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Anti-employee collusion by SF bay area tech companies
January 28, 2012 5:31 AM   Subscribe

Google, Apple, Intel, Adobe, Disney, Pixar, Intuit and Lucasfilm are facing a lawsuit for their for their "no poaching" agreements (Bloomberg, TechCrunch).

These companies settled an anti-trust case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010 after the DOJ found “no overarching conspiracy”. The DOJ investigations did expose extensive evidence of pairwise agreements designed to limit employee mobility.

Adobe’s SVP for HR wrote “Bruce and Steve Jobs have an agreement that we are not to solicit ANY Apple employees, and vice versa.”

Pixar's VP for HR wrote “I just got off the phone with [Apple's] Danielle Lambert, and we agreed that effective now, we’ll follow a Gentleman’s agreement with Apple that is similar to our Lucasfilm agreement.”
posted by jeffburdges (59 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
No Microsoft? I guess not everyone can be friends with the cool kids.
posted by oddman at 5:45 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've this sense that the DOJ investigates corporate malfeasance only enough to discover an excuse for dropping the case, like the anti-competititve agreements being pairwise rather than "overarching" in this case.

A priori, one might imagine companies simply "optimize" their anti-social behavior right up until their extremely good lawyers say "wait don't do that". Yet, we've seen significant revisionism in the DOJs interpretation of anti-trust law towards more strict interpretations. Is there any really good scholarship on the history of anti-trust theory?

In fact, these wrist slapping DOJ settlements paradoxically make the underlying arguments look more like "shakedowns" that next time should require even more strict violations. There was a mefi quote that "small government means a government that deals with small problems", perhaps referring to social conservatives, but one might revise this as "smaller and smaller problems".
posted by jeffburdges at 5:54 AM on January 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


The sucky thing about agreements like this is that if big tech companies aren't poaching from each other, they're going after small start-ups (like the one I work for) who don't have the resources to compete for talent.
posted by octothorpe at 5:57 AM on January 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


"No poaching" of course being a euphemism for "keep wages low". Tech industry needs to unionize.
posted by DU at 6:08 AM on January 28, 2012 [56 favorites]


One time I got a raise sheet from my huge employer and my boss just passed it to me the way they e-mailed it to him and there was a field in there: percentage in survey group. The number in that field was 100.3. These guys hire consultants so that their salary curves are "competitive". They do this under the supervision of anti-trust consultants who make sure the monopolistic practice is at least one whole millimeter within the constraint of what the law allows. That stuff the Cato Institute tells you about market forces and supply and demand?

Our bosses have got workarounds.
posted by bukvich at 6:13 AM on January 28, 2012 [14 favorites]


It also limited employees ability to change jobs. Supposedly Pixar killed at least one hire where the employee had come to them and had not been actively recruited. The effect is people cannot switch jobs for higher pay or even just because they feel like it.

According to this, Steve Jobs personally asked Eric Schmidt to stop poaching employees.

As for Microsoft, they are still grounded by the DOJ, they can't party with the cool kids. Must sting if nobody even reached out to them. Poor Microsoft, forever alone.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:14 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, this is a dick move on Google's part, as well as the other tech companies. (I'm mentioning Google specifically because of their "Don't be Evil" BS. And also apparently some people think I'm a Google fanboy, which is ridiculous)

What's interesting: in every state other then California they wouldn't have even needed to do this, because they could have forced their employees to sign non-compete agreements.

In fact, the lack of non-competes is believed to be one of the major reasons why Silicon Valley, in California has such a dynamic Startup environment, compared to Boston MA, which has MIT.
No Microsoft? I guess not everyone can be friends with the cool kids.
Msft is in Seattle, which means they can have non-competes. and they enforce them - So they actually have a structural advantage: They can keep their employees from moving to silicon valley legally, but SV companies have no problem poaching from Microsoft. So entering into an agreement like this would be entirely negative (other then for employees based in CA)
"No poaching" of course being a euphemism for "keep wages low". Tech industry needs to unionize.
If you look at the actual situation it's more like "keep wages less then 300% of the national average" People in Engineers in SV make a a lot of money. Especially when you're talking about the kinds of people these companies would make a concerted effort to poach.
posted by delmoi at 6:17 AM on January 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


I go through periods where I forget why noncompetes are legal.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:19 AM on January 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's a trap.
posted by Fizz at 6:29 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree that non-compete agreements should be outlawed across the board, preferably with retroactive compensation for their victims over the last couple decades. Yet, these "no poaching" deals go beyond non-compete agreements because they impact all tech work, not merely one particular area.

