Every Worker Needs A Union
March 30, 2019 10:19 AM   Subscribe

“Rather than being merely useless, “middle class” and its ideological trappings represent a positive obstacle to political engagement. If you’ve experienced dire poverty, or have loved ones in it still, it’s natural to feel grateful to make anything above minimum wage — or even guilty at having evaded such a fate. That move to guilt stops political activity in its tracks. There may be no more demobilizing an emotion. If you feel guilty for what you have — be it health insurance, an office job, or a roof over your head — knowing as you do that it could be worse, you might hesitate to demand more.” Forget Your Middle Class Dreams, white collar and professional workers need to support and demand unions too. (Jacobin)
posted by The Whelk (56 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Jacobin title (and honestly, most pullquotes devoid of context) are a little clickbaity, but the article itself is really solid, talking about class in practical terms, as a relation to power rather than a way to feel good about yourself. They’re not saying you can’t dream of being comfortable in the ways that are thought of as middle class - fetishizing poverty is a losing game - but rather that losing the idea of class in relation to capital shortchanged people. I really like this piece:
Now, by this point, those who believe that working class is a morally imbued identity, rather than a relationship to capital, are shaking their heads, groaning about its gentrification. But categorizing people as “workers” isn’t gradational, based on income, nor is it a judgement on their moral or ethical value — after all, working-class people are simply people; they can be as shitty as anyone else. While “working class” can be an identity (almost anything imaginable can be an identity these days, and that’s fine), that’s neither here nor there: either one sells one’s labor to survive, or one does not. To insist on cutting off white-collar workers from recourse to collective action is the logic of anti-union ideologues.
posted by corb at 10:36 AM on March 30, 2019 [22 favorites]


awww jisssss radicalize me whelkie ☭ 🔥
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:49 AM on March 30, 2019 [22 favorites]


No fucking shit.

Did a book called Wage Slaves from pre-2001 tech bust really make no impact on folks... You are not some millionaire waiting to happen. You are a wheel in a cog of the capitalist machine. Your silicon valley dreams will be shattered by a VC hell-bent on crippling your financial future. To work for the corporations is closer to the dystopian cyberpunk roleplaying games of the 80s and 90s - minus the funding and reciprocal rights. There is no quid pro quo. There is us vs. them - the haves and the have nots. Moreover - now we are willingly automating ourselves and coworkers out of existence in pursuit of corporate support for a company that has no intention of looking out for you.

Smash the loom.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:50 AM on March 30, 2019 [11 favorites]


The graduate school I studied at actively opposes graduate student unionization to this date. Thus the professional manipulation of political discourse happens early for grad students, i.e. our scholars and knowledge workers. You'd think our institutions of knowledge would be more enlightened, but in reality they are just places of power.
posted by polymodus at 11:52 AM on March 30, 2019 [12 favorites]


Yes, Yes, Yes.
posted by chocolatetiara at 12:05 PM on March 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


One of my primary concerns about unionization of high-tech workplaces is quality of workers. Many prominent tech companies (including the one I work for) are known for aggressively managing out poor performers. This has, in my opinion, been to the benefit of the company and the rest of the workers, who don't have to deal with making up for their less-competent coworkers.

Is there an example of a unionized organization that has appropriate performance management? Somewhat more cynically, is there an example of a union that supports the firing of employees at all?
posted by saeculorum at 12:10 PM on March 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


Baseball players have a union, somehow they manage to keep the best players and shed the ones who are no longer competitive. Brogrammers aren't more special than pro athletes
posted by Space Coyote at 12:24 PM on March 30, 2019 [65 favorites]


This has, in my opinion, been to the benefit of the company and the rest of the workers

This opinion is wrong and unscientific in the same way that companies operate by creating externalities such as global climate pollution. It is simply an unreal justification of reality that employes subjected to survivor bias are thereby manipulated into political ideologies such as these opinions. It functions on a circular definition of competitiveness.
posted by polymodus at 12:30 PM on March 30, 2019 [46 favorites]


I work at tech companies and I have to do a lot of managing around poor performers, while the "performance management" framework is used to bully women and people of color. So there's that.
posted by bleep at 12:30 PM on March 30, 2019 [73 favorites]


Many prominent tech companies (including the one I work for) are known for aggressively managing out poor performers.

