Silicon Valley’s janitor problem

The janitors for many of tech’s biggest companies decided to walk out on strike today.

I’m not a big union supporter. I generally don’t like the things because, for the most part, I live in a meritocracy. If I don’t get interesting videos, no one will show up and eventually sponsors figure that out and decide to spend their money somewhere else.

In the tech world if you build something interesting you’ll get the money and the job and all that. Yeah, I know there are exceptions and we should talk about those again sometime but that meritocracy works because it’s easy to get noticed in the geek world.

Right now at Google there’s a bunch of geeks coding cool stuff for mobile phones as part of WhereCamp. Are you a geek who knows how to code something cool for mobile phones? Well, you just need to show up. There’s no walls keeping you out. No entry fees. No one saying “your type can’t come in here.”

But, I’m not naive enough to think that the entire world works that way.

Have you ever thought about the people who clean your buildings? They are easy to miss. They usually come in after 10 p.m. — long after you should have left. At Microsoft I got to know a few of them because I was one of the few employees who’d stick around after hours.

I also lived with a guy who was a janitor at a San Jose school for a while, so I got to know a little bit about the profession that most people don’t like to talk about (or even see, which is why most of these people work at night).

But I do notice and it’s criminal that the people who clean the billionaires’ offices only make $23,000 or so, especially when janitors in other areas make more (and the housing costs of those people in those areas are less too, which doubles the insult). Yes, I know that to most people in the world $23,000 sounds like a lot of money (more than half of the world lives on $2 or so a day in income). But in Silicon Valley? That’s way below the poverty line (remember, an average house here costs more than $700,000).

So, it’s time to fix this little problem before Monday and pay them more and get them back to work. Oh, and to the people who work at these companies: why don’t you stick around until 8 p.m. or so, then drop off your trash in front of the CEO’s office? I guarantee if you do that this problem will get solved by Tuesday morning.

68 thoughts on “Silicon Valley’s janitor problem

  1. You cannot have a democratic society without a democratic workplace. Everyone, including those often-ignored janitors, should have a say in their workplace.

    And as for this “FDR was a Commie” business, let’s not forget that he got America out of the Great Depression, which was largely caused by Libertarian business practices.

  2. You cannot have a democratic society without a democratic workplace. Everyone, including those often-ignored janitors, should have a say in their workplace.

    And as for this “FDR was a Commie” business, let’s not forget that he got America out of the Great Depression, which was largely caused by Libertarian business practices.

  3. Why are you people even arguing about this? Capitalism is the Natural Law by which we live in the US economy. Nothing should change that. Nothing should cost-motivate the system to change in any way. Take, for example, a reverse scenerio: if the janitor made more than the programmer, how would people be motivated to create as much innovation in the world? How would people be motivated to better their lives? People get by when they are forced to–furthermore, they are motivated to improve their lives. Sure some statistical outliers experience a downward spiral, and become homeless, and this is a real problem, too, but the wage disparity is essential to the US Economy.

    Furthermore, in matters of supply and demand, more people azre capable of doing unskilled labor, so wage competition ensues & business leaders profit from people out-bidding each other. I think that since Google and Wikipedia generally reduce the overall asymetrical information situation, many so-called skilled laborers will find that competition is much more keen in the future, as information is more easily available to everyone else. But then employers will hae to rely on other factors in screening and wage determination. Credit score & credible experience will become tantamount in the years to come–not formal education. I think we have seen this phenomena, already.

    In closing, I want everyone to rest assured. As long as you are doing what you enjoy, or at least learning the skills for what you wish to do & preparing yourself for a growing move into what you enjoy, you will be fine. Low income is a great tool to motivate people to improve their lives & there are plenty of relatively unskilled jobs out there which pay more than poverty level–just see your temp agency. In the long run, everything balances out or oscillates the other way. One day, people are going to say, “To heck with this janitor job,” and they leave their current job for something nicer / profitable / whatever. This will leave a larger than usual hole in the janitor job market, and janitors will be more empowered to set their own wages. Diminishing oscillations in economies are a wonderful long-term phenomenon which ensure a balanced, and efficient job market.

    Thanks.

  4. Why are you people even arguing about this? Capitalism is the Natural Law by which we live in the US economy. Nothing should change that. Nothing should cost-motivate the system to change in any way. Take, for example, a reverse scenerio: if the janitor made more than the programmer, how would people be motivated to create as much innovation in the world? How would people be motivated to better their lives? People get by when they are forced to–furthermore, they are motivated to improve their lives. Sure some statistical outliers experience a downward spiral, and become homeless, and this is a real problem, too, but the wage disparity is essential to the US Economy.

    Furthermore, in matters of supply and demand, more people azre capable of doing unskilled labor, so wage competition ensues & business leaders profit from people out-bidding each other. I think that since Google and Wikipedia generally reduce the overall asymetrical information situation, many so-called skilled laborers will find that competition is much more keen in the future, as information is more easily available to everyone else. But then employers will hae to rely on other factors in screening and wage determination. Credit score & credible experience will become tantamount in the years to come–not formal education. I think we have seen this phenomena, already.

