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"The Techtopus": Much bigger than we realized
March 22, 2014 11:06 AM   Subscribe

Mark Ames follows up on The Techtopus (previously) with a new report showing a much larger conspiracy than has been previously reported:
Confidential internal Google and Apple memos, buried within piles of court dockets and reviewed by PandoDaily, clearly show that what began as a secret cartel agreement between Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Eric Schmidt to illegally fix the labor market for hi-tech workers, expanded within a few years to include companies ranging from Dell, IBM, eBay and Microsoft, to Comcast, Clear Channel, Dreamworks, and London-based public relations behemoth WPP. All told, the combined workforces of the companies involved totals well over a million employees.
posted by tonycpsu (74 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, the Invisible Hand? That's what you're feeling on your head, pushing you down.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:21 AM on March 22 [40 favorites]


> There is something deeply human about him.

"Unlike the vast majority of my faceless, nameless employees, who I literally could not care less about beyond their ability to make me money."
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:25 AM on March 22 [3 favorites]


like whoa. I thought you tech folk were supposed to libertarians. That shits crazy. Like people going to jail crazy.
posted by JPD at 11:25 AM on March 22 [6 favorites]


"Workers of the world, unite!"
posted by robbyrobs at 11:26 AM on March 22 [12 favorites]


going to jail lol
posted by stbalbach at 11:26 AM on March 22 [34 favorites]


Yeah, the Invisible Hand? That's what you're feeling on your head, pushing you down.

Jacking with the market is intrinsic to the market.
posted by Trochanter at 11:27 AM on March 22 [3 favorites]


Having worked for both Intel and Apple in the past, and experiencing the usual Silicon Valley employee distrust of labor unions, this leaves me wondering when people are going to wake up and realize that all these companies, despite their carnivals of employee perks, really don't care about their employees except their cost to the company.
posted by njohnson23 at 11:28 AM on March 22 [23 favorites]


This timeline is important to establish because it demonstrates precisely what makes this scheme illegal: secret cross-agreements between two or more parties to fix wages in the labor market, at a time when tech engineer wages were soaring, threatening profits.

Well it's a bit more complicated than that isn't it? Employees also have knowledge of business plans, trade secrets, and customer relationships that competitors generally don't like to share.

And considering these are some of the highest paying jobs in America (outside of banking and academia), it's a bit difficult to see this as rank exploitation of the working man.

There are tens of millions of low wage employees whose wages are being suppressed by the "informal" agreement called the minimum wage. The DOJ would do better to focus their energies there than on behalf of college-educated high tech workers who should be able to fend for themselves.
posted by three blind mice at 11:32 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]


Well, if this is as described someone's going to make a bundle from a class action. Even the settlement to make the plaintiffs go away looks potentially lucrative.
posted by jaduncan at 11:34 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


three blind mice: " Well it's a bit more complicated than that isn't it? Employees also have knowledge of business plans, trade secrets, and customer relationships that competitors generally don't like to share. "

And are already protected by the near-universality of NDAs, no-compete agreements, etc. in these industries and job categories.

three blind mice: " And considering these are some of the highest paying jobs in America (outside of banking and academia), it's a bit difficult to see this as rank exploitation of the working man. "

It's still exploitation of the working man, it's just that the working man in this case happens to make a lot more. Or, as the fine article puts it: "What’s more important is the political predicament that low-paid fast food workers share with well-paid hi-tech workers..." One doesn't have to sympathize equally with both groups, but a recognition that they face the same problems might lead to some recognition that even employees in high-demand professions could benefit from organizing in the way that fast food workers are starting to do now.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:41 AM on March 22 [33 favorites]


There are tens of millions of low wage employees whose wages are being suppressed by the "informal" agreement called the minimum wage. The DOJ would do better to focus their energies there than on behalf of college-educated high tech workers who should be able to fend for themselves.

The DOJ should not ignore possible criminal violations of the law for which there appears to be lots of evidence just because the people immediately affected aren't being beaten or starved. That's just stupid. And as has been pointed out in other threads, relatively few people get the absolute minimum wage, compared to the number who may be affected by the tech industry agreements. And it's not actually illegal to pay people the minimum wage allowed by law, so what would the DOJ do, exactly?