Yes, and I'm sure it's a total meritocracy and it's just a coincidence how often "won't work 80 hour weeks including 24/7 on-call" correlates with "viewed as a poor performer" in those companies.
posted by tocts at 12:40 PM on March 30, 2019 [56 favorites]


Space Coyotes’ observation is interesting. Performing arts and athletes’ unions provide no job security, tenure or seniority benefits whatever. They also derive all their power from the loyalty of stars who don’t have any need for the union to negotiate and enforce deals - sort of like the CEO or CFO of GM not only belonged to the UAW but was eligible to be the shop steward.
posted by MattD at 12:42 PM on March 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


You can't film yourself hitting dingers and make $20 million a year.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:43 PM on March 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Though actually the Netflix movie Fly Like a Bird has a very interesting exploration of how individual stars could get around the league during a lockout by using social media power. That's still not going to fill arenas, though.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:44 PM on March 30, 2019


It's a real life version of the prisoner's dilemma. You can join a union and be guaranteed a living wage or get hired at google for 250k per year plus options and then once vested get a second job with equity that could boost you into the 0.001% and your very own jet.

And the union option only works until the robot revolution or some other dynamic crushes the UAW, teamsters or whatevers.
posted by sammyo at 12:48 PM on March 30, 2019


Is there an example of a unionized organization that has appropriate performance management?

So it really depends on what you consider to be “appropriate”.

In companies with bosses who get their way by threats of firing, employees have zero incentive to admit when they don’t know something, or ask for help. Why should they? They’re only going to be penalized for doing so, and maybe someday soon they won’t be able to keep a roof over their family’s head.

A unionized workplace that relies on solidarity unionism, however, has a key value that you should try to help your fellow workers. If somebody is deliberately slacking in a way that hurts their fellow workers, it’s not going to go over well. If someone is just not doing well, then because workers aren’t pitted against each other, workers can help each other to improve.
posted by corb at 12:49 PM on March 30, 2019 [26 favorites]


Don't most probably athletes and performers work on yearly (or fixed term) contracts? Is there an example for full time employees?
posted by saeculorum at 12:50 PM on March 30, 2019


Early on the article states that the situation gets more complicated for people who are responsible for managing and disciplining others at work, but doesn't really elaborate on the distinction further. So... what if you are in that middle position of being dependent on a salary as opposed to e.g. interest, while also being responsible for training people and/or for government fundraising so that you can continue to pay them?

This is common for research group leaders in academia, for instance, who typically have a mixed bag of teaching, researching, supervising, training, grant-writing, etc. I wonder a lot about how academia can be less structurally abusive and would like to help make changes in that direction, but it is hard to know how to be productively involved in making those changes.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:51 PM on March 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Pitchers of the world unite.
posted by clavdivs at 1:08 PM on March 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Where I work, some of the technicians brought in a Union organizer to talk, and management freaked out, bringing in a union-buster a week later to tell the rest of us how to smash this. And, I, a long-time Socialist, was forced to attend this mandatory meeting where it was assumed we would all agree that unions were terrible. What the technicians wanted was so utterly reasonable that none of us outside of management understood why the whole thing happened. No union was formed, needless to say.
posted by acrasis at 1:11 PM on March 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


I think of pro player 'unions' as being guilds not unlike the AMA , ABA and electricians - creating an artificial scarcity of 'certified' talent. Firing the substandard only enhances the guild. Also, can a union whose members are nearly all 1%-ers themselves be held up as an example for the rest of us? (Maybe the union got them to 1%, but raw talent and box-office draw might have gotten them there all the same?)

An ordinary union's power comes from size and pervasiveness of membership, so of course they will resist any attempt to terminate their members, unless of course a member crosses the union itself.

I will never oppose unions, but I've seen too many of them either in bed with their companies or collect dues and do nothing but add a second, conflicting dotted-line management hierarchy on my back.

Exploiters - or rather predators - know no political or economic system, they just predate - in government, political parties, corps, unions, worker co-operatives, non-profits, HOAs, everywhere. The only defense is to make sure nobody confuses you for prey. Any union that can deliver on that without breeding their own internal predators is ok by me.
posted by zaixfeep at 1:20 PM on March 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


I've also heard that this idea that unionizing means that employers can't fire people is a particularly American quirk, and has to do with the low percentage of union jobs and the outsize consequences of unemployment here. When nearly everyone is unionized and there is a decent safety net for all citizens it becomes much less catastrophic to be fired.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:25 PM on March 30, 2019 [32 favorites]


The convoluted power structures of a modern university seem like a situation to which orthodox Marxist concepts probably don't apply very well (although you'd never get Jacobin Magazine to admit it).

(Professors who run labs accumulate capital via grants and use it to pay for exploited labor to reproduce their capital, and are therefore class enemies of the honest toilers, but also professors have their teaching labor exploited by the university and are therefore proletarians...)

