Morning Ed: Labor {2018.05.23.W}


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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36 Responses

  1. Avatar pillsy says:

    The fact that transparency about wages makes people unhappy is precisely why prohibiting transparency about wages is bad. It allows employers to pay people differently for bad reasons, including bad reasons like, “Women are likely to be socially penalized for aggressiveness in a way that puts them at a disadvantage in salary negotiations,” and even, “Well, I just don’t like people who aren’t white very much.”

    If they had to be open about it, they wouldn’t be able to get away with these tricks, or quite a few others. The cost is that they might be constrained in their ability to pay high performing employees more, but (and I admit I have huge biases here that would probably take days to unpack) I have a strong suspicion that their ways of measuring “high performance” are ultimately rooted in nothing but air.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to pillsy says:

      I’d be more positive on it if I thought there were ways employers could significantly reduce unhappiness through better wage management. Instead, while some worse than others, I see increased unhappiness regardless compared to the bliss of ignorance.Report

    • Avatar Dave in reply to pillsy says:


      Take as much time as you need to unpack your biases and suspicions. I read a lot of comments here pertaining to a world that I live in day in and day out. The disconnects between me own experiences and what I read here, especially from the left-leaning side of the world, intrigue me.

      Plus, I’m a real world details guy.

      I’m looking forward to hearing back.Report

      • Avatar pillsy in reply to Dave says:

        My sense, having worked in a large corporate environment for a decade, is that the way large companies are managed is so riddled with perverse incentives (often ones that everybody knows about but lacks any power to change) that the kinds of assessments that go into setting wages have little connection to actual performance or business value.

        Now, have I ever seen those kinds of decisions made for full-time employees? No, I have not.

        But seeing how the wages for contractors and consultants are set (which I’ve experienced from just about every angle), the kinds of extremely costly re-organizations that are routine [1], the tendency to lay off tons of people and then bring them back on board at higher cost as insourced or outsourced resources,[2] and the ever-present specter of the Peter Principle [3] that I am deeply suspicious that any internal management process aimed at making precise determinations like, “Is Alex’s value as an employee worth a 10% increase in wages over Bobby?” will be a complete joke.

        [1] The department I’m part of has gone through five names in the six years I’ve been an FTE. Those name changes have reflected more profound (and time consuming) shifts in responsibilities and management structure.

        [2] In principle, they can be laid off even more easily than FTEs, which is part of the justification for the shift. In practice, good contractors tend to have more job security than FTEs.

        [3] Which I’ve mostly experienced in the form of getting a better title and a substantial increase in pay in return for having fewer job responsibilities that I’m good at and way more job responsibilities that I suck at.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to pillsy says:

      It’s not even that, it’s simply — some people don’t like to negotiate salaries, and a lot of people don’t have leverage, which means if you get even one employee blissfully unaware he’s underpaid versus his peers or unwilling to rock the boat to be paid more fairly, then that’s pure profit. Which is all the incentive in the world to do it.

      Now, profit-seeking like that makes the free market go ’round, but I’m pretty sure there’s that bit about how asymmetrical information causes market distortions…

      Now if Bob is underpaid versus Tom because Bob isn’t as good at his job, then Bob can decide to keep working there or look elsewhere — in which case the company can replace Bob with either a better worker, or one willing to be underpaid versus Tom. Which is how it should work.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to pillsy says:

      My “yabbut…” reaction is to the tying of wage secrecy to a prohibition on asking about salary history in employment applications. The problem is that many hirings and potential hirings include a power differential. The employer may really, really need to hire this guy, but more often the employer really, really needs a job. So what is this guy going to do when asked about his salary history? There are good answers to this if it is a discussion between roughly equal parties. In that situation the potential hire can observe that this company has just engaged in an illegality, and that this suggests it isn’t a place he wants to work at. But the guy who really, really needs the job pretty much has to suck it up and answer the question.Report

      • My thing isn’t so much “tying these together” in a legislative proposal, but rather that there is a philosophical connection between the two in my mind.