I realize that sounds trivial if your an expert in search or whatever. It matters if you're an expert in a broad field like machine learning who simply wants to do more different stuff in your lifetime though.. or maybe your simply an ordinary developer who wants to change to work on movies.. or you simply wish to closer to your spouse's job.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:30 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Msft is in Seattle, which means they can have non-competes. and they enforce them

Yeah, I'm a bit surprised to learn this isn't the case elsewhere - I guess I'd just assumed.

Of course Seattle tech is rather insular and it's pretty common to see people bouncing around a small set of companies - Amazon to Microsoft to Getty to Starbucks, an maybe coming back for repeated stints if some of those are contract.
posted by Artw at 6:45 AM on January 28, 2012


The sucky thing about agreements like this is that if big tech companies aren't poaching from each other, they're going after small start-ups

Yes, the employees at the small start-ups must HATE being wooed by the likes of Lucasfilm and Pixar.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:52 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's interesting: in every state other then California they wouldn't have even needed to do this, because they could have forced their employees to sign non-compete agreements.

Non-compete agreements exist in California, I can assure you.

How often they are enforced is, of course, another matter.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:54 AM on January 28, 2012


If you look at the actual situation it's more like "keep wages less then 300% of the national average" People in Engineers in SV make a a lot of money.

My gut sense is that this kind of thing will have a small effect on the real stars, because they have the cachet and resources to negotiate good deals and to maintain mobility. The huge impact will be lower in that wage pyramid, the rows and rows of cubicles downstairs of the people doing the lower-paid, less glamorous work. They are the ones who are probably not earning six figures right now, and need the possibility of lateral moves from company to company if they are ever going to have that kind of success.
posted by Forktine at 6:57 AM on January 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also notably missing: Facebook. If this graph is correct, it looks like Facebook is where all the talent is being sucked. (Also, poor Yahoo.)
posted by modernserf at 7:05 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Also, poor Yahoo.)

On this thought, I will quote MeFi's own Jason Scott:
All I can say, looking back, is that when history takes a look at the lives of Jerry Yang and David Filo, this is what it will probably say:

Two graduate students, intrigued by a growing wealth of material on the Internet, built a huge fucking lobster trap, absorbed as much of human history and creativity as they could, and destroyed all of it.

Great work, guys.
I'm not the sort of guy who gets recruited by any of the big players, and I never will be. That said, I'm pretty sure the incentives in terms of having your work amount to anything are, um, mostly lacking for Yahoo these days.
posted by brennen at 7:22 AM on January 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ah, come on. They've given Douglas Crockford a place towork while writing some great books.
posted by Artw at 7:30 AM on January 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Well, I mean, fair enough. Plenty of smart people still work there. They own some cool things. But, you know, the overwhelming sense one gets is not exactly of a tendency towards greatness.
posted by brennen at 7:36 AM on January 28, 2012


I have a Yahoo Mail account I still log into occassionally for things. Each time they seem to have found new ways to make messages from spammers more and more intrusive - so I'll try and send a message and it'll pop up a layer telling me I have 4000 unwanted requests to be IM freinds with spammers please please please say yes. They should have been bought up a while ago, now I'm not sure what anyone would buy them for - patents, I guess.
posted by Artw at 7:44 AM on January 28, 2012


Well, I mean, fair enough. Plenty of smart people still work there. They own some cool things. But, you know, the overwhelming sense one gets is not exactly of a tendency towards greatness.

One could probably say the same thing about Major League Baseball, yet here we are.
posted by ShutterBun at 7:51 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Non competes should only exist if there is significant compensation attached to them. You don't want me to compete with you? Only if you pay me not to compete.
posted by Freen at 8:06 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll try and send a message and it'll pop up a layer telling me I have 4000 unwanted requests to be IM freinds with spammers please please please say yes.