Like you obviously need labor organization but I don't think the lines are clear. At the very least I think if the grad students unionize, and there's another union for university staff including lecturers and adjunct professors, that could be a start for fighting against the worst exploitation. But if you want to be realistic about whose interests align with whose, it's not clear where to put tenured or tenure-track faculty.
posted by vogon_poet at 1:28 PM on March 30, 2019 [10 favorites]


Is there an example of a unionized organization that has appropriate performance management?

Collective agreements are just that--collectively decided by both parties: employer and employees. I would bet there are few if any collective agreements in existence that have no provision at all for terminating an underperforming employee. Employers are simply not going to agree to that kind of collective agreement, and unions don't want to foster a workplace with toxic members who are hated universally by their colleagues as well as management.

Where I work (unionized white, blue and pink-collar jobs, with two different unions) there is a set process for managers to discipline workers. Employees are subject to regular reviews and evaluations. Managers have to document everything; they have to be able to show evidence for why they are disciplining the employee; and they have to provide reasonable steps for remediation. If the employee doesn't meet the required steps in the process, they can be terminated.

It doesn't happen a lot, and when it doesn't happen, it is generally down to managers getting sloppy with evaluations ("I don't have time to do them"), a lack of proper documentation when a problem is identified, and a failure to follow procedure when attempting to discipline an employee. It is easier to ignore a problem than deal with it (I don't think this is something unique to unionized environments) so a lot of times, EVERYONE knows that Employee X doesn't do their job, but it's easier not to do anything about it, so management doesn't step in until it's gotten so bad everyone hates Employee X and things have ground to a halt. Then management steps in and has to begin at square one of the disciplinary process because they haven't been doing jack shit for months (maybe years), and everyone gets mad because now they are going to have to wait until the employee is brought through all the steps of the disciplinary process before they can be terminated, and that can take a long time.

But the solution isn't to get rid of the lengthy process. The solution is for managers to do their goddamned job, which is to assess their employees' performance, identify problems when they arise, and then do something about it rather than throwing up their hands in defeat and pretending there's nothing they can do because of that pesky old union and their pesky old rules.

Managers have to stop avoiding the admittedly unpleasant and time consuming process of documenting when employees are not doing what they are supposed to do. Yes, it sucks! I was seconded to a management role for a year and I had to discipline some of my direct reports. Sometimes I was inheriting a problematic person who SHOULD have been disciplined long before I started, so I had to start at square one with them. It was horrible to have those conversations and document everything. But I did it, because it was my job. Yes, that employee was a pain in the ass. But I was MORE mad at my predecessor, who simply avoided even starting the disciplinary process and dumped it in my lap. I am now back to my (preferred) non-management role and I just get annoyed when I hear people complaining about Employee X who is a terrible employee and colleague but management just won't do anything about them. I am not about to advocate that Employee X get fired. That is not my job. But it sure as shit is management's job to be on top of who is and isn't doing their job and to act accordingly.

In sum: It's not outrageous that unions want terminations to be done only after a manager has thoroughly documented the problems and has worked with the employee to remediate. If remediation isn't possible, then yes, a termination is the right thing to do. But the solution to lengthy disciplinary processes isn't to simply do away with them. The solution is to stop avoiding initiation of the process in the first place if you have a problem employee.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:52 PM on March 30, 2019 [56 favorites]


The article sort of justifies this by pointing out that much of the middle class is struggling, which sort of undercuts its other point that it's one's relationship to capital that matters and not one's income. It stops short of actually lionizing ball players' unions or suggesting physician unions. I wish the article were a bit more explicit as to whether there's actually an income limit somewhere or whether it's truly irrelevant to the question of whether one is a worker or owner. I also wish I understood better why the huge asterisk for people with management duties.
posted by Easy problem of consciousness at 1:54 PM on March 30, 2019


Is there an example of a unionized organization that has appropriate performance management? Somewhat more cynically, is there an example of a union that supports the firing of employees at all?

If a unionized workplace has poor performance management, it's because managers are terrible at managing performance. All union contracts allow you to fire someone for cause. If, therefore, people aren't being fired it's because no one needs to be fired, or because management can't make the case that they should be fired. If your company couldn't "manage out" poor performers if you were unionized, perhaps the issue is with how performance is defined or evaluated or how your people are managed. My union is 90% attorneys, and I am not impressed by arguments that some industries are just too special to need unions.

And of course no union is going to support firings. Unions have a duty of fair representation to their members. In my unionzed workplace, management fired one attorney after going through the process laid out in our CBA, during which she had the support and advocacy of our delegates. Generally, they have directed written discipline almost entirely at staff of color (who are probably a lot less vulnerable in a legal services offices than in a tech company). I participated in defending one as a delegate, and the warning memo was absolute bullshit. We got it withdrawn, but without the union this young man, a person of color, would have eventually been fired. This sort of disproportionate targeting of women and people of color is certainly a problem in tech.