        I think you’re right about how salary history prohibitions will work in practice. That’s how it works with nearly every other prohibition, such as whether an employee plans to have children and the newer ban the box. I would expect it to be the case here, too. The main effect of these laws is to keep them out of the application part of the process and kick it to the interview part of the process.Report

        • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Will Truman says:

          I have, in recent years, had two job interviews where I didn’t need the job. I have been in my current job for going on nine years, and am perfectly happy here. The only downside is the commute, which is just a bit under an hour. The two interviews were for jobs within walking distance of my home. Why not meet with them? Find out if we clicked, and they were prepared to match my current salary. I was up front about what I was making, and that while eliminating my commute might counter leaving a place I like, I wasn’t going to take a pay cut for it. My salary history (or at least my current salary) was entirely pertinent to the discussion. If it was more than they could afford, it would be a waste of everybody’s time to push the process further.

          I didn’t get an offer from either. I suspect I priced myself out of the market, which is smaller than where I work. The interviews themselves were quite different from my experiences when I really, really needed the job. Much more relaxed.Report

    • Avatar InMD in reply to pillsy says:

      I think the bias thing wouldn’t loom that large except among people who want it to. Already murky waters would only be murkier. More likely what would be confirmed is that doofus yes men and rainmakers way up the ladder are getting huge salaries and bonuses for activities difficult to describe as ‘work’ while the cogs in the machine, despite some variation, are all in a pretty similar tier. So basically nothing revolutionary.Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Lb6: Slate Money discussed this on a recent podcast. Another of KDrum’s things is how the gig economy is really really miniscule. Slate Money put forward a theory that the real reason wages are not growing is because of contracting out labor. There was a big article about this in the NY Times a year or so ago. The article contrasted a woman who was a janitor at Kodak in the 1980s and a woman who is a janitor at Apple in the 2010s. The Kodak janitor was a direct employee who was given education classes, encouraged by higher-ups to get a college education, and eventually worked her way up to Chief Technology Officer.

    The Apple janitor works for a contractor and is not a direct employee. She is never going to get the opportunities or look out that the Kodak janitor received. What incentive does Apple or her employer have to do so?

    This theory has merit to me.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      It’s also hard to organize contract workers into a union that can fight for higher wages and benefits.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Isn’t this exactly how Hollywood works, though?Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Kolohe says:


          My issue here is that there is something about the American right-wing business class that refuses to do anything. They don’t want to offer payouts or severance like France did. They will fight, fight, fight any attempt to give social welfare benefits. But they will also fight, fight, fight any government employment too because it doesn’t follow their very 19th century vision of what a Free Market economy should be like.

          Our business-capitalist class was always much more at war with workers than those in Europe. They are unabating until they get their full free market without social spending even if most of them come from inherited wealth and are not self-made.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            ‘Always’ is doing a lot of work for a continent that was almost evenly divided between fascism and bolsheivism for a while.

            Eta- though I suppose it’s not a war anymore if one side or the other wins.Report

  3. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Lb9: Oh man, there’s so much more to unpack there than the article gets at, especially as we consider the idea of a UBI or similar.Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Lb2: Saul had a post about what killed the teenage job awhile ago. This article confirms a lot of what he theorized. The emphasis is on getting scholarships. Few teens have the time to devote to a teen job. The desperately unemployed and immigrants have time to work full shifts.

    Lb4: I saw this article as being more about how certain types of harassment are impossible to illustrate and cause concern about. Most of the focus has been on attractive women in glamorous and high-status work environments. If your in low status work environment, you lose when it comes to dealing with harassment.

    Lb9: To bad that is not politically possible in the United States.Report

    • Avatar InMD in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I agree on L9 but it also hints at some of the pitfalls. We need to make sure there’s something for people with all this free time to do other than kill themselves with drugs and booz.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to InMD says:

        I’ve always been fond of reintroducing the CCC and WPA and doing a huge environmental clean up of coal country but this is also probably a no go in the United States. Our Calvinist faction of holier than thou heirs of billionaires will never stand for it.Report

        • Avatar InMD in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          Sad because its really not a bad idea.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to InMD says:

            The issue is what to do with the areas afterward. I suggested nature tourism and the idea gets shut down because service jobs suck.

            It’s like Pillsy points out below, everyone has unrealistic expectations. I want to put this nation through a depressor sometimes. Cause everyone sounds like they want a unicorn or a pony. Or their money for nothing and their chicks for free.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          Isn’t putting people into work details a lot less Calvinist then just paying them to not work?Report

    • Avatar gabriel conroy in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Few teens have the time to devote to a teen job.

