Kevin Roose of New York magazine says that an ongoing class-action lawsuit on behalf of highly compensated tech employees at Silicon Valley’s leading firms has exposed the “caste” system in the industry: “There are the executives, who talk (and defer) to each other frequently and set the terms of engagement across the tech industry. And then there are the worker bees–the engineers, designers, and middle-managers…”.
It is difficult to feel a sense of class envy on the plaintiffs’ behalf. As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, the lawsuit involves allegations that senior executives agreed not to hire each other’s top talent, denying highly-paid employes the chance to insist on even higher compensation. The suit is likely to be settled out of court, and the employees–many of whom are already wealthy–could be awarded an average of $140,000 each.
What the tech chiefs–including the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Google founder Sergey Brin, among others–tried to do was to keep their teams together, often retaliating against personnel who broke ranks by recruiting across companies. The cozy arrangement lasted until newcomer Facebook started hiring aggressively, picking up top talent from other companies and triggering a bidding war for the sharpest and most experienced talent.
The lawsuit is playing out against a backlash in the Bay Area against the rising cost of living–blamed, activists say, on the wealth of tech employees, who bid up housing and rental prices, and ride private buses from San Francisco to the Valley and back. Tech employees who united against their bosses in court find themselves denounced by protestors blocking the Google bus. All, at least, are united by the rhetoric of class warfare.