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Startup Employees As an Organized Labor Group 107

An anonymous reader writes "Last Friday may turn out to have marked the beginning of Silicon Valley's organized labor movement--startup employees met in Palo Alto 'to share war stories and to start developing what organizers called a 'Startup Employee Equity Bill of Rights'.'" That probably should include the right to work late, for little pay, and to trade less certainty now for greater hoped-for benefits down the road. If you've been a startup employee, or started one of your own, what would you put on the wishlist?
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Startup Employees As an Organized Labor Group

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  • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @11:16AM (#46551313)

    you are already being scammed. in the 35 yrs I've been in software in the bay area and boston area, I've known 2 people (at most) who made out well from shared in their startups. the first level bosses did ok but not great and the execs and vc's all bought new houses and cars (and boats and ...).

    face it, wall street is a scam and stocks for you and me are a scam.

    work for salary. don't work AT ALL for stock.

    so many times I've seen it (even to myself) where they walk you out just before your first or 2nd vesting. it happens!!

    do not work or even care about stock. you can't write a rent check on stock promises.

    that's all that needs to be said. its a scam for those who are connected and rich. you and I will never be connected or rich. face it, the american dream is not there for folks like us.

    I laugh at those giving away time from their lives and famlies for 'promises of stock money'. you could not be more stupid to do this. you get ONE chance at life and there's no reason to work 80 hrs each week and deprive your family and yourself from valuable life time. you can't get time in your life back.

    • I think you mean "stock options", or even worse, "phantom stock appreciation rights". I have tons of those from failed startups.

      But actual stock in a going concern from a company already trading (yes I know, that's not a startup) can actually be pretty good. I joined Cigna after they fucked their stock by rolling out a new customer service platform in the 90's that sucked balls and dropped their membership by 15%.

      The stock I got as the price gradually recovered sold for a nice sum, while people there fr
    • by alen ( 225700 )

      the 49ners never made any money either, the people selling them the picks and shovels and food made out like bandits
      same here. VC's handle the money and take their cut no matter what. they probably don't care what they invest in

    • Yep, the same thing happened to the auto workers and the pensions they were promised if they took lower wages and less benefits. Turns out none of the money went into the pensions, and the thieves got away scot-free. Who says crime doesn't pay?

      • Who says crime doesn't pay?

        Successful criminals who do not want competition in their continuing criminal careers.

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      Startups tend to employee young or inexperienced people. They also tend to not use cash for employees. They focus on the lottery aspect of the startup, that you might get huge sums of money later on. It is a sophisticated model. For someone just out of college, how has fewer expenses than a mid career person, it can make sense. One might gain experience, and one might make money. I would say research the type of stock options, the risks, and assume you will never get them. Be aware of the significant
    • work for salary. don't work AT ALL for stock.

      Today, very true. During the tech bubble, people only didn't get rich because they didn't cash out, because they were greedy fuckers. I know oodles of people who were worth millions or even tens of millions on paper and failed to cash out any of those millions even though some of their options were vested. Some of them became broke, some are doing okay, some are totally destitute and will be forever because they bought crap on credit and the fallout was not pretty. I know a few people who cashed out at a ha

      • Seriously, how many people back then asked to be paid in junk stock? A lot of it was given instead of other benefits, or even as a bait and switch with one guy I know that had been fooled into thinking he was getting that much in salary (and the evil bastards had an IP court case over this previous work hanging over his head to "join or die").
    • No dog ever accepted stock options as a reward.

      To motivate a dog to do your bidding requires something more tangible (likely edible), while humans will accept vague promises of an abstract future reward.

      • by ranton ( 36917 )

        No dog ever accepted stock options as a reward.

        To motivate a dog to do your bidding requires something more tangible (likely edible), while humans will accept vague promises of an abstract future reward.

        I completely agree with you. The difference between humans and any other animal is our ability to comprehend the future and understand that delayed satisfaction can be very beneficial.

    • Work on your own ideas. Seriously, start your own business.
    • by phorm ( 591458 )

      work for salary.

      NO, work for hourly if possible. I have seen (and been) many sysadmin positions where
          salary=go cheap on vendors/hardware/staffing because we can overload our existing sysadmins with after-hours work for free.

      Unless you want to be working 10-20+ hours extra a week because somebody isn't willing to spend an extra couple hundred bucks a month on decent hardware or hosting... salary isn't always a good option either

    • There's occasional payout to someone. Like a slot machine. To the same effect.