      I’d say “fewer teens” and not “few.” Many, many teens work because they have to, either to contribute to their parent’s rent or to meet expenses that some other teens can rely on mom and dad for.

      However, I say “many” and you say “few.” Neither of us is really trafficking in actual numbers. And this doesn’t detract from your point and what I assume L2’s point was (although I haven’t read it yet).Report

  5. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    This is the sort of thing I so desperately want to see come to pass. Small shops of craftsmen making beautiful products in fulfilling ways…
    But I have to wonder- how many of these craftsmen can afford their own product?
    Can the employees of the artisanal pickle shop actually afford to buy one?

    I’ve asked the same thing of my architect friends. How many of their employees, highly trained white collar professionals, can afford to live in the apartments they design?
    The answer seems to be “very few”.

    So I fear that we are facing the same challenge as William Morris or Gustav Stickley that what we are really doing is just servicing the luxury consumption of the aristocracy.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Chip Daniels says:


      “But I have to wonder- how many of these craftsmen can afford their own product?
      Can the employees of the artisanal pickle shop actually afford to buy one?”

      I think the answer is that it depends but you are right that the answer is usually no. Thought craft beer and pickles are still a lot more affordable than anything William Morris ever created or did.

      It seems like every generation produces a person like Morris who wants to make highly skilled craft items that are affordable but they seemingly always fail at the affordable part. From what I’ve read, Charles and Ray Eames also wanted their furniture to be affordable to the middle classes but as far as I can tell, they always were mainly items for the upper-middle classes and above. Now a Herman Miller Eames’ :ounge and Ottoman will set you back several thousand dollars.

      I’m coming back to the BS jobs things. There is a certain paradox as you note. The craftsperson might be a fed up and burnt out corporate lawyer, fianceer, or banker but their new and more fulfilling work depends on people who are willing or at least dissent from the idea that their office, abstract work is merely bullshit without value.

      Sometimes companies like IKEA and Target manage to produce something with a good design aesthetic for the masses but not often.Report

      • Avatar pillsy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        There is a certain paradox as you note. The craftsperson might be a fed up and burnt out corporate lawyer, fianceer, or banker but their new and more fulfilling work depends on people who are willing or at least dissent from the idea that their office, abstract work is merely bullshit without value.

        I’m not sure why dissenting from the idea that one’s corporate job is bullshit without meaning is a precondition for cashing one’s paycheck.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to pillsy says:

          That is not what I am saying. People get fed up with working for large corporation and want to be a small time craftsperson who makes quality, not quantity. They end up catering to their colleagues because such things require high salaries.

          William Morris envisioned smurf village and it never happenedReport

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Surprisingly, British people did not want to put woad on their skin and wear white paints and Phrygian caps.Report

          • Avatar pillsy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Sure, but those former colleagues receive high salaries regardless of whether they believe their jobs are meaningful.

            A lot of people work jobs that they think are, all things told, pretty pointless. Some of those jobs pay well.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      During the pre-industrial day’s, very few people could afford what the craftsman made to. They had to deal with much worse and much less. Industrialization and the rise of credit allowed more people to buy furniture that wasn’t too bad.Report

  6. Avatar pillsy says:

    Jim Geraghty pens an unsurprisingly positive review of Salena Zito and Brad Todd’s The Great Revolt. I have little use for Zito, who (whatever the quality of this book) is an appalling hack when she writes for the New York Post. Still, the picture the review, and evidently the book, paint of the expectations that denizens of Trump country have for the labor market are not entirely flattering.

    The working-class voters profiled and interviewed in this book never put it quite so explicitly, but they make clear they’re seeking an economy that will provide plentiful, stable, well-paying jobs which don’t require a college education and aren’t too far away for a commute. Zito and Todd never quite get around to pointing out these expectations are unrealistic, but to their credit, they also lay out the state of the American workforce from the perspective of a small business. And those intermittent comments suggest that employers aren’t seeing a long line of hard-working, hard-luck cases looking for a decent opportunity.


  7. Avatar CJColucci says:

    As a fairly senior government lawyer in NYC who has been poking about in private sector opportunities, I can’t get excited about the salary history question ban. My pitiful government salary is a matter of public record, but even if employers don’t look it up, the general salary scale is widely known and a savvy potential employer will likely have a very good idea what I make without asking.Report

  8. Avatar Kolohe says:

    I think link Lb1 got the bends; I imagine this is the article referenced.Report