen sinc

  • Unions work best in industries dominated by an oligopoly of only a handful of corporations. Generally, the workers of each company will have their own union, which will then ally themselves with each other. In a market with many small or medium sized players unions don't tend to be very powerful. Which is not really a problem, as in that case workers have many options which forces employers to compete for workforce, making unions unnecessary.

  • Manual labour seems like a good solution for silicon valley's unicorn problem.
  • Unions put their effort into supporting their members, not the general populace. They spend a trifling amount of time and money campaigning to increase the minimum wage, and that only because in some cases union wages are tied to it. If it weren't for that, they would not give one tenth of one shit about it.

    Unions were a necessary step in workers' rights, but now it is time to protect the rights of all workers, without expecting them to unionize piecemeal.

    • So who's going to pay for it? Just the union members, and not society in general?

      Or do you think that strike funds, picket lines, etc. just magically appear without some sacrifice by somebody somewhere?

      • Or do you think that strike funds, picket lines, etc. just magically appear without some sacrifice by somebody somewhere?

        If you have MGI, you don't need a strike fund.

        • Not one of the 22 definitions of MGI that I came across have anything to do with the topic. Sorry, but we're not mindreaders (yet) :-)
          • Not one of the 22 definitions of MGI that I came across have anything to do with the topic. Sorry, but we're not mindreaders (yet) :-)

            You don't get to talk about worker's rights or the economy if you don't recognize the initialization for minimum guaranteed income. We only talk about it here on Slashdot approximately every goddamned day.

            • Come on, park your imaginary privilege - we call it Universal Basic Income here - including in the story I had posted on the front page. Universal Basic Income returns more than 7x as many pages as Minimum Basic Income on google. A search of UBI turns up 2 references to Universal Basic Income on the first page; MBI returns 0 in the first 5 pages.

              So by your own standard, you shouldn't get to talk about worker's rights. However, UBI has nothing to do with unions, which is what this article is about. You're

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 11, 2017 @11:21AM (#54596207)

      As a person who works in IT and teaches, I am in a union (former president) in one world, but not in the other. The wisdom that I can share with you is this:

      The first and foremost benefit to being in a union is collective bargaining. This not only determines wages and benefits, but also creates an equitable system for minorities. If you are wondering why there is a lack of women and black people in IT it is because they are systematically undervalued and discriminated against.

      The second benefit of being in a union is due process. Contrary to popular belief, this does not protect bad workers. It does, however, guarantee a fair process when applying discipline up to termination.

      The third benefit of being in a union is insurance and legal access. In the education world, when a principal threatened the employment of my wife for not volunteering to stay after school hours because she was lactating and needed to feed our child, the lawyer stepped in. Strangely enough, the school had been violating State mandated workplace time rules that the lawyer had actually written. His fees were paid for through insurance paid for with member dues.

      Now, to dispel any FUD about unions:

      Unions are prohibited, by law, from spending any dues money for political purposes. They do, however, solicit contributions for political purposes.

      Unions do not prevent employers, such as GM from closing manufacturing facilities and moving production to other countries.

      Unions are a victim of their own success. When asking yourself what have unions ever done for the general public, consider laws passed regarding:

      maternity leave
      overtime pay
      40 hour work week
      minimum wages
      workers compensation
      employer based healthcare / healthcare for all (ACA in U.S., Universal in other countries)
      sick days
      outlawing discrimination
      child labor
      workking conditions
      OSHA
      whistleblowers

      People take these things for granted now, but businesses are either trying to weaken these laws or move labor to parts of the world that do not have these laws. Unions are therefore not a thing of the past, but something that are always needed to secure the future.

      The bottom line is that H1B visas would not be an issue if IT workers had strong unions. IT workers would not always be on call or working 60 hour weeks if they had strong unions. IT workers would not suffer age discrimination if they had strong unions.

      Last year, I filed 5 W-2 forms and a Schedule S (IT Consulting) on my taxes. I have the opportunity to work with lots of employers, including some that outsource work to India. I have perspective, and agree that IT workers are sheep who are convinced they are wolves.

      The reality is that IT workers have no protection, and are blind to the fact that they need it until it is too late. With experience comes wisdom. Unfortunately, your colleagues are replaced before they acquire it. Don't be stupid. Unionize your workplace before you are replaced too.

  • Why can't employees leave a bad company and go to a good one?

    Regulations on health insurance? Court enforcement of non-compete agreements? Regulatory barriers to starting new businesses, especially co-ops and employee-owned corps?

    For skilled workers with marketable talents, the desire for a union is usually a symptom of problems, not solutions.

    Looks for impediments to the free flow of labor and you'll find the mechanisms that need fixing. But don't expect unions to work against their own interests by wo

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "Why can't employees leave a bad company and go to a good one?"

      I seriously can't tell if you're trolling, senile, or stupid.

  • $55k (Score:5, Funny)

    by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Sunday June 11, 2017 @08:59AM (#54595685) Homepage Journal
    I earn $55k doing IT in Silicon Valley with bonuses. I am doing pretty well.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The last thing Silicon Valley needs is to be more like Pittsburgh or Detroit.

    In theory, unions are a balancing force between big bad corp and itty bitty labor.
    This balancing force should find a happy medium between being able to have a business and being able to have a life.
    They are necessary because business can't help in stepping over the balance point to make the cash that the market feels entitled to.
    A little reality check for the markets might be a good thing, but

    In practice, unions can't help themselv

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Sunday June 11, 2017 @10:26AM (#54595959) Homepage

    1) Low pay/benefits.
    In some situations, Silicon Valley will offer low pay and no benefits, but only to new hires. This is particularly common in start ups. Competent, Experienced people get god pay and can demand their own benefits. But new people have the right to reasonable pay.

    2) Dangerous working conditions.
    Silicon Valley does not do this.

    3) Ridiculous hours/work.
    Silicon Valley is known to do this consistently.

    That is two out of three for new/bad workers. Yes, Silicon Valley needs Labor Unions.

  • The situation among Silicon Valley's low-wage contract workers has become so perilous that in January

    When the car you want costs more than you can afford, you get a different car.

    Likewise, when your job pays less than you need, you get a different job.

    What people are trying to do with jobs is the equivalent of buying a car on loan, driving it off the lot, and then try to renegotiate the price while refusing to give it back.

  • Its why doctors don't need unions. If you have skills that are in limited supply that is all you need.

    The people that tend to profit from unions are people without unique or valuable skills. And unions won't actually do that anymore given global economics.

    Thus the union as a concept is obsolete. Those with skills can't be so easily replaced and those without will be outsourced or something if they cause problems.

    So... do as thou wilt.

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