  • by Wonko the Sane ( 25252 ) * on Saturday March 22, 2014 @11:21AM (#46551339) Journal

    "Last Friday may turn out to have marked the beginning of Silicon Valley's organized labor movement" should read "Last Friday may turn out to have marked the end of Silicon Valley." Once "organized labor" successfully infects an industry, it turns in to a dead industry walking.

    Since tech startups are particularly location-independent, expect to see more of them started elsewhere (and outside the United States entirely) and fewer of them to start in Silicon Valley.

    • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @11:46AM (#46551499)

      This is simply a consequence of the fact that tech startup remuneration schemes just don't work anymore, and people have been coasting for the last decade hoping the 90s would come back, and they just aren't. You can't just take programmers who would make over six figures in the market, pay them a pittance and stock, and then never have the stock pay off -- this'll work the first few times, but not for years.

      We also can't ignore the fact that, though we measure "innovation" in the number of startups that are founded, a lot of these startups are just really dumb, unsustainable ideas that would be much better off being developed by larger companies (if at all), and the whole reason its a startup, and not a MS/Apple/Google R&D project, is to give the founders a big payday from VC funding rounds, and to give the venture capitalists a big payday off of some patent the company will file. Yay intellectual property! It's just a big rent collection scheme dressed up as entrepreneurship.

      Tech startups are rarely designed to make money, they aren't really supposed to, they are really just a fiction to get the connected parties as much cash as physically possible before the whole thing burns out. It's been a scam for a decade, but a lot of tech people are deeply emotionally invested in the system, because it means catered meals and beers in the fridge and Ferraris for everyone up and down the Camino Real and satisfies their deeply-held emotional belief that being a computer nerd entitles you to vast wealth and privilege, because you're "reinventing the world" or some such nonsense.

      A very similar thing happened in the film industry between the early twenties, where it was basically a gold rush from the end of World War I to the invention of sound film, and there were hundreds of little fly-by-night producers making movies left and right, and there was tons of "innovation" in the sense that a lot of content was getting made, but everyone under the producer was making nothing. Then everyone unionized.

      A lot of tech will say in Silicon Valley, it's just too close to Stanford and all the good people. But, they'll actually have to be paid for the work they do, in money and not in magic beans.

      • A lot of tech will say in Silicon Valley, it's just too close to Stanford and all the good people

        As someone who works in Cambridge next to MIT, I'm skeptical that Stanford has all the good people.

      • This is simply a consequence of the fact that tech startup remuneration schemes just don't work anymore, and people have been coasting for the last decade hoping the 90s would come back, and they just aren't. You can't just take programmers who would make over six figures in the market, pay them a pittance and stock, and then never have the stock pay off -- this'll work the first few times, but not for years.

        One of the problems is that the number of people who are actually eager to work under these conditions is quite large. I've found that some people like startups because they cannot handle working for large companies at all. Also, I've found that some people who work for a startup that actually made it get very arrogant and decide that it succeeded because they were geniuses and any old company they join in the future simply cannot fail because they'll be part of it. It's been a little amusing to watch fr

        • One of the problems is that the number of people who are actually eager to work under these conditions is quite large.

          I work in the film industry and the problem is really similar -- this is why Hollywood has a guild system. It's really the only way to make sure that there's any reward at all for being good at your job and sticking with it; it also makes things like health care and retirement planning much more portable and less dependent upon employers.

          There's a collective action problem, particularly

        • Why is this a problem? The entire premise of this article is false. People (at least for now) are free to make their own decisions, no matter how stupid. Don't like the prospects? Get a different job. Encoding this kind of entitlement mentality into law is not only counter to the entire entrepreneurial engine that powers the US economy, but is a death knell for the same. Make the US anything but the absolute best place in the world to start up a business and you kill the start up market. Large esta

    • The thing I'm trying to see in this is, how does the supposed overworked startup tech worker differ from the founders and/or management in the same company? Starting a new business generally isn't easy, and generally involves you putting a lot of time and work into it with a good chance that you'll see zero return and a loss of your own investment.

      Likewise, if you're working for such a person who is in such a situation, you're likely to inherit that situation for as long as you work there or until the firm

      • Given that Silicon Valley is mostly what it is due to its startups

        Hrm, I'd say the the Valley is what it is mainly due to California's education spending in the 60s and 70s, and the presence of a very large and important land grant university in the city, those things are what caused the startups. It certainly wasn't due to Palo Alto's state and municipal tax situation, if that was a factor, Google would have been founded in Austin.

        If labor laws become too problematic, then Silicon Valley becomes Detroit


        • Trade unionism is what workers do when the law is too friendly to employers.

          Regardless, you can't work for a budding company and expect to have better working conditions than everybody else who works there (even its founders.) It's just very unrealistic, and if the law required that among these firms then they'd just find some place else to do it instead. That is what would result in the Detroit situation.

          In Detroit it wasn't so much about automakers leaving as it was about new automakers wanting nothing to do with it, and then existing ones needing to expand, and after they expand

          • by dbIII ( 701233 )
            I'd say Detroit is more of an example of why you don't hand management of a large multinational company to your idiot relative and his drinking buddies. They had decades to deal with a loss of market share to the Japanese and they had their own people showing them how to do it with some of the models made outside of the US. GM and Ford plants which paid far more to workers than in Detroit managed to succeed while Detroit did not. When it gets down to it wages are a tiny portion of the total costs of maki
    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      Nope. Unions have been trying to organize tech workers everywhere for decades without success. Getting 300 people at this meeting (with no word on how many were actually tech workers and how many were shills) is nothing.
    • Silicon Valley started dying when a lot of barriers were put in place for people to bring their good ideas to Silicon Valley and find somebody to fund them.
  • the same time the a-holes who start the company do when it finally goes public.

  • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @11:29AM (#46551391)
    A guarantee of a fixed percentage of ownership of shares of the corporation and any follow-on corporation so when it needs a bunch of cash your share doesn't get diluted to basically zero.
  • A guarantee that all ship dates come from engineering, not marketing ;-)

  • Please. If you want to go work at a startup, you accept the risks of working at a startup. I've known plenty of people that tried to swing it at a startup and ran back to their previous jobs a month later because it didn't go as planned.

    Startups are RISKY. That is the risk/reward. If you want to take low pay in return for stock, then pay a lawyer to make sure your options are worth something.

    I've heard the pitches before "We will pay you half your current salary, but the risk is worth the reward!" - p
    • On Play was a start up. A bunch of engineers signed on and took stock options for lower pay. Then the company folder, reopened with the exact same name and same owners and everyone lost their stock. And lets not forget when AOL used to give their front line phone reps stock (before they shipped it all to Malaysia) and took back all the stock when the Time-Warner merge happened. They sued and a judge told 'em to take a long walk off a short pier

      Besides, with all the H1-B's stable jobs in America are getti
    • If you are organizing your labor, you have agreed that the market pressures do not support your payscale.

      Downward pressure on wages does not happen unless the market is flooded, or your skills are not in demand elsewhere.

      Don't like it? Get a better skillset and go somewhere else.

      As you say, Risk is part of the deal.

      Note: I am facing this mentality inside my company right now. I want to move to a department with greater opportunities, greater pay/bonus structure, but risk of being fired if I don't deliver. M

      • by thaylin ( 555395 )
        Yes, but why is the market flooded for a market that is stated by the companies to be short on people? If the market is flooded why do we need more H1-Bs?
        • I don't think it is flooded.

          It is more likely a mismatch between skillsets if you can't find a job.

          • by thaylin ( 555395 )

            Who said anything about not being able to get a job. You stated it only happens if

            Downward pressure on wages does not happen unless the market is flooded, or your skills are not in demand elsewhere.

            But we know that the skill set is in high demand in other places, there are cities begging for developers, so therefore the only option is that the market is flooded....

    • I worked a union job doing Perl, Ruby and Linux sysadmin stuff for a state university. The benefits were pretty good (overtime pay or comp time if my work week exceeded 35/hours, no layoffs on short notice ie 1 month notice for every year of employment to a max of 12 months). I was considering working for a startup, but the "owner" really wasn't giving a fair deal ('at will' employment, long hours, no relocation bonus, no telecommuting and tremendous egos). As it would have cost me a bundle to move, I as

  • Workers needs rights and at least try the union way before we all end of on the welfare

    • by funwithBSD ( 245349 ) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @11:59AM (#46551583)

      No thanks. I don't want to be passed up because you have been at the company for 1 day longer than I have, but don't know as much or have better skills than I do.

      I will take risk over Union stagnation any day.

      • by thaylin ( 555395 )
        So you risk being laid off because you are older then the new commer fresh out of college even though you know more and have better skills then he does...
        • by es330td ( 964170 )
          If a person works in an industry that changes over time in response to market needs then said individual needs to put in the time/effort to stay current or suffer the consequences. Some industries have this built in; CPA's, financial advisors and insurance agents, even doctors are required to do continuing education to ensure that they are abreast of changes in their field. Anybody in a tech field that fails to incorporate new technology into their toolbox is asking to be replaced.

          Rush said it best: "Ch
          • by thaylin ( 555395 )
            Age bias in IT is a real thing, it does not matter how much you keep up, you can be replaced by a younger, and less knowledgeable person, just because of your age.
            • Yes this is a direct result of what the GP was saying. Age bias exists as the old are not as valuable as the new. There are many industries where to remain a professional in that industry requires proof of continuous professional development. This almost guarantees age = experience and knowledge, and not that age = knows one thing really well.

              It's about bloody time that computer professionals actually started a professional organisation, NOT a union.

        • No.

          I keep moving. At a relatively "old" age of mid 40s I have a position where no one else does what I do, and I could probably do it for as long as I like and bring a good salary.

          Instead, I am leaving this comfort zone and taking on bigger and more risky opportunities... and bigger payoffs.

          Either way, I stay more relevant than if I take the safer option and stay put.

      • M&P (managerial and professional) unions dont work that way :-)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dentin ( 2175 )

      I will close my company before I allow a union within the ranks.

      • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

        which company is that? tell us so that we can avoid you or even boycott your ass!

        sounds like you are republican, too. "cant have the workers demanding rights, now, can we".

        people like you make me puke. you really do.

        • by dentin ( 2175 ) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @01:14PM (#46552183) Homepage

          I never said that workers didn't deserve rights. In fact, as someone who has worked part time, full time, and as a contractor, I know very well what rights employees have, and why they have them. Employee rights have nothing to do with why I will never tolerate a union presence.

          Hiring is between me any my employees. I treat them well, and they do good work. If an employee and I have a problem that's not resolvable, we part ways. I don't need and won't have a third party coming in to tell me or my employees what they should be doing, who I can and can't fire, who I can and can't promote, and who can and can't quit.

          Boycott if you want. If I can't have the freedom to work with who I want when I want, I'll either take my business overseas or hire independent contractors. Either way, I'll still provide the same service and people will still buy it, but I'll be paying taxes to a government that doesn't allow organized labor extortion.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            I used to have this view. I hated unions and read all the stories about guys just standing around not doing anything. Then I went to work for a union shop and joined the local. WOW. What an eye opener that was.

            It's simple. You and the employer enter into a contract. If one of you doesn't uphold their end of the contract then the breaching party is taken to task. It's that simple. When some PHB is having a bad day, he isn't going to take it out on the pee-ons because then a steward will be standing

            • by dentin ( 2175 ) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @04:25PM (#46553355) Homepage

              I already negotiate these kinds of things with people, without a union involved. To me, it's just the other side of the table, and I very much remember having to negotiate my long hair and keeping intellectual property intact when I was interviewing.

              It's not about getting the maximum possible dollar in the short term. It's about both parties getting what they want out of it, in a way that's sustainable and lasts for the long term. IMHO the biggest problems in business aren't technology, they're people and long term planning.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by TarPitt ( 217247 )

        You object to signing a contact with an entity representing your workers, and dealing with employees according to rules set out in this contract.. I suspect you wouldn't think twice about signing a similar contract with suppliers or customers.

        My only conclusion is that you prefer to deal with employees individually because you can more easily manipulate them by doing so. You enjoy the power of being the owner and being able to play favorites, taking advantage of the inherent weakness in an individual's ba

        • by dentin ( 2175 )

          I don't object to signing a contract with an entity that represents workers. I object to signing a contract that limits my ability to hire who I want when I want, and to fire who I want when I want. This is no different than objecting to a contract with a parts supplier that mandates that I can't buy parts from a different supplier, or objecting to a contract that requires I only use a given suppliers parts in my products. I know such contracts exist, and I know that some companies sign them willingly. M

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by pla ( 258480 )
      Workers needs rights and at least try the union way before we all end of on the welfare

      Interesting perspective you have there, since unions basically turn entire industries into "welfare" for those who have no place working in them, at the expense of those who do. Unions had relevance half a century ago when the workforce consisted of 90% unskilled labor, and you could pull a lever over and over just as well as I could; that model fails miserably when dealing with skilled labor, and particularly in IT w
    • Look to Detroit (Score:4, Insightful)

      by RudyHartmann ( 1032120 ) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @04:12PM (#46553251)

      As soon as techies start making unacceptable demands on management, the companies will just pull up stakes and move elsewhere. Then wherever the unions started agitating will end up like post-apocalyptic Detroit. []

  • Bunch of pussies (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PeeAitchPee ( 712652 ) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @12:08PM (#46551651)

    If you're not comfortable with taking on risk, busting your ass, and doing anything it takes for a very small CHANCE at hitting it big -- then don't work for a startup. Period. There are many other software / IT jobs right now -- no need at all to work in startup land. But don't try to fuck it up with this "union" nonsense talk. All you'll accomplish is dragging down those who are truly talented and deserve to be there.

    If you do go that route -- get educated. Pay a lawyer a few hundred bucks to explain the docs you are about to sign which grant options, have a vesting schedule, etc. If you don't, you're a retard and you deserve to be taken advantage of. But this "unionization" talk runs completely counter to the very DNA of a startup. Face it -- some people are willing to work 80+ hrs / week. If you're not -- fine. But don't fuck it up for those who *choose* to do so and try to out-work others to gain an advantage.

  • by kimanaw ( 795600 ) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @12:24PM (#46551785)
    I don't think the group was advocating for unionization, rather, just a better education for employees. (I actually watched an interview with the gentleman on Bloomberg that was pretty enlightening, despite some snarky comments from the hosts)

    As a multi-startup veteran (without much to show for it but a few scars), the biggest issue is how opaque ownership percentages are. The current SillyCon Valley game is to give 5-6 digit option grants - so it seems like you're getting a lot - when there are 10-12 figure shares outstanding - and it can be impossible to find out that last figure.

    Another complaint is the legalese of grants, which is usually waaay over the top, so you end up spending a lot on lawyers to translate the terms. The grants should be in "plain English" - most of the terms are pretty simple, once you clear away the legalese.

    And another big deal is the little things that you might overlook, e.g., is there an acceleration clause if the startup gets bought out (very possible in this age of acquihires), or what happens if the startup actually IPOs: can you sell on the open market, or only back to the investors (which can limit your profit) ?

    Also, on the topic of acquihires, if your startup gets bought out and you're a key employee, then your options may not mean anything, cuz you can -and should! - negotiate whatever you can get when the deal goes down. So it may be better to position yourself as a key contributor, than to get hung up about options.

  • Stay out of my face with rules and union organizers. On the other hand, put together a checklist of contracting 'gotchas'. Both for the employee as well as the management. What should or should not be in the contract. How to provide compensation in equity shares or the possibility of the outfit going out of business.

    There are some good questions raised in TFA.

    Zaharias and Russell had few answers, except ask your employer until you understand, and then ask again every time something changes at the company,

    No, because your employer and you have somewhat of an adversarial relationship. Don't expect straight answers from someone who is looking to dilute y

  • Are you a recent college grad or seasoned tech worker looking to make mega-bucks working for the NEXT BIG STARTUP? Then send your Github and LinkedIn profiles to Each year we will select 1,000 of the best and brightest applicants to live and work 24/7 under armed guard for 90 days at our Redwood City coding for our incubator startups in exchange for a few shares of stock!

  • responsibility for their actions.

    I just quit from the 3rd startup I've worked for, because it was a shitty place to work.

    So can you, and you don't need anyones help to do so.

    If a startup is a shitty work environment ... guess what ... THATS NEVER GOING TO CHANGE.

    Its in no way unique to techies in silicon valley, but its not surprising they have their heads so far up their asses as to think they need to start a social movement to 'fix the problem' of them being shitty employes that can't get jobs anywhere o

  • I have been down the startup road a few times in my career. Most of the time, things don't go as planned and the people who make out the best at the end of the game are the debtors of the company. They get paid first. So try and make sure you are on that list. The promises behind stock options are great, but most of the time you are better off being explicitly owed.
  • I used to tell people working for a startup was the best experience they will ever have. My first two were great. However, I've been burnt twice too. After dedicating every waking hour to a startup only to see it get sold and not getting anything but the salary while you've worked there is bullshit. The only thing I can say about being a startup employee now days is, "Get in writing that you are a partner". If they say no, walk away. Don't ever believe someone will give you a fair share out of the goo

Given its constituency, the only thing I expect to be "open" about [the Open Software Foundation] is its mouth. -- John Gilmore