So... what if you are in that middle position of being dependent on a salary as opposed to e.g. interest, while also being responsible for training people and/or for government fundraising so that you can continue to pay them?

I've wondered about this myself, in the context of the middle managers at my job. They are more subject to the whims of upper management than the unionzed staff and lack any protection. They obviously can't be in our union, but I wonder why they couldn't have their own. They would probably resist it in the same way the Kickstarter memo writers and others like them do--unions are for those people down there. High performers who do high quality work don't need unions.
posted by Mavri at 1:57 PM on March 30, 2019 [17 favorites]


Wild that people immediately panic about employees somehow abusing the system when the alternative, unrestrained capitalism, literally kills employees. I mean, oh my god, maybe it’s a little harder to fire someone, better get on that before we even consider a system that slightly mitigates the murderous greed of the current system.
posted by maxsparber at 2:02 PM on March 30, 2019 [51 favorites]


And just in case it wasn't clear from my previous comment: I am a member of a white-collar union and glad to be one. It makes me annoyed when I hear/read the sorts of arguments referred to in the article about how unions are for blue collar or pink collar workers but not "professionals." Bullshit. I am very grateful for my union and glad for the protections it affords me. White collar/professional workers who think they are somehow magically protected from exploitation or arbitrary termination are unbearably naive.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:15 PM on March 30, 2019 [25 favorites]


No guilt. I regard my adventures in the middle to (at one time) upper middle class to be entirely a heist, put on by me at the expense of the upper classes whenever possible.

Shit-talking players' unions is a little sad to me. The NBA players' association, for example, shows amazing solidarity. Who is the second guy off the bench to LeBron James, in an economic sense? Nobody. But the top players' loyalty to the association has kept even journeyman NBA players in much better shape than the poor bastards at the bottom of the NFL grinder (who themselves would be in even worse condition without their union).
posted by praemunire at 3:01 PM on March 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


(I would be in the union if I weren't legally barred from being in it.)
posted by praemunire at 3:02 PM on March 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


One of the reason there was a blue/white collar distinction, along with a flight to the suburbs, is the architects and owners who built the modern office wanted to move office workers away from those pesky labor organizers.

Can't have a good steno pool if they start hearing things like "means of production," I guess.

Also, the episode of the podcast Keep It has one of the WGA heads talking about the conflict of interest the agencies have been using for years and how the writer is the source of all wealth in the film/tv industry and it's quite inspiring to hear.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 3:14 PM on March 30, 2019 [8 favorites]


I'm a UK academic. We have a union. I don't rate it highly but we went on strike last year and it had an impact on policy. We still have fairly tough performance indicators. That whole argument reads like people who have bought into drinking the koolaid.
posted by biffa at 3:30 PM on March 30, 2019 [8 favorites]


"...or get hired at google for 250k per year plus options and then once vested get a second job with equity that could boost you into the 0.001% and your very own jet. "
It seems like 99.999% of people don't take advantage of that obvious opportunity. Why is that? Are they lazy or just indolent?
posted by Floydd at 3:34 PM on March 30, 2019 [7 favorites]


I work in a deeply technical field and have been in this game for more than 20 years. I would kill for an apprenticeship->journeyman->master pipeline.
The ability to pushback against management deciding that they don’t need to backfill the positions of the people that just quit because, “the rest of the team can pick up the slack for a bit” would be lovely as well.
posted by mfu at 3:50 PM on March 30, 2019 [15 favorites]


Looking around more, there are conflicting calls on whether academics are "management" or not. There's apparently been one Supreme Court case (NLRB v. Yeshiva University) in which private sector, tenure-track (TT) professors were decided to be "management" and therefore ineligible for unionization but there are also unions that include both tenured and non-tenured academics at public institutions, on a state-by-state basis.

So on the one hand counting TT profs as management seems like a decision calculated to make it harder for TT professors to engage in solidarity actions with, say, adjuncts. If TT/tenured profs participated in strikes along with adjuncts, the university would totally grind to a halt, so they have a lot of power to contribute to collective organization. And training people and writing grants is no less "labor" than writing code, for example. On the other hand, the power structure of an academic lab is a lot like a small business (only even worse, because individual people have so much power over people's careers in a way that's not true in industry), and one of the good reasons for postdocs and grads to unionize is to take some of that power back from their PIs and idk, secure rights to things like arbitration, etc. And people with hiring/firing power are usually prohibited from joining a union; this presumably includes postdocs and research assistants.

