That escalated quickly

Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down. And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there I’ll tell you how I became a software engineer for a small healthcare startup in Hyderabad, India.

It all started with my first job in San Francisco, as a software engineer for a fairly large online advertising company. After some time doing that, I’d decided that I needed to find work that was as close to my principles as possible. So I took a job at a very, very small startup, and despite the fact that we were only two employees, I formed a worker’s council. My plan was for the council to serve as a place holder for a real union while we were still small, helping to set work rules and company policies and negotiate collectively for benefits.

The company grew to 5 employees, and initially, the worker’s council was incredibly successful. We met bi-weekly and employees shared ideas for the company handbook we were collaboratively writing. Our first real win was when an employee wanted additional health insurance options. As our elected representative I met with the boss and we found a way to make it work without any additional cost to the company. The council also worked on creating 401k accounts for the employees and obtaining tax-free commuter benefits, all at minimal cost to the company.

After the company got our series A funding, the employees voted to collectively negotiate for a small amount of 401k matching. (I’d pushed for charitable giving matching as our demand, but that’s the trouble with democracy!) So I met with my boss, the chief technology office who was also the head of HR, and presented our demands. He said, “Thanks, we’ll see what we can do.”

A team meeting was called to tell us about updates to the benefits and I was very excited. I expected at least some negotiation, so jumping straight to the meeting must mean we were getting everything we wanted!

Instead, we were told during the meeting that we were not getting any 401k matching, the bosses were not willing to negotiate collectively with us, and the worker’s council was not going to work if it was going to create an “us vs. them” division in the company. I suggested we make all the company’s financial decisions democratically if we wanted to avoid an “us vs. them” mentality. That went over about as well you’d expect.

The general sentiment in the worker’s council was that we should back down. I didn’t feel that way, but it wasn’t until the next day that the bosses really got my union-loving back up. They booked a visiting employee in the Marriott where workers were currently striking for a living wage and decent working conditions.

After that, there was no way I could keep my peace. I said if the worker’s council couldn’t collectively negotiate, didn’t get at least a token amount of 401k matching, or have any say on financial decisions, then I was leaving. Despite the total amount of money in our demands being less than the recruiting cost of replacing me, the bosses chose option two. I offered to stay a few months to finish our big project, but they said my presence was divisive and would make it hard to hire, so I should leave at the end of the following week.

Tired of living in a city that prides itself on its leftist politics but is increasingly becoming an anti-union capitalist dystopia, I asked Facebook for ideas about what to do with my life. Fifteen minutes later, my phone rang with the peculiar sound of a Messenger call, and an old friend from grad school asked, “How do you feel about moving to India?” Without hesitation, or any research, I said yes. So here I am two months later, sitting in his living room in Hyderabad, starting a blog about my new life in India.

To quote my new boss, I hope 2019 is the best.