Pressure to raise the minimum wage must come from all the rest of us who do and don't work for minimum, because a higher minimum would be good for us all. Like investigating and prosecuting these alleged crimes would also benefit us all.
posted by rtha at 11:45 AM on March 22 [51 favorites]


I really wish someone other than pando was reading the original info here. Because like, forgive me if I have trouble taking them seriously.

This whole thing has been a shocking revelation, but idk. And to be clear I'm not going "fake!!1!", I'm just skeptical that anything coming from them isn't exaggerated or something.
posted by emptythought at 11:48 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


three blind mice: "There are tens of millions of low wage employees whose wages are being suppressed by the "informal" agreement called the minimum wage. "

And I don't understand this at all. You do understand the minimum part of the minimum wage, right? Wages aren't suppressed by establishing a federal minimum wage (which states are then free to augment with state minimum wages, which in turn can be augmented by employers who wish to pay their employees more.) What economic principle dictates that setting a floor for wages keeps wages down?
posted by tonycpsu at 11:48 AM on March 22 [12 favorites]


Schmidt emailed Google’s “Executive Management Committee”—the company’s top executives— summarizing Whitman’s, and “the valley”’s view that competing for workers by offering higher pay packages was “unfair”
Encouraging progress in a new field - evidenced by a pioneering new use of the word unfair!
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:50 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]


low wage employees whose wages are being suppressed by the "informal" agreement called the minimum wage

I think what Three Blind Mice is saying is that any time there is a proposal to raise the minimum wage, business leaders and lobbyists come out in full force to make sure it doesn't happen. While it's for opposite reasons -- colluding to set wages on the high end, while fighting the government's efforts to set wages on the low end -- it's still a type of semi-organized collusion where no doubt some questionable tomfoolery is afoot.
posted by the jam at 11:53 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


Yes, raising the minimum wage is good for those of us earning more, just as the tech companies' wage suppression is bad for those of us not working for them. Have you ever worked somewhere where they based their pay scales on "a survey of the industry"? That's when this sort of "fairness" hurts you.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:55 AM on March 22 [13 favorites]


This puts the lie to the conservative worldview that people are fallen, immoral creatures at heart. It's a testament to basic human decency that no one has been dragged out of their office and hung from the nearest lamppost.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:58 AM on March 22 [5 favorites]


This scheme acutely penalizes companies and organizations who need technologists but can in no way compete with Silicon Valley salaries. Google doesn't cold-call Apple employees, but they sure do cold-call employees at thousands of other companies. And those places are much less equipped to counter than Apple would be.

It's bad for us as a society. We don't need 10,000 engineers perfecting ad placement or making a better app store. We need them distributed throughout the economy in pharma, government, non-profits, education, and ordinary regional businesses. If Google, Facebook, and Apple want to drive up salaries, they should have to pay the price (literally) for their own behavior.
posted by nev at 12:03 PM on March 22 [35 favorites]


the jam: "I think what Three Blind Mice is saying is that any time there is a proposal to raise the minimum wage, business leaders and lobbyists come out in full force to make sure it doesn't happen. While it's for opposite reasons -- colluding to set wages on the high end, while fighting the government's efforts to set wages on the low end -- it's still a type of semi-organized collusion where no doubt some questionable tomfoolery is afoot."

OK, I sort of got lost in the notion that the DOJ could somehow do something about the minimum wage. rtha hits the right notes in response -- DOJ can do things about industry collusion, but is pretty much powerless to stop lobbyists from corrupting legislators. This isn't some zero-sum thing where trying to stop this from happening to well-off workers means we don't get a minimum wage increase for not-so-well-off workers.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:05 PM on March 22


And, of course, the federal minimum wage has been raised over the years - not often or high enough, but it has. States and municipalities are also free to enact higher minimums, and many have. The Chamber of Commerce et al. might kick and holler but they don't always win, and their kicking and hollering mostly stays on the correct side of the law, technically.
posted by rtha at 12:12 PM on March 22


Oh and one other thing that bugs me, classic pando:

rights that Americans take for granted—such as the right to free speech

This is not what free speech means you stupid fucks. You sound like a 6th grader going "you can't tell me what to say, free speech!". A company saying you can't say something as corporate policy is possibly shitty depending on the context, but not the same as the government saying it. Those rights are only infringed if say, the cops say you can't say something.