To take a step back I'm not trying to derail this into "what about academia" (although I do genuinely have questions about how to apply this analysis to the modern university); academia may be particularly weird, but I suspect this gray area of manager/supervisor/worker is a more general problem that applies to a lot of people and I wish the article had gone into any detail about it.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:17 PM on March 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


is there an example of a union that supports the firing of employees at all?

It's not the role of a union to support firings. There aren't a lot of workplaces that don't allow firings, with an appropriate process.

(Incidentally, regarding performance of tech employees, as a tech employee, I don't have a lot of trust in top-down evaluations of performance, or stupid competitive schemes like stack ranking. If I were to design a process for the elimination of poor performers I would certainly want it to be something where the rest of their team plays a role in the decision.)
posted by atoxyl at 4:30 PM on March 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


White collar/professional workers who think they are somehow magically protected from exploitation or arbitrary termination are unbearably naive.

Absolutely. I'm a professional worker who did everything he was supposed to do -- stay in school, get a good job, work hard -- but still has zero job security, zero benefits, zero pension, and my pay is whatever my boss decides for me, when he remembers to adjust.

In the absolute terms of security, benefits, or purchasing power, my old man with his good union job on the factory floor had a vastly superior position to mine. As a professional, I'm not even supposed to be concerned about things like not having dental or a pension, as supposedly I can just afford those, when that is not at all the case.

White collar/professional workers are just as subject to the whims from above as everyone else.
posted by Capt. Renault at 4:42 PM on March 30, 2019 [14 favorites]


I suspect this gray area of manager/supervisor/worker is a more general problem that applies to a lot of people and I wish the article had gone into any detail about it.

I mean a publication very dogmatically committed to Marxism will have a hard time going into more detail, because they have prior philosophical commitments about the purpose of labor organizing -- that the only point of it is to contribute to a broader struggle between exactly two classes, proletariat and bourgeoisie.

that way of viewing the world makes it hard even to talk about a workplace that has just three different interest groups, let alone cases where people's group membership and interests conflict or overlap.

this kind of complexity is probably becoming more common, so I also hope there's a way to talk about and make sense of it, but it's hard for someone who is also committed to ignoring those differences as a distraction from class unity.
posted by vogon_poet at 4:54 PM on March 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


The union supporting vs not supporting firings seems like a fairly simplistic model. It ignores that there are models for labour relationships which are far more complex and which are inculcated into legislative regimes around the world.
posted by biffa at 5:09 PM on March 30, 2019


hurdy gurdy girl's excellent exposition of the performance management process squares pretty much exactly with my experience in a non-union environment. I think the reflexive cry of "unions make it impossible to fire terrible employees" comes about 80% from people internalizing half-remembered exposés about New York teacher's union rubber rooms.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 5:15 PM on March 30, 2019 [12 favorites]


(Incidentally, regarding performance of tech employees, as a tech employee, I don't have a lot of trust in top-down evaluations of performance, or stupid competitive schemes like stack ranking. If I were to design a process for the elimination of poor performers I would certainly want it to be something where the rest of their team plays a role in the decision.)

That is one industry where a peer review is probably one of the worst possible efforts. Peers may have blind spots. Peers are irrational actors. Peers have potential incentive to have your review worse than theirs. Peers can be racists, sexists, and otherwise not understand the nuances of corporate diversity. Peers have friends. Peers sometimes mix social and work incorrectly. Peers sometimes do the opposite. Peers may be capable of reviewing portions of your work, but expand a system and corporate complexity and your peers become quickly incapable of evaluating you amid the full scope of your duties: i.e. not everybody does the same thing or works on only one project at a time. Peers can't review enough co-workers to tease out their inherent statistical bias, or to normalize their ranking system.

So we then turn to what unions offer:
Unions offer standards, regular training, expected levels of mastery at specific striated intervals. Every journeyman electrician has a solid foundation of skills and has had enough experience to pass out of their pure apprenticeship. Consider a union the group responsible for ensuring their workforce is indeed worth the investment - meaning its like that branch of HR that supposedly works for you, but instead is hell bent on minimizing cost in order to have an acceptable level of turnover. You pay dues to unions for them to advocate for you. You vote on your union officers because those people are your strongest advocates with the perceived best negotiating skills. The union structure itself puts a check in place for 70 hour work weeks written down as 40, or budget constraints that fail to address the time, money, and quality equation.

