I totally agree with your points, Steven, in particular around the non-alignment of interests: it used to be the case that “reputational equity” mattered in the Valley, and kept founders and VCs from exercising the worst of human behavior.
With the massive influx of cash, the entrance of “institutional” VCs and the large number of startups (most, it would seem, fueled more by the greed of their founders than genuine, innovative ideas/technologies) this matters less and less and you then see the kind of behavior you outlined.
However, I continue to be skeptical of an “organized labor force:” the kind of people who are attracted to startup life are extremely unlikely to also be excited about joining a union (I, for one, would rather go homeless and hungry than do such a thing) or, even, making it an effective one.
There are however, I believe, opportunities to encourage “positive, decent” behavior of founders/startups (I have genuinely no hope for VCs: they really are out to “get rich quick” and couldn’t care less about employees) and make it easier for them to recruit talent (and, conversely, make it harder if not impossible for the “looters” to do so).
For example, Glassdoor was a great idea, until it completely collapsed and became close to worthless when it “sold out” to companies to generate cashflow via advertising and focusing on hiring: I have personally been in two startups who blatantly manipulated the ratings and all but blackmailed new hires to write glowing reviews (“anonymity” there was always a red herring and borderline misleading).
A paid-for, self-sustaining and thus, strong and independent forum where to openly (and anonymously) discuss issues around compensation, option agreements terms, bad behaviors, founders acting badly, would probably go a long way towards this goal: there have been other attempts, but the usual “free now, money maybe later” leads necessarily to the company eventually “selling out” to advertising and/or other corporate programs of one sort or another: the one I envision, needs to be a forum that is supported by its members, from whose independence they should be deriving enough value that they would be willing to pay for.
Also, having some form of “common best-practice” standard agreements would allow those “good” companies who adopt them to hire more easily than the ones who don’t, who should at least have to explain to prospective hires why they don’t and spell out the differences.
Ultimately, however, it’s down to the individual employees to “get smart” and not accept jobs without first reading the small print and making some sort of “due diligence” on the founders and the company.
I’ve just realized that, in fact, I do agree with you… “some form of organizational effort” is ultimately what I seem to be advocating too!