Really? I use Yahoo! for both mail and IM, and I've never seen anything like that.
posted by asterix at 8:28 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you look at the actual situation it's more like "keep wages less then 300% of the national average" People in Engineers in SV make a a lot of money. Especially when you're talking about the kinds of people these companies would make a concerted effort to poach.

Ah, yes, the "First World Problem" argument again -- since I can find someone worse of than you, you are not really being exploited, so shut up. Who does this argument benefit? I don't know... could it be... Management?

One reason, I think, for the dire condition of Labor in this country is that a lot of white collar workers are relatively happy being exploited because their exploitation is at a higher wage level than the blue collar people who are really getting it in the neck. The white collar worker also has a more prevalent illusion that they can rise to the top, although there are really no more places for them to "share" than there are for the workers who make less than them. More union activity in design and research would be better for everyone.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:30 AM on January 28, 2012 [19 favorites]


Really? I use Yahoo! for both mail and IM, and I've never seen anything like that.

Lemme check...

babejennvdbg would like to add you to his or her Online Contacts list.
Micky Nimnaugh would like to add you to his or her Online Contacts list.
Elana FIsk would like to add you to his or her Online Contacts list.
...


Yup, still there... Probably you have to have an account to check infrequently for it to be a real problem.
posted by Artw at 8:33 AM on January 28, 2012


They sound like nice people. You should add them.
posted by pracowity at 8:41 AM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's a couple of thousand more...

(I mainly bitch because for various reasons I mainly use that account off of a netbook with a small screen, so the popup is more or less the entire height of it. I'd probably find it intrusive and shitty anyway thoigh)
posted by Artw at 8:48 AM on January 28, 2012


For some reason all of my counterparts in India use yahoo messenger. It is not uncommon for me to get legit add requests from people I never heard of who want to ask me this or that. I get a fair amount of requests from spammers as well. Usually I can tell a spam bot from an Indian developer, Indian developers call me dear and spambots call me baby. I always get a kick out of it when the response I get to "You need to install sp2" is "Thank you dear"
posted by Ad hominem at 8:51 AM on January 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


In fact, the lack of non-competes is believed to be one of the major reasons why Silicon Valley, in California has such a dynamic Startup environment, compared to Boston MA, which has MIT.

Boston actually has a thriving startup scene -- devs I know in the area tell me they're fighting off the recruiters on a daily basis. What seems to be lacking is VC.

I'm not sure I agree that noncompetes have the sort of effect you think; refusing to sign the noncompete is a pretty traditional part of the hiring ritual IME.
posted by ook at 8:55 AM on January 28, 2012


My noncompete is ridiculously broad, I think it actually bars me from working for "any company doing business"
posted by Ad hominem at 8:58 AM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Boston actually has a thriving startup scene -- devs I know in the area tell me they're fighting off the recruiters on a daily basis. What seems to be lacking is VC.

But all that has changed. Joi Ito has moved his VC efforts from Dubai to Boston, and colonized the Media Lab. Now the gospel of the Creative Commons says that you don't need income if you're giving away your work for free.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:06 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


These were not noncompetes. I worked for one of the companies involved and we were free to hire anyone who applied. We just weren't supposed to approach them first.
posted by w0mbat at 9:12 AM on January 28, 2012


Yes, the employees at the small start-ups must HATE being wooed by the likes of Lucasfilm and Pixar.

Actually, tech recruiters are incredibly aggressive and persistent. If they can get your phone number they will cold call you (repeatedly in some cases). If not, then they will bombard you with email and LinkedIn messages. I spend more time deleting recruiting messages than I do removing Viagra spam at this point, which I think says something.
posted by spitefulcrow at 9:17 AM on January 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Non-compete agreements exist in California, I can assure you.

How often they are enforced is, of course, another matter.
here's what wikipedia says
Non-compete agreements are automatically void as a matter of law in California, except for a small set of specific situations expressly authorized by statute.[10] They were outlawed by the original California Civil Code in 1872.[11]
The exceptions are:
There are limited situations where a reasonable non-compete agreement may be valid in California.
If an owner is selling the goodwill in their business.[14]
When there is a dissolution or disassociation of a partnership.[14]
Where there is a dissolution of a limited liability company. [16]
In other words 1) You're the owner of a company, and you sell that company - you can have a non-compete, when Zuckerburg sold Facebook, there could have been a non-compete if if the sale was valued based on it being "Mark ZuckerburgTM's Facebok". The other two involve the breakup of companies. None of them involve normal hiring.