Sure, you put the reins on wall street growth, because the companies are pushed towards reinvesting in their workforce and not just lining their stockholder's wallets - but it gives employees as a whole a seat at the table and insight into how the company intends to govern the next few quarters. You know what unions got us? the weekend, shift differential, and safety standards. Imagine, if you will, that when you took vacation - that you knew that noone was going to call you with a work emergency because there was mandated coverage and support to allow you to get away during your vacation.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:36 PM on March 30, 2019 [14 favorites]


Oh boy... do I understand the need for all workers to be unionized and all the lies white (and pink) collar professionals tell themselves about why they don't need or deserve a union. And it's clear that people can be wicked smart in many ways, but not in the actual structural power dynamics of employment.

My bargaining unit in a union of professionals in academia is currently voting on ratification of a tentative agreement we reached with our employer a week ago. This is the culmination of a year of member driven bargaining that also includes a year of planning and organizing. I have no doubt that tomorrow afternoon if the ratification vote is yes, I will cry exhausted tears of relief that this part of the process is over and joy that we achieved some things in this round of bargaining. I have spent the last 2 years organizing and agitating, flexing muscles I didn't know existed, and have a renewed faith and cynicism in the system. I can only imagine how our table team will feel.

To the issue that a lot of these kinds of jobs are management-like, yes but how much? My unit, a lot of people are kind of management only when you get down to it they don't really have much control over the budgets, hiring and firing, or many of the other responsibilities management entails. They're supervisory. I think this is actually a fairly common dynamic, but people want to think they have more agency than they actually do. One thing I really understand now, is that a lot of the people I thought could make decisions about things that affected working conditions, can't beyond squishy cultural things. The decisions seem to be made by committees and decision makers removed from the work that seem like abstract concepts. So when you're negotiating a contract, it's not really with a person - it's with somebody as an avatar of some committee or board that is looking out for the interests of their shareholders/stakeholders.

And a lot of the "unions only look out for people with seniority" or "unions make it hard to fire people" stuff is internalized anti-union talk or legitimate gripes, but blaming the union and not the toxic environment that causes unions to be so closed ranks like that to preserve what little they have. Unions make it hard for workers to be fired without documentation and opportunities to improve? How is that a bad thing. It's easier to complain about the union than it is to do that work. Those unions are also probably bureaucratic and have minimal member involvement in operations and decision making. The difference between "what can the union do for me?" instead of "what can I do for the union?" My local went through radical democratization a few years ago, which has really helped in energizing our members again. With our contract bargaining campaign that's (hopefully) about to end, we brought this member driven action throughout the unit which was tiring but ultimately rewarding. 5 years ago when we negotiated our last contract, people kind of shrugged and didn't care much about voting because it didn't seem to matter. This time around, people are engaged and passionate. It's not because conditions changed much - but we did.

And I think about how unions are really the only type of organization that has the interests of workers in any profession at heart. I've spent a lot of time and energy involved with professional associations because it's expected and because I thought it was a good way to give back to my profession (libraries). I see now though that the main associations are not for professionals, they're for the organizations that employ us or for the associations themselves. They want to help us be connected and be the best professionals as possible, but there's also a sense of credentialism and keeping things as they are. Rather than advocating that orgs simply have libraries and hire librarians, I realized through unions we can actually talk about working conditions in a way that benefits workers and subsequently the organizations that employ us. Otherwise, all the of the structural inequities will persist and the toxic systems will endure. I could see this being a benefit in tech, to break some pretty horrible hiring cycles and empowering workers... but that also requires a lot of introspection growth. It's really hard.
posted by kendrak at 6:43 PM on March 30, 2019 [14 favorites]


I’m a member of 4 unions, and I would not be able to work on most of the films I do, if the union regulations were enforced.
WGA, DGA, IATSE, Newpaper guild
posted by Ideefixe at 6:55 PM on March 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


Baseball players have a union, somehow they manage to keep the best players and shed the ones who are no longer competitive. Brogrammers aren't more special than pro athletes

Athletes really are the special ones here. Bear in mind that the union is one of the things allowing the MLB to keep it's antitrust exemption. If the union dissolves, the case for trust busting stronger. The NFLPA went so far as to decertify in order to bring suit on behalf of household name players, because the salary cap directly affects them. I don't imagine we'll see President Elizabeth Warren signing any legislation exempting Google from anti-trust the way our Supreme Court did with the MLB just because the programmers are suddenly unionized.

It's not at all clear that the union would survive if the MLB lost its anti-trust status, since the owners have an unusually strong vested interest in maintaining it. For players earning the salary cap, it seems likely the union is holding their fortunes back. I'm not a mathematical genius, but it seems likely that teams might bid up Labron James even higher if it led to doubling their ticket sales. And if there were more teams in general bidding up talent, that would help everyone to the detriment of owners. While fans like to complain about highly paid athletes and teams that buy their way to success, I don't see a lot of evidence that stacked teams are bad for sales or viewership.