A lot of their hyperbolic cockfluffing like this is just so dense and dorm room libertarian-y that I have to take a fiver and rest before I can keep reading. The article is seasoned with it too, it's not an isolated thing. Just like what three blind mice called out. This techtopus situation is seemingly a real thing, but their presentation is shoddy.
posted by emptythought at 12:20 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


And considering these are some of the highest paying jobs in America (outside of banking and academia)

ha!

haha!

hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaahaagh ahg ahghgha gha...

*gasp* *pant*

oh, sorry, kinda lost it... there... when you said that there was high pay in Academeee-hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
hhahahahahahahahahgfhghhaghahgahghafafhgg....

kkkkkkk.....


ugh.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:35 PM on March 22 [46 favorites]


As a tech worker can I get MORE companies to have a Do Not Cold Call list? Because jesus christ I hate cold calls from recruiters.
posted by aspo at 12:45 PM on March 22 [4 favorites]


Everyone's aware of the Pando-NSFW acquistion, right? Not saying it excuses whatever cock-fluffery came before, but it's definitely worth checking out the work Ames & co. did previously before discounting this out of hand.

Also, it will be interesting to see if/how this all ties into Zuckerberg's FWD.us lobbying group, since they've already been called out for concealing anti-labor motives in immigration reform rhetoric:

Mark Zuckerberg's Self-Serving Immigration Crusade
posted by idontlikewords at 12:48 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


And are already protected by the near-universality of NDAs, no-compete agreements, etc. in these industries and job categories.


Non-competes are invalid in California. NDAs can only go so far either.

And a no-cold-calling policy is a good counter to the ongoing phenomenon of discrimination against job seekers who are unemployed (as in HR departments instructed to hire only those who are jumping ship.)

But as implemented by Google and Apple, the policy is a blatant antitrust violation and should be dealt with accordingly. An open policy of telling the world "we do not cold call" is what they should have done.
posted by ocschwar at 1:04 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


But as implemented by Google and Apple, the policy is a blatant antitrust violation and should be dealt with accordingly

Well, and it also gives lie to the idea that white collar workers in tech industries really don't need to think about things like worker's rights because white collar tech workers are paid by a fair market and screw those other guys, they should have gotten STEM degrees. "An injury to one is an injury to all" is not just for factory workers....
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:20 PM on March 22 [14 favorites]


oh, sorry, kinda lost it... there... when you said that there was high pay in Academeee

I understand that in US academia the trick is to be an administrator.
posted by jaduncan at 1:31 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]


I understand that in US academia the trick is to be an administrator.

Football or basketball coach is a good track, too.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:34 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


...and talking of track, that team won't run itself.
posted by jaduncan at 1:35 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]


I'm struggling with the framing of this article. The label "wage-theft agreement" seems to me a loaded term, and the headline suggests the sole goal of these agreements was to drive down wages across the entire industry (which is a different statement than preventing wage inflation, yes?).

I'm not seeing any actual collusion to prevent workers from leaving, say, Oracle and joining Google because they saw Google was hiring. Was there any agreement between them to refuse to hire?

Does California law class non-solicitation behavior as illegal? Does Federal law?
posted by Room 101 at 2:07 PM on March 22


Give these guys a break. These technology CEOs are just doing what they do; disrupting things with their disruption. I don't mind them organising into communities and uniting their membership to improve their bargaining power against the worker. It is central to capitalism to centrally plan ways to control the means of your production. These journalists with their whole anti-capitalism thing where will it end. It's like dominos, if one CEO is coerced into leaving the CEO co-operative there will be a domino effect. A DOMINO EFFECT. Then you get Communism.
posted by vicx at 2:14 PM on March 22 [6 favorites]


We don't need 10,000 engineers perfecting ad placement or making a better app store. We need them distributed throughout the economy in pharma, government, non-profits, education, and ordinary regional businesses.