There may be lots of legally invalid noncompetes in California.
Well, I mean, fair enough. Plenty of smart people still work there. They own some cool things. But, you know, the overwhelming sense one gets is not exactly of a tendency towards greatness.
They sold del.icio.us. I still have a flickr account but I stopped paying for a premium account. There are way more and better options for hosting images these days.
Ah, yes, the "First World Problem" argument again -- since I can find someone worse of than you, you are not really being exploited, so shut up. Who does this argument benefit? I don't know... could it be... Management?

One reason, I think, for the dire condition of Labor in this country is that a lot of white collar workers are relatively happy being exploited because their exploitation is at a higher wage level than the blue collar people who are really getting it in the neck. The white collar worker also has a more prevalent illusion that they can rise to the top, although there are really no more places for them to "share" than there are for the workers who make less than them. More union activity in design and research would be better for everyone.
I'm not for anti-poaching agreements. But for the people and companies we're talking about, we're talking about people in the top 5%, at least. And I'm not saying they shouldn't unionize. In particular, a tech worker union could be a political force against stuff like SOPA (the telecom companies and Hollywood unions were all for it) But we're talking about a union that would be a lot more like the NBA players association then the UAW.
Boston actually has a thriving startup scene -- devs I know in the area tell me they're fighting off the recruiters on a daily basis. What seems to be lacking is VC.
Uh... I'm sure lots of people have big dreams but VC funding is pretty important. Both Facebook and Dropbox were started by people in the boson area (by students at Harvard and MIT) They ended up going out to SV to get funded.
posted by delmoi at 9:23 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, yes, sure. That's orthogonal to the question of whether noncompetes are what's relevant to the existence of a startup scene, however, which was the point I was addressing.
posted by ook at 9:45 AM on January 28, 2012


Of course Seattle tech is rather insular and it's pretty common to see people bouncing around a small set of companies - Amazon to Microsoft to Getty to Starbucks, an maybe coming back for repeated stints if some of those are contract.

Honestly, Seattle's tech scene itself is not insular -- there's a ton of cross-pollination between local startups. The problem is Amazon. They have done little to engage the scene, hardly sponsor any local tech events (and never run any themselves), and for as much money as they've generated through stock options there have hardly been any startups founded on AMZN employee money.

Microsoft does do all those things, albeit in a very haphazard and group-by-group way, but I've never had trouble finding someone inside Microsoft to sponsor some tech event I'm part of. With Amazon you're lucky to even GET an Amazon employee to show up, much less wrangle money out of them.

That said, the insularity that's not AMZN related has everything to do with Lake Washington separating the Fremont-SLU-Pioneer Square-Capitol Hill half of the tech scene from the Redmond-Bellevue-Kirkland half. I've been amazed by the response I get to Seattle events from Bellevue people -- "Oh, I'd go, but it's all the way over there." I've been pushing my company to open a Seattle office to go with their Bellevue office, and from their response you'd think I'm asking them to open an office at the South Pole.

Boston actually has a thriving startup scene -- devs I know in the area tell me they're fighting off the recruiters on a daily basis. What seems to be lacking is VC.

Seattle has the same problem. It's hard for local startups to compete with half-baked ideas on napkins in Silicon Valley because the VCs have to fly 2 hours up to Seattle vs. having their waiter hand them a business proposal while he's informing them of the specials at the Sunnyvale Ruby Tuesday's.

Of course, Portland struggles even more because they're in the shadow of Seattle AND Silicon Valley. That said, the DIY startup movement in PDX has meant they're a lot leaner and hungrier than the startups in the Valley.
posted by dw at 10:05 AM on January 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm not the sort of guy who gets recruited by any of the big players, and I never will be.

