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What Silicon Valley Fears Most: Powerful Employees

Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook are terrified workers might wake up and realize they have rights.

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BY Geoffrey James - 02 Nov 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Does anyone still believe that Silicon Valley wants to improve the world? If so, there's a really famous bridge in San Francisco I'd like to sell you. The main motivator in high tech is making money, which is great, but not if extra profit is at the expense of the employees who make all the innovation possible.

For all too long, high-tech firms have successfully convinced employees that management has their best interests at heart. It's only a matter of time before workers in these firmness realize that they must band together to regain their rights.

in other words, what high-tech employees need--and the moguls fear most--is a trade union. Here's why:

1. Sexual Harassment

High tech firms have has become infamous hot beds of sexual discrimination which is the root of sexual harassment. According to the international organization The Advocates of Human Rights:

"A key means of action promoting gender equality in the world of work is through collective bargaining - as a process of negotiation between workers' representatives and employers...[For example,] where management and trade unions negotiated Italy's first code of conduct to combat sexual harassment."

2. Non-Compete Agreements

Many high-tech firms require workers to sign non-compete clauses that can prevent employees from finding a job elsewhere, thus tying them to their current employer, regardless of how they are treated.

At this point, only Californian bans such agreements; a strong programmer's union would fight for your right to sell your skills to wherever can get the best compensation--the true definition of "right to work."

3. Non-disparagement Clauses

It's become common for high-tech firms to force employees sign non-disparagement clauses, which levy heavy financial penalties that prevent employees (and ex-employees) from talking publicly about predatory management behavior, including but not limited to sexual harassment.

A high-tech trade union would not only fight to have such clauses made illegal but would provide a safe forum for employees to air their justifiable grievances.

4. Binding Arbitration

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants "the right of the people...to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Despite this, high-tech firms frequently insert binding arbitration into employment contract, thereby guaranteeing a corporate-friendly result to any employee dispute. As pointed out by the Heritage Foundation, trade unions consistently led the fight against binding arbitration and the constitutional right to sue.

5. Involuntary Overtime

High-tech firms typically require programmers to work hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime every year as a condition of continued employment. In video game development, for example, fully 97% of programmers say their jobs "require periods of long hours, extended work hours or extended overtime," according to the New York Times, even though these firms generate $38 billion of yearly revenue in the U.S. alone.

By contrast, workers in the entertainment industry (like film and television) are compensated for overtime due to strong trade unions.

6. Age Discrimination

I don't want to shock the younger readers of this column but unless something changes someday you'll discover that age discrimination--against you--is a real threat to your livelihood. In high tech, the Gen-Xers pooh-poohed the Baby Boomers when the latter complained that they weren't getting a fair shake; now it's the Gen-Xers whose careers are in jeopardy.

Throughout history, trade unions have worked to force companies to recognize the value of seniority.

7. Open-plan Offices

While sold to employees and investors alike as way to create creativity to collaboration, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that open-plan offices both decrease productivity and greatly increase employee health problems.

Trade unions have traditionally worked to improve workplace conditions through the creation, for example, of OSHA standards, which should be extended to ban overly-dense office environments.

8. H1B Visa Abuse

Top management in high-tech firms claim they can't find qualified programmers in the United States and thus must look abroad. They then hire foreign programmers under H1B contracts that forbid that programmer from working anywhere else, without being deported. The H1B Visa program, as implemented, enables high-tech firms to avoid paying technical employees what their services are worth.

Trade unions always fight against schemes to undercut wages by importing cheap, captive labor.

9. Quality Control

Software and the Internet of Things are full of bugs and cybersecurity problems, partly because high-tech firms are driven from the top down to release products that aren't ready-for-prime-time.

Most programmers would prefer to do their jobs right and create more bulletproof products; trade unions often provide workers with that power. For example, teachers' unions have played an essential role in reducing class size and improving the overall quality of public education.

10. Violations of Privacy

High-tech firms are leading the way in destroying whatever vestiges of employee privacy that remain in the workplace. For example, some firms have instituted voluntary (i.e. culturally mandatory) programs requiring employees to have RFID chips embedded under their skins.

A trade union would fight not just to prevent future abuses but roll back the ability of companies to, for instance, access your private social media accounts and monitor your diet.

11. Employee Health

The abuses identified above all have a direct, negative effect on employee health and well-being. This is especially true in high-tech, which suffers from a panoply of stress-related illness, absenteeism and even premature deaths. Unfortunately, so-called "professional" employees in high-tech (and elsewhere) lack the bargaining power to make changes that would protect them from these abuses.

A trade union would counterbalance the power of high-tech management to exploit and permanently damage the employees who, unlike management (which--let's be honest--is often parasitical), do the real work of creating, marketing, selling and maintaining the products and services that these companies sell.