Why focus on Internet tech companies? If you're going to start a redistribution of workers, surely you'd first pull mechanical engineers away from the Cheetos factories, chemists away from the soda factories, writers off of sitcoms, biologists away from anti-winkle injections,

I don't know why everyone thinks that a few thousand programmers in Northern California are somehow genius-gods who could easily save the world because they know how to build websites. They're normal people like you and me who pursued training and a career where jobs existed.

Fund more jobs in basic sciences and the labor market will respond.
posted by the jam at 2:17 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


I know how to run a unix server, I don't know how to design a new medicine. Knowledge isn't fungible.
posted by empath at 2:26 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]


You would think people would be smart enough to not write an email saying "let's talk about this on the phone to avoid a paper trail".
posted by smackfu at 2:56 PM on March 22 [8 favorites]


Unless they know something about the phone that we don't. "In-person, in a SCIFed room" would work though, and they're rich enough for it, so your point stands.
posted by Suddenly, elf ass at 3:12 PM on March 22


Meh, this doesn't really apply to most of the tech workers. If you read the leaked doc it it says it applies only for non engineers/ICs, ie management and sales.
posted by Joe Chip at 3:18 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


"Workers of the world, unite! unplug!"
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:18 PM on March 22


Advocates of a meritocracy colluding to suppress wages amongst alleged beneficiaries of a meritocracy. Alleged beneficiaries deny that any damage done did not affect them, because snowflake.

What a perfect pairing of guile and beguiled.
posted by dglynn at 3:52 PM on March 22 [10 favorites]


"Workers of the world, unite! unplug!"

You have nothing to lose but your keychains?
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:56 PM on March 22


"Alleged beneficiaries deny that any damage done affected them, because snowflake. "

*sigh* Too late the edit.
posted by dglynn at 4:22 PM on March 22


three blind mice: "Well it's a bit more complicated than that isn't it? Employees also have knowledge of business plans, trade secrets, and customer relationships that competitors generally don't like to share.

And considering these are some of the highest paying jobs in America (outside of banking and academia), it's a bit difficult to see this as rank exploitation of the working man.
"

Ah yes, clearly! I suppose then, that boards of directors must have similar agreements, what with those people making some of the highest paying jobs in America as well, and access to some of the top-most level details of the organizations, clearly, to keep your corporation safe, you don't want somebody from another corporation serving on your bo... wait, what? You mean... THEY ALL SERVE ON EACH OTHERS BOARDS?

THE ARISTOCRATS!
posted by symbioid at 4:30 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]


"No poaching" is pretty common in communities like this. It's a corrosive practice in what can be a collegial industry.

On the other hand, it's a two-way street - workers are always welcome to seek out jobs at Adobe, aren't they? Why can't the workers exercise agency and seek out the jobs they really want?
posted by KokuRyu at 4:42 PM on March 22


I'm not seeing any actual collusion to prevent workers from leaving, say, Oracle and joining Google because they saw Google was hiring. Was there any agreement between them to refuse to hire?

Good question. Kind of:

"Cold calling is an effective method of recruitment for the high-technology sector because 'employees of other [high-technology] companies are often unresponsive to other recruiting strategies... [and] current satisfied employees tend to be more qualified, harder working, and more stable than those who are actively looking for employment.'"

"The civil class action further alleges that agreements also existed to (1) 'provide notification when making an offer to another [company]'s employee (without the knowledge or consent of the employee)' and (2) 'agreements that, when offering a position to another company's employee, neither company would counteroffer above the initial offer.'"

In other words, employees could only change jobs between these companies with controls on their salaries.
posted by A dead Quaker at 4:43 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


With all the anger in the land,
how long before the judgment day?
Before we cut the fat ones down to size?
Before the barricades arise?

posted by moink at 4:46 PM on March 22


I'm not seeing any actual collusion to prevent workers from leaving, say, Oracle and joining Google because they saw Google was hiring. Was there any agreement between them to refuse to hire?