It doesn't take much actually. I'm just mid-level QA guy toiling away in Pittsburgh and I get pretty constant cold contacts from recruiters in Silicon Valley or Seattle. For a while it was flattering but mostly it's annoying.
posted by octothorpe at 10:52 AM on January 28, 2012


I worked for one of these companies during the period specified. I was recruited through LinkedIn by another one of these companies and now work there. I've very, very interested in the outcome of this case and am following it closely, for reasons that are probably obvious...not just the money, but ouch, I really felt bad leaving my old job and it kind of taints the good work experience I had there to know they were engaged in shady deals to limit my professional options. Reading those documents was pretty shocking. I didn't consider myself to be someone with a lot of loyalty to my employer, but I guess I was naive enough to think they didn't mind paying me at least a somewhat fair wage given how much value I was creating for them. It's a bit of a slap in the face to realize the extent to which the facts didn't match my perception.

I guess it's also just kind of exciting to potentially be part of a class-action suit where the class isn't "everyone who bought a Microsoft product in the 90s" or "everyone who's ever been a Netflix subscriber."

I definitely do feel like my salary has risen a fair bit faster than expected since the DoJ got involved, but that may just be because of the current business environment in the Valley.
posted by troublesome at 11:43 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


These were not noncompetes. I worked for one of the companies involved and we were free to hire anyone who applied. We just weren't supposed to approach them first.

That's the impression I get from the Bloomberg article, and I don't have a problem with non-poaching agreements in this sense (as in, the company won't cold-call, but will still hire another company's employee if the employee approaches them). I don't think they substantially reduce employees' mobility. However, the TechCrunch article implies that these agreements were actually more like noncompetes:

[Palm’s CEO Edward T.] Colligan declined [Steve] Jobs’ offer, writing “Your proposal that we agree that neither company will hire the other’s employees, regardless of the individual’s desires, is not only wrong, it is likely illegal.”

(Emphasis mine; text is from the complaint.) So if that's what's going on, then this is pretty vile.
posted by hattifattener at 11:53 AM on January 28, 2012


I'm all for unions, but in this case, I'm failing to see how this situation would be any different given a tech worker's union. The union could say no-poach agreements are verboten, but then what? Given that these sorts of agreements tend not be well publicized, I don't see, in broad strokes, how the situation would be different. A well-funded union might have their own lawyer, which would help, but other than that, what tactics could a union employ?
posted by fragmede at 11:58 AM on January 28, 2012


hattifattener, how could that be anything but what's actually happening?

It would be trivial to say that this employee wanted to;, but better yet, I'll bet a good number of employees actually HAVE applied to all the tech companies while looking for work originally, especially fresh out of college. You make an account on the company's career site, upload a resume, search for something relevant, hit 'apply' to every interesting position, and move on to the next company. Especially between supposedly fun places to work like Google, Apple and Pixar. And if that's true (and I can't be the only one who did this, once upon a time), the only way to keep this gentlemen's agreement would be to put any participating company's employees on an no-hire list.
posted by fragmede at 12:14 PM on January 28, 2012


Right, like I said uptop there is evidence that on at least one occasion an offer was killed for an employee that wasn't recruited but that applied to Pixar on their own.

Just imagine how fucked you are if you are all set to move to Pixar, all of a suddent your offer is yanked and somehow your boss knows you tried to jump shit. That is the danger here. Not only can you be trapped at your current job, your current job may even retaliate against you.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:56 PM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm just mid-level QA guy toiling away in Pittsburgh and I get pretty constant cold contacts from recruiters in Silicon Valley or Seattle.

Heh. I'm a usability lead/web developer toiling away in Seattle and I get pretty constant cold contacts from recruiters wanting me to take contracts in places like Pittsburgh. Though it's mostly New Jersey lately.
posted by dw at 1:27 PM on January 28, 2012


MSFT is really big on enforcing their non-competes, but they're usually good with people leaving so long as their work at the new place doesn't go against the non-compete. I know when Chris Wilson quit the IE team to join Google his non-compete blocked him from working on Chrome for a year. Google instead put him on other projects until the non-compete expired, at which point he finally could officially join the Chrome team.
posted by dw at 1:32 PM on January 28, 2012


Yes, the employees at the small start-ups must HATE being wooed by the likes of Lucasfilm and Pixar.

I've done my time in big corporations and I've done my time in startups.

I imagine Pixar is a great company to work for. My cousin works there as an animator and he seems to love it.