    In closing, I want everyone to rest assured. As long as you are doing what you enjoy, or at least learning the skills for what you wish to do & preparing yourself for a growing move into what you enjoy, you will be fine. Low income is a great tool to motivate people to improve their lives & there are plenty of relatively unskilled jobs out there which pay more than poverty level–just see your temp agency. In the long run, everything balances out or oscillates the other way. One day, people are going to say, “To heck with this janitor job,” and they leave their current job for something nicer / profitable / whatever. This will leave a larger than usual hole in the janitor job market, and janitors will be more empowered to set their own wages. Diminishing oscillations in economies are a wonderful long-term phenomenon which ensure a balanced, and efficient job market.

    Thanks.

  5. There is power in a factory, power in the land
    Power in the hands of a worker
    But it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand There is power in a Union

    Now the lessons of the past were all learned with workers’ blood
    The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for
    From the cities and the farmlands to trenches full of mud
    War has always been the bosses’ way, sir

    The Union forever defending our rights
    Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
    With our brothers and out sisters from many far off lands
    There is power in a Union

    Now I long for the morning that they realise
    Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
    But who’ll defend the workers who cannot organise
    When the bosses send their lackies out to cheat us?

    Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
    Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
    What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
    There is power in a Union

    The Union forever defending our rights
    Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
    With our brothers and out sisters from many far off lands
    There is power in a Union.

  6. There is power in a factory, power in the land
    Power in the hands of a worker
    But it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand There is power in a Union

    Now the lessons of the past were all learned with workers’ blood
    The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for
    From the cities and the farmlands to trenches full of mud
    War has always been the bosses’ way, sir

    The Union forever defending our rights
    Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
    With our brothers and out sisters from many far off lands
    There is power in a Union

    Now I long for the morning that they realise
    Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
    But who’ll defend the workers who cannot organise
    When the bosses send their lackies out to cheat us?

    Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
    Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
    What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
    There is power in a Union

    The Union forever defending our rights
    Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
    With our brothers and out sisters from many far off lands
    There is power in a Union.

  7. “Well, given that FDR approved about every socialist program this country now has, I’d say his understanding of capitalism was a bit flawed”

    Man, good times, what?

  8. “Well, given that FDR approved about every socialist program this country now has, I’d say his understanding of capitalism was a bit flawed”

    Man, good times, what?

  9. Just because janitora are in a job where they can market , i.e. BS their way out to the top, using utopian ideas and romantic faith, means that they will continue to be discriminated against. Sometimes, I feel for all it’s goodness, in terms of wealth creation and richness, the US is actually a harder place to survive – the standard deviation is so huge

  10. Just because janitora are in a job where they can market , i.e. BS their way out to the top, using utopian ideas and romantic faith, means that they will continue to be discriminated against. Sometimes, I feel for all it’s goodness, in terms of wealth creation and richness, the US is actually a harder place to survive – the standard deviation is so huge

  11. Well, given that FDR approved about every socialist program this country now has, I’d say his understanding of capitalism was a bit flawed

  12. Well, given that FDR approved about every socialist program this country now has, I’d say his understanding of capitalism was a bit flawed

  13. Unions i think cause more damage than good. they make it difficult if not impossible to fire poor workers. I worked as a manager where i had unionized workers. I do believe every one of them should be paid a good living wage and have access to health care. However workers get paid by seniority not by work effort and quality, meaning we had problems with people doing just enough to scoot by and not be fired. I don’t get 100% coverage on my health, and yet our janitors striking demanded 100% coverage, and a raise. I irked me the sense of entitlement. We even fired one woman for physically attacking and harassing a co-worker, but the union made us re-hire the worker because it was a first offense and there had to be at least three with proper paperwork filed to fire someone. See what I mean? All people, regardless of job should be paid well enough to live if they work full time at minimum. Unions taking a cut of pay and other things doesn’t help people. Workers could certainly strike and negotiate as a group without an official union ‘leader’ leading it.

    Sorry to ramble but unions aggravate me, i think poor workers should be able to be fired so that we can hire a good worker instead. Admittedly if we aren’t paying enough we won’t get a good worker, and then we’ll have to raise what we are willing to pay for what we want.

  14. Unions i think cause more damage than good. they make it difficult if not impossible to fire poor workers. I worked as a manager where i had unionized workers. I do believe every one of them should be paid a good living wage and have access to health care. However workers get paid by seniority not by work effort and quality, meaning we had problems with people doing just enough to scoot by and not be fired. I don’t get 100% coverage on my health, and yet our janitors striking demanded 100% coverage, and a raise. I irked me the sense of entitlement. We even fired one woman for physically attacking and harassing a co-worker, but the union made us re-hire the worker because it was a first offense and there had to be at least three with proper paperwork filed to fire someone. See what I mean? All people, regardless of job should be paid well enough to live if they work full time at minimum. Unions taking a cut of pay and other things doesn’t help people. Workers could certainly strike and negotiate as a group without an official union ‘leader’ leading it.

    Sorry to ramble but unions aggravate me, i think poor workers should be able to be fired so that we can hire a good worker instead. Admittedly if we aren’t paying enough we won’t get a good worker, and then we’ll have to raise what we are willing to pay for what we want.

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