A lot of these companies have the bullshit belief that someone seeking a job is disloyal/desperate/etc and somehow otherwise tainted. And won't be as committed, or as good of a worker because if they don't want to leave the company must think they're way more valuable and be compensating them accordingly and need them critically and would be boned if they left.

A lot of good positions can only be gotten through referrals/networking or recruiting. Job listings are mostly for really niche or entry level stuff and almost always seem to pay less for more work/responsibility.

Just what I've seen, heard, and been told though. Not Teh Gospel or anything.
posted by emptythought at 4:47 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


Meh, this doesn't really apply to most of the tech workers. If you read the leaked doc it it says it applies only for non engineers/ICs, ie management and sales.

Not sure where you're reading that, but it's incorrect.

In particular, from the FAQ:

In general, individuals who were salaried technical, creative, and research and development employees at any one of the Defendant companies may be Class Members...
posted by A dead Quaker at 4:53 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


This needs a soundtrack. (SLYT)
posted by CincyBlues at 4:55 PM on March 22


Occupy founder calls on Obama to appoint Eric Schmidt 'CEO of America'
posted by homunculus at 5:06 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


When will the prosecutors issue indictments?
posted by humanfont at 5:16 PM on March 22


homunculus: "Occupy founder [...]"
pfffft
posted by moink at 5:44 PM on March 22 [4 favorites]


-I've heard at this point Google is hiring up talent just to deny their competitors.

-Not unique to tech, but relevant, there is a relatively high cost to losing someone. My boss would sacrifice months of progress to fire me, because he rarely allows me enough time to keep everything tidy with lovely up-to-date documentation. Thus the latest docs often remain scrawled in my notebook and in my head for way too long, the project has many messy bits, and I actually pester my boss to make changes that would reduce my job security. Google or Apple will have their shit more together, but still the programmer who wrote a thing will have the best experience with it. This is a reason for them to try to keep people, but also a little bit of power that the workers hold in this situation.

-Is this the part where the bus smashers join in solidarity with their somewhat higher-paid worker brethren?
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:07 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


Really curious what a tech worker labor union would look like. I've seen a lot of growing tech companies hiring from month-long occupational training programs to acquire cheap entry-level employees. Some of these are even referred to as "apprenticeship" programs. In some sense, those people are eroding wages for tenured software engineers. Should apprentices have to join the union? Would it be illegal to write a Python script at your job to parse some spreadsheet data, if you were not a licensed full-time software engineer? Would the union stipulate the average production, in lines of code, for an engineer in each major language?

I just can't imagine how this would work in the real world, where vast changes in tools and technology occur every year. It would be great to have the job security that comes with union jobs, but one of the reasons that software engineers are in such demand is that the industry has a built in obsolescence rate due to innovation. Every two years, there's some new tech stack that must be invested in lest a competitor pull ahead.
posted by deathpanels at 9:05 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


Is this the part where the bus smashers join in solidarity with their somewhat higher-paid worker brethren?

I wish, but they're more interested in continuing the antagonism. "Defend the Bay Area" is their latest slogan.

Somehow, they're completely blind to the fact that the tech workers might be their allies against the tech bourgeoisie, preferring instead to make avant-garde manifestos with statements like 'We are opposed to their notions of "progress," to the dim "future" that these developers and tech companies offer us.' They don't have a strategy, they have an attitude.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:09 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]


-I've heard at this point Google is hiring up talent just to deny their competitors.
Lots of companies do this, but the big ones have the most money to waste doing that. I've heard from people I know who have worked at Google that there are lots of engineers with master's degrees in CS working on refactoring templates in Orkut and other such janitorial work. Google's strategy appears to be to bleed the world dry of talent to prevent the next Google from being born, thus fulfilling the end times prophecy that haunts Sergey Brin every night, as he lies in his Scrooge McDuck-styled swimming pool full of money.
posted by deathpanels at 9:10 PM on March 22 [6 favorites]


This is important, but pando is a terrible source.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:18 PM on March 22


I've heard from people I know who have worked at Google that there are lots of engineers with master's degrees in CS working on refactoring templates in Orkut and other such janitorial work.