Anyways, there are a lot of engineers right now who prefer startups. Some of the key talent at the big companies aren't leaving anytime soon, but for people like myself, the startup space is energetic and refreshing. BigCorp was good for my resume. But I'm responsible for a lot more things at my new startup, and it feels good to build something from scratch with a straggly group of hackers who are passionate about tech.

And it feels like the big guys like Google are losing talent at a much faster rate, even if a lot of it is to Facebook, which I guess is technically still a startup?. They've been aggressively trying to stem this talent drain, as the recent infographic modernserf linked to and their retention bonuses to engineers have shown.

Seattle has the same problem. It's hard for local startups to compete with half-baked ideas on napkins in Silicon Valley because the VCs have to fly 2 hours up to Seattle vs. having their waiter hand them a business proposal while he's informing them of the specials at the Sunnyvale Ruby Tuesday's.

Yeah, tell me about it. At one time I thought it might be due to the ever-present Microsoft influence on the local tech scene, but I realize now I was just letting my biases show through. There are a lot of local startups founded by ex-MS guys.

(Also, poor Yahoo.)

Man, their UI and research teams are putting out some awesome projects, from YUI to SearchMonkey to their work with Hadoop and Pig. The executive management must be unbelievable.

posted by formless at 2:01 PM on January 28, 2012


fragmede: " A well-funded union might have their own lawyer, which would help, but other than that, what tactics could a union employ?"

I actually mostly agree with you, except a programmer union would theoretically have good data analysis and assuming its members would inform it whenever they applied for a new position, the union could crunch numbers on hire rates depending on background - essentially if they did their numbers right they could show that once someone worked at say Apple, they would never get a job at any of the others, etc. It seems flimsy anecdotally, but it's something that becomes somewhat incriminating if you have solid data for tens of thousands of people over five or ten years.
posted by illovich at 2:34 PM on January 28, 2012


I'd love it if Massachusetts also banned non-competes, since the current climate means that business owners have to forcibly opt-out. When I formed my MA-based startup I had to fight with my attorney to get the non-compete stricken out of the employment agreement I asked him to draft. He was completely baffled that I might want to treat my employees the way I wanted to be treated.
posted by nev at 3:57 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you look at the actual situation it's more like "keep wages less then 300% of the national average" People in Engineers in SV make a a lot of money.

So you're telling me the American Dream isn't quite dead yet? Well, fortunately the race to the bottom is still going strong.
posted by mek at 4:59 PM on January 28, 2012


Also notably missing: Facebook. If this graph is correct, it looks like Facebook is where all the talent is being sucked. (Also, poor Yahoo.)
Everyone wants to work at facebook, based on the idea that their stock options will make them all millionaires when the IPO happens.

That info graphic is really interesting, though. Microsoft, and Yahoo are hemorrhaging employees, but what's odd is that Apple is too, but not at the same ratios.

But why on earth is LinkedIn so hot?

Also, if it's like, Google lost 15 employees and gained one from Facebook, that's not all that interesting. On the other hand if Apple lost 1300 employees to Google and got back 1k, that's actually much bigger news. So it's too bad they didn't include magnitude on this graph.
posted by delmoi at 5:34 PM on January 28, 2012


In fact, the lack of non-competes is believed to be one of the major reasons why Silicon Valley, in California has such a dynamic Startup environment, compared to Boston MA, which has MIT.

Odd that you'd mention MIT but not Stanford and Berkeley.
posted by eddydamascene at 8:27 PM on January 28, 2012


DU: "Tech industry needs to unionize."

You can't possibly believe that.
posted by falameufilho at 11:59 PM on January 28, 2012


You can't possibly believe that.

Care to elaborate?
posted by kagredon at 3:17 AM on January 29, 2012


You can't possibly believe that.

Aw, c'mon. It's entirely possible to believe that tech workers would benefit from organizing. Yes, people above the desktop-support-monkey level of employment are well-compensated, in American terms. (I make a piss poor salary by nerd standards, and I'm doing better than most of the folks I grew up with.) On the other hand, for lots of people, hours are long, stress is high, and there is an absurd amount of soul-destroying bullshit to deal with on top of a job that at best may still eat large chunks of your mind and render you unfit for socializing with normal human beings. The startup game is full of charlatans and fools, BigCorp probably swallows your work whole and plays games like this, and policymakers are constantly champing at the bit to destroy the entire industry as the thin end of a totalitarian wedge. Against this backdrop, it is reasonable to notice that collective action often works against various abuses. Like delmoi points out above, look at this recent thing with SOPA/PIPA.