Plus, sports team's rosters are restricted. Only so many players are allowed on the field, so management has an amplified reason to benchmark talent. They hire sabermetricians to produce an abundance of metrics on every professional athlete, while nobody in corporate world even tracks how many times the average PR is reworked before being accepted. Athlete performance is too publicly scrutinized for a player's association to defend its marginal players from termination. Once your head count is limited by office space rather than social convention, the dynamic shifts to a more conventional annual perf review system, and the union grievance system can work its magic.

Finally, my question for those who want to unionize high tech: what policies do you recommend for visas? And should union members seeking higher wages support your policy?
posted by pwnguin at 2:17 AM on March 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


I am a professor at a public college in a "right to work" state. We now have a union! We can't engage in collective bargaining, but we can have each others' backs in talking to the administration at the local and state level (we welcome contingent and non-contingent faculty and staff), support our grad students and post docs in their organizing, and lobby at the state level to finally, for the first time in nearly 20 years, have COLA. When I hear about people whose states do not have the oppressive anti-labor laws mine does who still choose not to unionize, it makes me very sad.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:53 AM on March 31, 2019 [9 favorites]


My father, a white collar worker, was saying that such workers need a union back in the 1950s. Most did not want to hear it. He was right.
posted by mermayd at 9:11 AM on March 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


The Gizmodo anti-union memo (reported on by... Gizmodo? Huh) is really something.

The notion that a union is an "extreme" solution and that the "effort to unionize is the result of consistent issues with internal communications" is telling.

I'm always particularly fond of the "communications issues" line. It never grows old. (The Captain in Cool Hand Luke said it better: "What we've got here is a failure to communicate!") "Poor communication" is one of those last-refuge-of-scoundrels lines; it implies that if only your messaging were better, or if the intended audience weren't so thick, they would clearly see the correctness of your position. It admits no possibility of underlying fault, except perhaps in the failure to tailor the message down to the right monosyllabic words. Certainly it admits no possibility that the two parties to the 'miscommunication' might just not have that much in common.

I'm reminded of the standard advice never to take a company's counter-offer when you put in your resignation. After all, if they weren't willing to work with you all the way up until you were ready to walk out the door--if that's what you had to do to get anyone to pay fucking attention, or get a raise, or whatever--that's pretty damning. If you take the counteroffer, you're as much as admitting that they did just fine, and it's silly to expect them to suddenly start doing anything different in the future. Similarly, if the only time a company decides it's worth spending a bunch of time engaging with its employees is when they start to formally organize, it's suspicious bordering on insulting to suggest that senior management has just, coincidentally, had a change of heart.

Be interesting to see how that plays out.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:12 PM on March 31, 2019 [3 favorites]


One of my primary concerns about unionization of high-tech workplaces is quality of workers.

And there you have it. You're so worried some "undeserving" people might get accidentally obtain something they don't deserve as a byproduct, you're willing to sell out yourself and your "deserving" colleagues. This is not what solidarity looks like.
posted by Jimbob at 6:22 PM on March 31, 2019 [17 favorites]


For players earning the salary cap, it seems likely the union is holding their fortunes back.

Almost makes you wonder what their motives could possibly be! Surely anyone would throw their teammates under the bus for a few extra million on top of their multimillion-dollar salaries!
posted by praemunire at 12:00 AM on April 1, 2019


Early on the article states that the situation gets more complicated for people who are responsible for managing and disciplining others at work, but doesn't really elaborate on the distinction further. So... what if you are in that middle position of being dependent on a salary as opposed to e.g. interest, while also being responsible for training people and/or for government fundraising so that you can continue to pay them?

What the article is alluding to is essentially 'hire/fire power'. If you have the ability to hire people, or the ability to fire people, you really can't be in a union, and in my opinion, shouldn't be in a union, because you have voluntarily aligned your class interests with the bosses, whether or not it makes sense to do so. It has nothing really to do with supervisory authority or the amount you train people - you can be, say, a shift leader or a team lead and still in a union - but if you can fire people on your own recognizance, how could people trust you? And why would they?
posted by corb at 7:47 AM on April 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


This is not what solidarity looks like.

I'm not disagreeing, but I think that if you approach questions of unionization from a perspective that just assumes everyone understands and appreciates 'solidarity', you are in for some real disappointment.