Google only respects doctorates. If you're an autodidact, no matter what you've achieved professionally, you will be assigned scutwork and put underneath an idiot with a published comp-sci paper. The money is reported to be fantastic, so scut-work and idiot-tending it is...
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:43 PM on March 22


deathpanels: "Really curious what a tech worker labor union would look like. I've seen a lot of growing tech companies hiring from month-long occupational training programs to acquire cheap entry-level employees. Some of these are even referred to as "apprenticeship" programs. In some sense, those people are eroding wages for tenured software engineers. Should apprentices have to join the union? Would it be illegal to write a Python script at your job to parse some spreadsheet data, if you were not a licensed full-time software engineer? Would the union stipulate the average production, in lines of code, for an engineer in each major language?"

This might be a legitimate criticism if unionized companies outside the tech sector weren't already doing these job-training apprenticeship programs to find talent, but of course they are. So what if these apprentice have to join the union like the rest of the employees in a union workplace? Would that be a bad thing?

And, of course it would be ridiculous to stipulate lines of code, and since you described yourself as a "code monkey" in your profile, you certainly know the reason for that.

deathpanels: "Every two years, there's some new tech stack that must be invested in lest a competitor pull ahead."

I'm not convinced that this is true for a vast majority of developers, and even if it was, it wouldn't be evidence that unionized labor wouldn't be a good idea in the technology sector. The need for people to have job security and collectively bargain for benefits has nothing to do with how much the workers have to learn new things. I've been a software developer for 15+ years, and yeah, I've had to learn new technologies, but I've never had to learn "new tech stacks" at anything close to the rate you've suggested. Tech stacks don't make successful projects, good developers do.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:00 PM on March 22 [8 favorites]


Yes. Traditional unionized industries have methods for adopting new technologies. I don't see why training existing employees in one is less possible or desirable than hiring a new grad who happens to have taken a couple of courses in it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:45 AM on March 23


Having worked for both Intel and Apple in the past, and experiencing the usual Silicon Valley employee distrust of labor unions, this leaves me wondering when people are going to wake up and realize that all these companies, despite their carnivals of employee perks, really don't care about their employees except their cost to the company.
Because the delusion that they will one day be wealthy players who will be the envy of their neighbours currently outweighs the reality that they are mere disposable pawns who are being played.

Unions are associated with being a "mere" worker, and people turn up their noses, even if it means being a perpetual dupe to some little con artist's rigged game.

Until people realize that the rich get richer ONLY because everyone else sleepwalks and does not put their foot down and not because these people are more intelligent and capable than anyone else, this kind of manipulation will continue to thrive...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:29 AM on March 23 [1 favorite]


Well, and it also gives lie to the idea that white collar workers in tech industries really don't need to think about things like worker's rights because white collar tech workers are paid by a fair market and screw those other guys, they should have gotten STEM degrees. "An injury to one is an injury to all" is not just for factory workers....

Hence the big push in education centered on STEM....flood the market with STEM graduates, lower wages...
posted by vitabellosi at 6:35 AM on March 23 [2 favorites]


This might be a legitimate criticism if unionized companies outside the tech sector weren't already doing these job-training apprenticeship programs to find talent, but of course they are. So what if these apprentice have to join the union like the rest of the employees in a union workplace? Would that be a bad thing?
I'm not anti-union. But the suggestion that software workers need to be unionized is an implicit argument that developing software is like pipe fitting, or plumbing, or some other traditional industry union job. Is it? I don't know, but it's worth poking a couple holes in that idea to see if it still floats, eh?

The people running the "software apprenticeship" programs are usually people who have come into the field through non-traditional routes themselves. These aren't formal affairs. I know an autodidact web developer who majored in music and teaches an introductory course on a popular framework. Now he trains other autodidacts, gives them a rubber stamp on their forehead saying, "I passed this month-long intensive training course in the _____ framework", and they can go get a basic entry-level development job. If there were a union, it's possible that autodidacts like him wouldn't be able to get into the field anymore.