That said, most people I know in the industry are allergic to the idea of unions, and it's easy enough to understand why. The workers with the most leverage are, sort of by definition, those who have the least to gain from collective bargaining, but in tech the range of skills and capacities is awfully large. And this is compounded by the number of those who might have the leverage to pull it off who came to the field through informal avenues and are understandably wary of creating artificial barriers to entry or mobility. I feel this way myself. I'm highly sympathetic to the aims of organized labor, but I'm also leery of bureaucracy and credentialism.

(Here is where I admit that this comment lacks a coherent thesis or satisfying conclusion.)
posted by brennen at 5:26 AM on January 29, 2012


I dislike traditional hierarchical union, probably tech workers should experiment with new labor advocacy forms more heavily influenced by anarchism than communism. 

I'd envision an organization that distributed information and opinions on employment practices in the technology sector, coordinated lawsuits against employers, and lobbied for tech workers rights, but disavowed compulsory membership and most strikes. 

Instead of strikes, they'd address serious labor problems by identifying the offending company's critical employees, and finding them employment elsewhere, ideally preventing the company from retaining high level talent.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:23 AM on January 29, 2012


Btw, Facebook's IPO is next week
posted by jeffburdges at 6:24 AM on January 29, 2012


Btw, Facebook's IPO is next week

That article isn't talking about the IPO itself, it's talking about the S-1 filing. There's a ways to go from S-1 to IPO.
posted by asterix at 9:54 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd envision an organization that distributed information and opinions on employment practices in the technology sector, coordinated lawsuits against employers, and lobbied for tech workers rights, but disavowed compulsory membership and most strikes.

You've pretty well described most modern white-collar unions. The idea that tech-workers should not unionize seems based on an exaggerated perception of unions that's been encouraged by a lot of the anti-union rhetoric in the last few years.
posted by kagredon at 10:36 AM on January 29, 2012


These companies and others like them recruit *constantly*. I, and everyone I know in the same field, am constantly getting messages from recruiters for companies like these and most of the time we don't even bother to reply. The number of people out there capable of being productive in these ~$150k/year software engineering jobs is smaller than the number of positions available for them in silicon valley so the market is competitive in a way that really doesn't bother employees. And we have no desire to unionize.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 7:04 PM on January 29, 2012


My noncompete is ridiculously broad, I think it actually bars me from working for "any company doing business"

Heh. Yeh. Mine, too. When I first signed it, it basically only applied within a small local area, but since then, our company's expanded to lots of new out-of-state markets (ironically, something I pushed for early on, as our local market was pretty clearly on the verge of a big downturn), so now it potentially applies to work in most other major markets, too, because its written in such a way as to apply anywhere we do even the slightest bit of business.

Look, people, whether you personally feel these kinds of contracts are working out for you or not, you've got to admit, they're meant to put all the power on one side of the employment relationship. In so-called "right to work" states especially, such arrangements put the other half of that "right to work" promise to lie. They're basically no-right to work contracts.

Justice for only the best of the best is not in any sense real justice. It's literally institutionalized elitism. There's no moral or legal justification for the view that only the most pathologically elite among the mass of humanity should be granted the basic human rights of dignity, self-determination and a chance to earn a good living. An orchestra made up of nothing but virtuoso improvisational soloists with no sense of humility will invariably just make a lot of godawful noise.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:21 AM on January 30, 2012


Odd that you'd mention MIT but not Stanford and Berkeley.
Because... I was talking about reasons why there ought to be a lot of startups in Massachusetts, but aren't?
The number of people out there capable of being productive in these ~$150k/year software engineering jobs is smaller than the number of positions available for them in silicon valley so the market is competitive in a way that really doesn't bother employees. And we have no desire to unionize.
The number of people who could headline a major motion picture take a team to an NBA championship are pretty small, but Christian Bale* and LeBron James* are both members of a union.
posted by delmoi at 6:16 PM on January 31, 2012


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