For The Union Makes Us Strong
November 9, 2017 8:54 AM   Subscribe

“Over the past seven months, Tanisha Smythe has spent her entire life savings, and most of her son’s. She’s on the verge of losing her apartment and is relying on food banks for meals. Smythe is one of 1,800 former Time Warner Cable employees who have been on strike in New York City since 28 March, over a contract dispute with Charter Communications.” - Seven months long, 1,800 out … an epic TWC strike mirrors US unions' fight to survive (The Guardian) A Conservative Case For Unions ( New Republic) - Meet The NYC Strippers On Strike (Broadly) - What Labor Needs Now (Splinter)
posted by The Whelk (27 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
I haven't seen the picket line outside the nearby office in a few weeks...was wondering what was going on.
posted by praemunire at 8:58 AM on November 9, 2017


UNIONIZE ALL THE THINGS
posted by entropicamericana at 9:07 AM on November 9, 2017 [28 favorites]


Before delving into yet another one of your informative posts, The Whelk, thanks for this socialism oriented streak you've been on as of late. Your posts on these subjects have been not only been thought-provoking and mind-lodging, they've quietly been causing me to re-examine some opinions if not outright changing them. And seek out more info on my own, too. Thank you. It's a good work of resistance.
posted by barchan at 9:08 AM on November 9, 2017 [50 favorites]


US Corporations: Too big to care.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:26 AM on November 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


If capital can organize, why can't labor?
posted by notsnot at 9:29 AM on November 9, 2017 [13 favorites]


Talking with some of my early 30s peers about unions was rough. A lot didn't know or care what they had achieved in the past and even those who did know the history seemed to think that there was no further need for unions, as if all the goals of unionization had been achieved, that it wasn't an ongoing battle for labour rights and there was no way things could backslide.
posted by dazed_one at 9:31 AM on November 9, 2017 [8 favorites]


Re: the title of this FPP: while in preschool with a bunch of children of Silicon Valley engineers and MBAs my now 7-year-old son and his peers learned "Solidarity Forever" from a super cool music teacher. Still tickles me to think of the kids of anti-union tech execs belting out this proudly pro-union song.
posted by Lyme Drop at 9:41 AM on November 9, 2017 [12 favorites]


That last piece about what labor needs now was rather vacuous. It might as well just say UNIONIZE ALL THE THINGS, it'd be shorter. And the talk of unionizing millions of people and also unionizing the top 5 companies don't square. One of the issues with unionizing tech companies is their sheer lack of size. If every employee of Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Google were to unionize it wouldn't crack a million. Partly because they outsource everything that isn't their core competency, and partly because software scales stupidly.

And what are they going to offer your average Googler? Better amenities? And trying to unionize Google in order to have money to unionize other places, sounds like a rather losing proposition for the would be union members.
posted by zabuni at 9:50 AM on November 9, 2017


And what are they going to offer your average Googler?

A work life balance? Paid overtime? Of course it could be that tech can just select for workers who believe they need not these things.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:57 AM on November 9, 2017 [15 favorites]


...and even those who did know the history seemed to think that there was no further need for unions, as if all the goals of unionization had been achieved, that it wasn't an ongoing battle for labour rights and there was no way things could backslide.

Or...Had they finally drowned in the bottomless pool of poisoned koolaid that media, corporations, and politicians have been spewing over the past 50 years that unions were somehow the cause of America's problems and need to be done away with?
posted by Thorzdad at 9:57 AM on November 9, 2017 [7 favorites]


And what are they going to offer your average Googler? Better amenities?

There's more to a job than pay and benefits. I have no idea what google is like in terms of job protections, but one of the most valuable things about my union membership is the freedom I have to criticize my employer, vigorously and frequently, if I want to. I can also work 40 hours a week, call in sick when I don't feel well, and take all my vacation time without getting side eye or downsized or a bad review. All our employees (men and women) take all the parental leave they're entitled to without being mommy-tracked. We also participate in hiring decisions, and we can insist that diversity (real diversity) be a top priority for our organization. (I think google might have a wee problem with diversity?) I can't imagine a company where the employees would not benefit from unionizing.
posted by Mavri at 10:21 AM on November 9, 2017 [46 favorites]


Plus remember those threads we've had about exploitative hours in the game dev world. Software developers are not immune from labor abuses.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:46 AM on November 9, 2017 [7 favorites]


And this is why sympathy strikes need to be legal.
posted by corb at 11:10 AM on November 9, 2017 [14 favorites]


Plus remember those threads we've had about exploitative hours in the game dev world. Software developers are not immune from labor abuses.

I was talking about Google in specific. The article about what labor needs now was specifically talking about the top 5 companies (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon). Software developers in general would make a much more enticing target. Especially game developers. I think part of the reason the video game voice actor's strike (the longest acting strike in US history, only ending yesterday) went on for so long is that they didn't want to give the software developers any ideas. And it's very telling that the publishers didn't compromise on the matter of residuals.
posted by zabuni at 11:17 AM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Also: you don’t have to work for a tech company to work in tech.
posted by oceanjesse at 12:02 PM on November 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Relevant, an interesting interview with US labor organiser KB Brower on how to talk with colleagues about forming a union, on Delete Your Account podcast.
posted by Drexen at 12:08 PM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]



Talking with some of my early 30s peers about unions was rough. A lot didn't know or care what they had achieved in the past and even those who did know the history seemed to think that there was no further need for unions, as if all the goals of unionization had been achieved, that it wasn't an ongoing battle for labour rights and there was no way things could backslide.


