Why Facebook, The ‘Best Company’ To Work For, Doesn’t Need A Union

Facebook employees don’t have strong union protections, but they seem to love their company nonetheless.

“[Facebook] is an amazing place. The new HQ is gorgeous and huge. You get to make whatever you want and launch it to a billion people,” raved one anonymous engineer, which, along with scores of positive reviews, helped Facebook become the “Best Place To Work,” according to the annual nationwide search by Glassdoor.

The announcement of Facebook’s worker utopia comes on the heels of Michigan’s union-crushing right to work legislation and steep decline in labor union membership. While unions still have an influential role througout the United States, it appears they might not have much of a future.

”As far as me personally, and for everyone else here, unions have never come up,” software engineer Matt Shea, told The New York Times in 1999, when the idea of voluntary 70-hour work weeks with no overtime shocked a more union-friendly America. “‘Everything I want is offered to me here.”

Today, America’s most prominent companies are known more for their ostentatious luxuries than when Henry Ford had to over-pay his workers for painfully monotonous work. Near dictatorial conditions in the old assembly line stripped workers of their autonomy. The management philosophy was based on a fundamental distrust in workers.

An “over-foreman is to smooth out the difficulties which arise between the different types of bosses who in turn directly help the men,” wrote the godfather of hierarchical manager Frederick Taylor. “If two of these bosses meet with a difficulty which they cannot settle, they send for their respective over-foremen, who are usually able to straighten it out. In case the latter are unable to agree on the remedy, the case is referred by them to the assistant superintendent.” A neatly-stacked chain of command was designated a point-person for every conflict or confusion, which workers were apparently incapable of handling themselves.

In contrast, at Facebook, workers are actively encouraged to pursue their own interests. “Teams are small and have a lot of autonomy, and it’s amazing to see how much of a difference a single person can make at this place,” gushed another Facebook employee. Indeed, in the “cons” section, it is the lack of control that causes concern.

“The downside having so much going on all at once is that it takes energy and discipline to stay focused on those things that matter most. You need to embrace this challenge to get the most out of your experience,” admitted the same worker.

Facebook’s recognition comes the very same week that America is reassessing its relationship with unions. Michigan became the 24th state to adopt the highly contentious right-to-work┬álegislation, which makes it illegal to require union membership or fees (significantly reducing their ranks and revenue). The new law in the once union stronghold of Michigan piles on the problem of dwindling membership, from 17 percent private-sector membership in 1983 to just 7 percent today.

As more and more businesses incorporate Silicon Valley-style mass innovation into their core management practices, it’s unclear whether employees will face the same authoritarian conditions that fueled demands for unions. As Thomas Friedman points out in his latest book, That Used To Be Us, everyone from soldiers to lawyers to assembly line workers are increasingly required to spend part of their time innovating. “Where change is happening quickly, who best sees the openings, opportunity, and necessities of change? It’s not always the CEO,” said Friedman.

Where technology demands more innovation from the front lines, employees may necessarily gain the benefits, discretion, and creativity that unions long hoped for. And, as a result, unions may no longer be necessary.

[Photo Credit: Facebook]