That's not entirely a bad thing. But one of the defining characteristics of working on software is, for me, the value of real knowledge and skill over credentials. Part of me wants the job security, because I'm not always going to have the motivation to keep up with trends, but another part of me thinks it's unfair to lock somebody out of a job just because they didn't study for a CS degree or pass your union sanctioned apprenticeship program, or whatever. I've worked with some very, very good autodidact programmers who were miles ahead of most STEM grads.

Despite what you say, software is a trendy business. Five years ago, Objective C was a fringe language only used by a relatively small community of OSX developers. Now everybody wants to learn it because the iPhone took off and there are fifty job postings in your area demanding Objective C skills. And five years from now, there will be some other trend that everybody has to either jump on or slowly be swept aside into the broad category of experienced and obsolete developers whose skill are just a few years behind – fit for management, perhaps, but unable to "hit the ground running" on the latest deathmarch project. Yeah, there will always be some PHP jobs left around. There will always be a few Cobol jobs because major banks can't upgrade their IBM-manufactured magnetic drum backup systems without putting the whole enterprise at risk. But the majority of job growth will be in something you don't know yet, that you can't know yet, because it hasn't been invented yet.

I'm having trouble imagining how this real world problem could be solved by a labor union. Construction workers don't have to relearn how to operate a hammer every two years. Would union contracts mandate that companies not change their technology more often than every X years? Would there be a set of union-sanctioned languages that union workers are required to use, in order to protect them from eroding job prospects?

I am seriously interested in doing a full thought-experiment here to see if this would work, because job security is a frequent concern of mine.
And, of course it would be ridiculous to stipulate lines of code, and since you described yourself as a "code monkey" in your profile, you certainly know the reason for that.
Just a wee bit of self deprecating commentary on the drudgery of the old day job. But I have been evaluated in LOC before, by particularly stupid managers. Hollow metrics like LOC or number of tickets closed, rather than subjective measures of performance, tend to be favored by large, impersonal bureaucracies. Regardless of your politics, it's hard to argue that a union wouldn't be another large, impersonal bureaucracy.
posted by deathpanels at 7:40 AM on March 23 [2 favorites]


I actually suspect unionization, if it were allowed, would prove to be a long term boon to the tech companies themselves because it would potentialy help stabilize the work force and make it easier to know just what kind of skills individual tech workers really have. Right now, the tech labor market is kind of a crapshoot and HR depts everywhere are struggling to find the right candidates for the jobs required. Unionization could, if done properly, help make the tech labor pool more predictable and stable over time, in addition to providing more protection for the workers themselves.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:05 AM on March 23 [2 favorites]


I wonder how many programmers work for municipal governments, not to mention the federal government? Lotta unions there.
posted by rtha at 8:40 AM on March 23


This has nothing to with unionisation of workers and everything to do with the secret unionisation of technology CEOs.
posted by vicx at 8:41 AM on March 23 [5 favorites]


deathpanels: "I'm not anti-union. But the suggestion that software workers need to be unionized is an implicit argument that developing software is like pipe fitting, or plumbing, or some other traditional industry union job. "

The hell it is. How is teaching like pipe fitting? How is driving a municipal bus like plumbing? Many strong unions exist for in fields that don't conform to your antiquated idea that it's all about trade work.

deathpanels: " I know an autodidact web developer who majored in music and teaches an introductory course on a popular framework. Now he trains other autodidacts, gives them a rubber stamp on their forehead saying, "I passed this month-long intensive training course in the _____ framework", and they can go get a basic entry-level development job. If there were a union, it's possible that autodidacts like him wouldn't be able to get into the field anymore."

Anything is possible, but there's nothing about the collective bargaining that forces a situation where unions are powerful enough to oppose such a program. An obvious parallel would be something like Teach for America. Are incumbent teachers happy about the influx of new teachers with no teaching experience? Probably not. Were they in a position to stop it? Nope. There are strong unions in the auto industry, but they're doing paid apprenticeship programs to bring new talent on board as well. Unions and apprenticeship programs can coexist peacefully.

deathpanels: "Despite what you say, software is a trendy business."