Exactly the mindset conservatives have successfully cultivated.
posted by notreally at 12:21 PM on November 9, 2017 [9 favorites]


And what are they going to offer your average Googler? Better amenities?

Also, their work reflecting their values. Maciej Ceglowski is good on this.
posted by praemunire at 12:27 PM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Most of our local natural grocers don't have unions. I can understand that for the worker-run co-ops, but places like New Seasons, Whole Foods, Trader Joes... they're right up there with Walmart in not having a union.

Many of the non natural foods grocery stores DO have unions, Fred Meyer, Albertsons, Safeway....
posted by aniola at 12:51 PM on November 9, 2017 [4 favorites]


And what are they going to offer your average Googler? Better amenities? And trying to unionize Google in order to have money to unionize other places, sounds like a rather losing proposition for the would be union members.

It's a fair question if you look at the individual level but I think to appreciate a social organization like a union you need to look at the collective level. What emerges is a different set of expectations and norms. Like Mavri mentions above, even just the freedom to criticize and have your concerns be taken seriously creates a very different work environment from one where those concerns dissipate in cynical and surreptitious digs at management, "because nothing ever changes anyway". That's what management wants you to think.
posted by dmh at 1:17 PM on November 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


Our GOP controlled state legislators make things increasingly difficult for public and also private unions. Additionally, where unions used to move South to avoid union formation they can now threaten to shift work overseas...in the future: robotics

I have over the years been involved in 3 strikes, the last one was for 3 years...as usual, scabs hired, strike mediated with a lousy settlement, and then scabs fired, and those on strike let go.

If I could predict the future, it would not be for a growth of unions but further decline.
don't mourn for me boys, collect unemployment or social securdity
posted by Postroad at 2:26 PM on November 9, 2017


And what are they going to offer your average Googler? Better amenities?

I'm told they only recently increased base salary, and were generally considered bottom of the pay tier. The timing of that change seems to line up with antitrust litigation surrounding SV companies including Google. When you consider that these firms have net profits per employee in the multiple hundred thousand, it seems like there's additional negotiation room.

I've spent the last five years working in tech while represented by SEIU. It's not all roses, nor all thorns, and while I didn't actively seek out a unionized role, I'm also not seeking it out again.

Roses:
- pay increases are written into the contract.
- 40 hour work week. hours worked over 40 (because say an important RAID6 volume failed) were paid

Thorns:
- no overtime penalties. those overtime hours were paid out 1:1, which is pretty standard practice at all but the most abusive employers. Work late fixing a server, sleep in late.
- pay increases for tech workers are tied to managers submitting annual performance reviews, which they have an abysmal record of doing
- it would take 30 years of service to get to the same annual vacation I got while working in an unclassified role
- seniority based layoffs and bumping rights. When I accepted my layoff, I had the choice of bumping a friend out of his job in another department, while my H1-B coworker of six months had no such option.
- Frankly embarrassing negotiated wages and benefits. I had more vacation and salary working for another university in a cheaper CoL state. I was able to negotiate a higher wage, and maybe the maintenance workers and electricians do well, but I'm not sure how the union earned it's 1.5 percent cut for tech workers.
- pension benefit is unknowable. Between the vesting period and the annual call to slash retiree benefits, it's impossible to value the promise of a pension payout 30 years from now. Two solutions I've seen involve charging new union members more to make up for the outsized benefits of current retirees, and privatizing the flagship universities.

Now, none of this is mandatory for a union contract, but as long as profits are strong and broad non-competes are illegal, I've yet to figure out why techies would vote to unionize.
posted by pwnguin at 2:43 PM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


And what are they going to offer your average Googler? Better amenities?

A big part of the reason tech isn't unionized is that life has been good to tech workers. There's so much demand that employers compete to offer better salaries and better perks, and unemployment is low. It's a worker's market.

Maybe that's the best time to unionize. Enshrine protections before things get bad (which they probably will at some point).
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:04 PM on November 9, 2017 [7 favorites]


In general, a "sympathy strike" is not illegal. In general, no-strike, stoppage, slow-down clauses in a union's contract with the employer prevent a sympathetic action by separable unions within the same firm or in solidarity with a union action against a different firm. Non of that necessarily precludes sympathetic support of industrial action by third-parties who simply pick up a picket or refuse to cross the line.
Labor Notes
US labor law provides employers remedies in the event of union breach of contract. NLRB provides unions cause of action exceptions, or "waivers," permitting breach of contract. Restrictions on civil service employees' collective bargaining is a whole other animal.

The reasons why Americans in general have been and remain unsympathetic to collective bargaining action is long and pathetic.
posted by marycatherine at 10:55 AM on November 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


> Now, none of this is mandatory for a union contract, but as long as profits are strong and broad non-competes are illegal, I've yet to figure out why techies would vote to unionize.

I think folks forget that at one point the value of Unions to the employer was that at one point they could also guarantee properly skilled and staffed workers. This lack of determining true employee skill also leads to things like outsourcing to an Accenture, etc for specific skills. From a project and team planning perspective, knowing that a union provided level 3 DBA would know X,Y,Z skills and had a performance record to prove it, would make things a lot easier vs the current sham that is interviewing in the tech world (who do you know / do you look like / act like those interviewing you, etc).

The entire obsession with individuals maximizing personal profit is what drives the tech industry right now - the entire economy and market is geared to really only pay off the 1% so the goal is to step on everyone around you to get to that 1% market yourself. I don't know if you can unionize techies until you've broken the materialistic desire to be better off than everyone around you, or if you can unionize that group, one could then tackle the social mores of wealth.
posted by mrzarquon at 12:28 PM on November 10, 2017 [2 favorites]






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