I'm not saying to anyone that they, personally, need to do the heavy lifting of selling the basic idea of solidarity to an ever-skeptical audience, but given the very small percentage of Americans who have ever been in an union, or even had someone in their family be in a union, the value of unions isn't something that you can just assume everyone is going to accept on premise.

Doubly so for the more abstract concept of 'solidarity', which is not something that people can be assumed to ever have encountered in their education (it's certainly not something that many public schools will go near with a ten-foot pole). Although I think there's a greater emphasis on cooperative work now than there used to be in past generations—it's been a while since I've heard of a professor doing the forced-curve "I'll give 10% of the class As, 20% Bs, 40% Cs, 20% Ds, 10% Fs" thing—group projects tend to also give people a pretty well-honed hatred of free-loading. To the point where I think some of the best political arguments for higher taxation, etc., are basically by implying that the rich or capital-owning class are basically freeloading. But the only thing worse than a distant rich asshole freeloading off society is someone right there in your office, freeloading off of you. Asking for solidarity in that situation is… a big ask.

If you have the ability to hire people, or the ability to fire people, you really can't be in a union, and in my opinion, shouldn't be in a union

Sure, although I think this is one of these things that maps really well onto early-20th-century workplaces and less so onto modern ones, especially white-collar IT workplaces that are increasingly the model for everything.

In many workplaces, hire/fire power is de jure restricted to someone in HR or very senior management, but de facto belongs to team leads or even just to senior technical personnel. It's pretty standard these days for candidates to be interviewed by their future peers, not just managers/bosses, and those peers can easily blackball a candidate if they really don't want to work with them (reasonably so). It's a pretty rare (and probably very stupid) manager who will override a "hard pass" from one of their technical leads on a candidate. Similarly, many managers take their firing cues from their teams; a bunch of teammates saying "this dude sucks and none of us are interested in mentoring him, we'd rather take our chances on someone new" is frequently the end of the line for that person's job. It's likely HR who actually tells that person that they're done and to collect their stuff and leave, but the decision wasn't really HR's. TBH, the best workplaces I've worked at were like that, and I'd be very cautious drawing a dividing line that prohibits that sort of collaboration on big decisions. I don't think that model is incompatible with unionization, in fact it might actually help, but it's not a clear-cut us vs. them, or labor vs. management divide.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:10 AM on April 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


Additionally, even if you have hire/fire power, you may not have other relevant powers; for example I can choose which grad student to hire but not what I pay them. I can’t choose whether they get dental or what medical plans are available. I can’t do anything about the poor summer pay if they take a TA position, since those amounts aren’t set by me. And I definitely can’t change the part of their compensation they never see, the number that drives the rest: the tuition. Those decisions are made way above my head. And more or less I happen to be on the side of the student in these fights— but I still have hire/fire power. So ..?
posted by nat at 9:49 AM on April 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I mean obviously grad students, postdocs, RAs, and faculty should not all be represented by the same bargaining unit! But if TT faculty are totally prevented from organizing, that weakens their ability to support contingent faculty like adjuncts and VAPs. And at the end of the day none of these people are actually administrators, i.e., the ones actually making important decisions on behalf of the university -- your deans, your provosts, etc. Even TT faculty who run research labs quite plainly do not have the same class interests as university administrators.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:14 AM on April 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


My mom was in the teacher's union in NY in the 90s. Right now she lives off of her small pension and amazing, affordable health care for both her and my dad. The benefits of the union aren't just when you're at work, but for the rest of your life.
posted by anitanita at 2:27 PM on April 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


i Wish the Obama era policy to extend overtime benefits to more workers had not died. There are so may professional jobs that “require” 10+ hour days that are truly exploitative. (E.g. Corporate accountants at month end)
That initiative would have subdued unionizing efforts in that wage-range of workers, but it is appalling to see what’s shoved onto “40 hour a week exempt” employees.
Professional workers should unionize to get:
1. Paid overtime
2. Paid maternity/paternity leave
3. Decent, affordable daycare

I’m tired of bootstrapping. Let’s organize!
posted by natasha_k at 3:22 PM on April 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah that’s a prime example of a very reasonable , very easy to impliment change that would’ve amounts to a huge pay raise for millions of Americans that was shot down by a GOP judge and left for dead cause they’re never gonna budge or compromise on anything.

That and the rumor I heard a lot of politicians where against it in both sides cause campaigns run in this kind of unpaid overpaid. It’s why seeing campaign worker unions form is so encouraging.
posted by The Whelk at 4:12 PM on April 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


The One Collar Movement
posted by The Whelk at 10:12 AM on April 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


« Older The biggest mystery on TV is how every show became...   |   Holding Space Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments