back to article 46 years after the UN proclaimed the right to join a union, Microsoft sort of agrees

On March 23, 1976, a vote of the United Nations General Assembly brought into force the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – an international agreement that at Article 22 states "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the …

  1. deadlockvictim

    A necessary evil

    When the great unwashed masses feel they need unions to protect themselves, then management is doing something very wrong.

    I'm not a fan of unions but my opinion of management is even lower.

    If they were to treat their underlings with respect, a decent wage and decent working conditions, then there would be no need to form a union.

    When workers seek to unionise, this should be seen as a major indictment on management.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A necessary evil

      Exactly!

      Unions rose ouf the vile abuse inflicted by the owners of the Dark Satanic Mills of the industrial revolution, people dropping dead on the factory floor and simply being kicked aside is just not acceptable no matter how much money is on offer.

      Here we are in the 21st Century, the factory floor is an open plan office and "kicked aside" is carted off to A&E after having a stress related stroke of heart attack due to working 75 hour weeks to write code.

      If staff are not happy and are unionising, what is making them unhappy and often times it's issue within and the way management is handling it badly.

      1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
        Childcatcher

        Re: A necessary evil

        I've always supported unions which I believe is a result of growing up in school outside a coal mine where kids walked around barefoot because their dads were miners and they couldn't buy their kids new shoes when the kids shoes fell to pieces. The parents preferred working hard to feed their kids.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A necessary evil

        That's why there are so many unions in the worker' paradise of China.

        Oh, wait...

        1. deadlockvictim

          Re: A necessary evil

          Things aren't good when you start comparing the US to China and you find similarities.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A necessary evil

      If they were to treat their underlings with respect, a decent wage and decent working conditions... we'd still be living in caves. Slavery was the first major improvement in work productivity, steam being the second.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A necessary evil

        > Slavery was the first major improvement in work productivity, steam being the second.

        There is a school of thought amongst historians according to which what held the industrial revolution back by two millennia was access to plentiful, inexpensive labour in the form of slavery.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: A necessary evil

          Yes, there were working hydraulic and steam based machines in ancient times, but they were mere curiosities and gimmicks since it was so much cheaper to use slaves to do work. Whether materials science would have been enough to start a steam revolution back then is another matter.

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: A necessary evil

          i've heard that, too. Back in the B.C. Roman days, It was reportedly Vitruvius that invented the steam engine by using bent pipes on a boiling pot of water on a spindle, proving the concept.

          Anecdotally, the response by those who might have funded it and/or promoted development: "What will we do with all of the slaves?"

          (Apparently the Roman economy was too closely to slavery)

      2. deadlockvictim

        Re: A necessary evil

        That is way too simplistic. The combination of engineering, a knowledge of mathematics and being able to work in coordinated units produced massive gains is work productivity.

        Unfortunately, it was mostly limited to armies (Julius Caesar was a great example of this). That being said, it enabled the building of aqueducts, the Pantheon in Rome as well as the great cathedrals in Europe.

    3. FlamingDeath Silver badge

      Re: A necessary evil

      Exactly my view

      If a union is being sought by a companies employees, thats a red flag, and I go no where near them.

      Even if there is no union, but there are whispers of one forming, I stay away.

      I’m not going to undersell my talents to some wankstain wideboy “captain of industry” and even less so if they treat their staff like shit

    4. MrDamage Silver badge

      Re: A necessary evil

      Employers forget that unions were the compromise we came up with. We didn't like being treated like shit, they didn't like being dragged out of their beds in the middle of the night and introduced to a sock containing half a brick.

    5. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: A necessary evil

      You are not wrong.

      Although I see unions as a necessary evil in some cases (to deal with exploitation) by asking for too high of a wage and/or too expensive of a benefits package,. unions can often shut down the company, especially when it is on the verge of unprofitability as it is (right Hostess?).

      Still, a union can ALSO be a benefit to all if it manages the HR stuff for the management company, and provides reasonable cost for services (almost like a contracting agency would).

      For software people, a union would be a BAD idea. Many reasons exist as to why.

      And of course Microsoft's position seems to be the only one they CAN take when it comes to unions.

      (when you potentially make 6 figures doing creative things and playing with cool toys, why would anyone want to form a union and JEOPARDIZE that?)

  2. LDS Silver badge

    Why companies feel the need to setup and join trade and lobbying associations...

    .... to protect their interests, while employee should not do the same in their own interests?

    There is an Italian saying that roughly translated is "clear pacts, long friendship". Just to achieve that one side can't have all the bargaining power.

    The only problem with unions is they can end in the hands of political activists with their own agenda, or their leader captured by company money (or other benefits), and it's up to the workers to avoid that keeping an open eye on what they do. It's just like politicians, if you put and leave crooks at the top, you can't complain if they exploit you.

    That US is coming now where most European countries arrived a century ago, well before the UN document, is quite appalling.

    1. Disk0

      Re: Why companies feel the need to setup and join trade and lobbying associations...

      problem

      Where union bosses end up being on the same payroll as lobbyists

    2. Number6

      Re: Why companies feel the need to setup and join trade and lobbying associations...

      That sounds like the UK in the 1970s, where union leaders seemed more interested in their own political power than the interests of their workers. An awful lot of those workers voted for Maggie in 1979 because they were fed up with the state of things, and it is notable that the laws on union power and ballots and strikes has stayed pretty much intact since then and there is no real call to repeal any of it.

      I'm lucky enough to have been in a career where I didn't need a union because switching job was always an option for me, but I can see that in certain sectors it's important that pay and conditions are monitored to prevent exploitation. Especially in the US, where you can be fired on the spot for no better reason than the boss got out of bed the wrong side this morning. Notice periods are a pain when you want to move on to your next job, but if the boot is on the other foot, it's a bit of a safety net that gives you chance to find another job. Paid leave, paid sick leave and other benefits also make the working experience more tolerable too, and they pretty much wouldn't have arrived without union pressure over the years.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Why companies feel the need to setup and join trade and lobbying associations...

        Of course. You can have German-style unions that usually work mostly in the interests of workers, or you can have UK/Italian/French style unions which are often direct offshoots of political parties and try to enforce just political ideology onto any company regardless of the specific situation.

        Companies will try to lure union leaders, as well political parties will try the same when they are big enough. When unions lose focus on being workers representatives, and their leaders just look for privileges, the worst occurs. "Animal Farm" is a good reminder.

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Trollface

    "Our employees will never need to organize to have a dialogue with Microsoft's leaders."

    No, of course not. They can go to their manager's office and be told to get back to work on their own.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: "Our employees will never need to organize to have a dialogue with Microsoft's leaders."

      It's the divide et impera approach. The fact it has a Latin name shows how old it is. It's always better to have to deal with a single person at a time, than a thousand ones.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think this paints an overly gloomy picture. I'm just one engineer, and I'm not in the US, but here's my experience.

    I'm 8 levels below Satya. I haven't felt the need, but I'm confident that if I called or messaged any of my managers from the 1st level down, I'd get a meaningful reply. We're actively encouraged to do so. Nothing against Satya either. Maybe he would reply, but I think it would be unfair to expect it. I'm personally known by all from the 3rd level down. The most senior of these is based in my office. We haven't spoken much, but he said "hey" to me the other day, addressing me by my nickname. I was so pleasantly surprised that I only managed a barely audilble "hey" in response! Bear in mind this guy has thousands of people under him. I doubt many in other large organisations could say they are known so far up the chain.

    I can't say I agree with everything that Microsoft does, as that's almost inevitable in a company this large, but when it comes to how they treat me as an employee, I have no issues at all.

    1. JimmyPage
      Mushroom

      It's not all about you.

      1. Plest Silver badge

        It is all about the individual. Treat people like crap for too long and the bottom line will begin to waiver and then drop. The days when someone could flash jobs for Apple, Google, MS and expect everyone to fall over themselves to get in are fading fast, these companies have been shown to be worse than 18th Century workhouses. There's plenty of better companies out there in fields like finance and engineering that may not be huge players but treat staff like human beings, give a crap about their mental well being ( at least enough to avoid being sued! ) and where the CEO and his right-hand people actually know most of the staff by name.

        They do exist, I've worked for them and one reason I would never work again for a huge corp where even the local site's manager doesn't even know you exist, let alone the regional, national or board members.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          There may be a few people that for some reason are highly regarded inside a company, and are pampered because of that. Many others may not be so lucky. The issue is they have the same basic rights. Even at Amazon I guess there are employees management care of, but they are not the packaging and delivery ones.

          Without which the company can't function.

        2. Androgynous Cow Herd

          " these companies have been shown to be worse than 18th Century workhouses."

          Ummm...no. Sorry, no. Firstly, I am almost positive you meant _19th century_ workhouses....and still, nothing approaching those conditions exist... about because the workers eventually organized.

          The centralization of wealth, and the wage disparity from the corner office fat cats is problematic, but we aren't nearly at the level that eventually turned into The Great Unrest, The Haymarket Affair or the Pullman strike (at least not in the US or UK...but we could discuss conditions in certain Peoples Republics and former UK colonies)

          Better to allow labor to organize now...before we DO get there, for all concerned

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "but when it comes to how they treat me as an employee, I have no issues at all."

      On the other hand, you just specified that you are not in the US. You didn't specify where you are, but there are MS sites in Europe and the UK that are used to working with decent employee rights and/or unions and it likely is quite different to working in the US. How high up the chain you are and what your job is can also make a significant difference. I bet there are very few more than one level above janitorial or post-toom staff who know those guys by name.