I didn't say software wasn't a trendy business. I acknowledged that one has to learn new skills, but the idea that you have to change your entire tech stack every two years goes against my real world experience, which six years at a major mutual fund company and ten years at a research and development center at one of the best CS schools in the world.

Objective-C is one cherry-picked example of a language that soared in popularity five years ago. Name another one. C and Java are still crushing it. Of course, talking only about languages doesn't cover all of the changes in our industry. Ten years ago, it was all about RDBMSs, now it's all NoSQL, "big data", map/reduce, structured storage type stuff. But that's taken a long time, and it's not like Postgres or MySQL experience is in the category of COBOL where you need one bearded guy who knows it for every 100 people who know more current technologies.

What I'm trying to say here is that there's a kernel of truth to what you're saying, but you're really caricaturing what's actually going on in the field. Yes, we need to keep up, but a lot of people will do just fine doing Python or JavaScript for the next 5-10 years, giving them plenty of time to learn whatever the new hotness is by then.

deathpanels: "Regardless of your politics, it's hard to argue that a union wouldn't be another large, impersonal bureaucracy."

I don't think it's hard to argue at all. And even if it was a large, impersonal bureaucracy, it would be a large, impersonal bureaucracy that exists to defend the rights of its workers against other large, impersonal bureaucracies. You sound like you're much more anti-union than you're letting on here.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:52 AM on March 23 [9 favorites]


Yeah, the bus & housing protesters are DEFINITELY the cause of Silicon Valley tech employees' inability to care about or contribute to the well being of their neighbors (what are you even talking about, seriously)
posted by kelseyq at 9:40 AM on March 23


deathpanels: "But the suggestion that software workers need to be unionized is an implicit argument that developing software is like pipe fitting, or plumbing, or some other traditional industry union job. Is it? I don't know, but it's worth poking a couple holes in that idea to see if it still floats, eh?"

Besides all the the unions that aren't trade work (teamsters, goverment workers of all types, telecom operators, teachers - K-12 and post secondary to name just a few) there are other collective bargaining units. For example you often see artists collect together in guilds or collectives to pool their resources and allow group negotiations for compensation and supply.
posted by Mitheral at 10:29 AM on March 23 [2 favorites]


Hard to outsource pipe fitting and bus driving to India. Easier to outsource coding. Unionizing coding would be a short-term success for people working as coders at the expense of future potential coders. So if you are a coder you should support it, if you are not you should oppose it.
posted by alasdair at 1:31 PM on March 23


That's fatalistic nonsense. There are too many variables involved to make the future so glibly predictable, IMO.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:10 PM on March 23


I would actually love to see the kinds of innovations that a tech union would bring to the actual process of contract negotiation.

Think of version-controlled potential contracts and the process of creating rough consensus within the worker pool to support a given version of the document in negotiations with management. Think Git for government. You would suddenly have ALL of unionized tech personally interested in building tools that would improve the functioning of a democratic structure.

That would be awesome.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:24 PM on March 24 [3 favorites]


A followup piece: "Wow, Steve used a smiley. God, I never got one of those."
posted by frimble at 2:36 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


I'm busy as fuck but plan on having all my shit off Google within a month, not that I wasn't moving in that direction already. Not the hugest amount for me, finally get around to ditching Gmail, excise all Google apps and root my phone to AOSP or maybe Ubuntu.

There are rumors on the Twitters and such that they'll read your e-mails personally, not just send to NSA / bot parse for ad keywords, e.g. if you are a reported covering Google. Some uncharacteristic tone and cautiousness in recent emails with Google employees at their personal gmail made it seem like they were worried about monitoring - I'm sending out paper messages to try and see what's up.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:13 AM on March 28


Judge denies last-ditch effort by Google, Apple to have wage fixing lawsuit tossed. Trial begins May 27
posted by homunculus at 1:38 PM on March 30


Court docs: Google hiked wages to combat “hot, young” Facebook after Sandberg refused to join hiring cartel
posted by homunculus at 1:42 PM on March 30


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