      1. david 12 Silver badge

        The reason there are decent ... unions in the UK is that the strictly hierarchical and class-based society required them.

        My father worked as an Engineer in the USA and in Australia. He never understood unions until he worked with Australian management. But the UK migrants (and Aussie emigrants) regarded Australian management as enlightened, responsive, and light-handed compared to UK management.

  5. KBeee Silver badge

    Echos of the past?

    Many of the comments from big corporations along the lines of "Unions aren't needed here, our workers are happy - think of the additional costs, we might have to close places down etc." remind me uncomfortably of what was said about 150 years ago by proponents of slavery.

  6. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Personal experience

    Partner works for a Gov lab here across the pond.

    It's closed shop for non-management, every one is a Teamster.

    Direct benefit to employees isn't clear. The union will do anything to keep the franchise as the only recognized union so just agreed to a 3year 0% paydeal.

    It means work hours are fixed, clock in 7:00-4:00. In theory beyond that is overtime but that has to be agreed with union so result is the same amount of taking work home as any professional job.

    Biggest worry is if there was a strike. Cross a picket line and lose job, but they have legally mandated (safety critical work) tasks and could lose their professional designation and never work again. We decided they would just take leave.

    Day to day the main hassle is recruitment. It's hard enough to get physicists, programmers,data scientists to work for gov rather than silicon valley. But anyone with more union seniority has to be offered the job first. After you are hired you can still be replaced by any member with more seniority who qualifies. This results in lots of carefully worded job requirements to atop you having to interview every Teamster member in the state.

    Biggest hit for personally is that you can't remove a union post. So if partner was offered promotion to management their current union job must be filled first. In this specialist field that can take a year, so they lost out on several management jobs. Ironically you can bring in outside hires into the management job, as long as the current worker stays union.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Personal experience

      Yeah that's the dark side of unions, which I'm not a big fan of, to put it mildly, but as someone has said above, they're a necessary evil.

      Where I'm based, above a certain headcount we have to have collective agreements (negotiated by the employees). Below that, country wide industry / sector agreements (negotiated by the unions) still apply in most cases.

      Talking as an employer now, this has the big advantage of leveling the field somewhat by preventing overly exploitative competitors from setting up shop in-country.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Personal experience

        Not sure what the soln is.

        Giant unions end up like the Big-4 accounting firms, they have more interest in keeping the company happy than doing their job.

        But small technical unions you get into the demarcation issues of movie sets or NY construction unions. You are a developer you can't update the database because that's a union DBA job, you can't use cloud because that would lead to redundancies in on-prem admin etc.

        1. Falmari Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Personal experience

          @Yet Another Anonymous coward "You are a developer you can't update the database because that's a union DBA job, you can't use cloud because that would lead to redundancies in on-prem admin etc."

          So, something like this.*

          *Not viewable in UK without a VPN.

          1. David 132 Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Personal experience

            Ah, now how did I know before I even clicked it that your link would be either Carry on at your Convenience or I'm All Right Jack?

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Personal experience

              Or UK print unions before Murdoch / Wapping

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And amazingly…

    > On March 23, 1976, a vote of the United Nations General Assembly brought into force the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

    That's one of the five (out of 18) UN human rights treaties that the US has actually ratified.

    Which still compares unfavourably against the Democratic Republic of North Korea's six ratifications or the PRC's eight, but hey! :)

    1. JimmyPage
      Stop

      Re: And amazingly…

      If North Korea and PRCs sign treaties like the UK signs international treaties, then more isn't better.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: And amazingly…

        > more isn't better.

        Yes, former and current colonial powers seem to think they're above law and diplomacy.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: And amazingly…

          Unless said former colony has the biggest stick, in which case they ARE the law, and diplomacy for everyone else becomes "How do we keep then happy?"

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Are you listening Apple, Amazon, Starbucks and Tesla

    to name just a few arch villains.

    Apple, Amazon and Starbucks should take note of what Redmond is doing. (note to self... wash mouth out with soap for praising a move by MS)

    Tesla is busy shooting itself in both feet with its 'get back into the office where we can micromanage you to death' or get the hell out of town move.

    Add to that... their almost monthly price increases are making a lot of potential buyers think again about getting down onto a prayer mat and worshipping the self-proclaimed idol Mucky Muck.

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    US company

    Got to realize Microsoft is a US company (headquarters-wise, for tax purposes they are I think based in Ireland so they can avoid paying the taxes they are supposed to pay in other countries.)

    This is a common attitude within the US -- the US is a UN member (and member of the UN security council) for the purposes of telling OTHER countries what to do, but that the UN doesn't have word one over how things are done within the US.

    So, I'm sure the US-based leadership does view this as some progressive statement, and not a recognition of human rights that have been formally recognized for 45 years.

  11. Joe Dietz

    I can't see the value to me ...

    I can't see myself ever joining a union, nor could I really see myself staying at a business that had one form. Stagnation follows.

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