What're the ethics of hiring a moonlighter who's on the job?
December 27, 2011 4:58 PM   Subscribe

What are the ethics of buying skilled services if the person doing it is completing those services on the job? (Specifically, a machinist, if the industry matters.)

I posted on craigslist looking for somebody to machine a part for me. Several people got back to me. Of those people, none indicated that they owned a shop, or provided anything but a cell number. Two people explicitly said that they'd be doing it at their jobs, so it'd take a while.

I've already contracted with one of them, and am taking delivery tomorrow. And I started out ecstatic, 'cause now I have a contact who can machine many more parts for me in the future.

Then I thought: I wouldn't dig it very much if somebody working for me were programming craigslist gigs on the clock.

But, from my end, is that really my problem? When I'm not the man, why should I care if somebody's sticking it to him?
posted by Netzapper to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total)
Some might posit that this is like purchasing stolen goods, and that we have some kind of social contract to at least try to avoid to do so. You probably wouldn't buy an appliance you knew was just stolen from your neighbor's house. In this case, the machinist is (presumably) stealing time and equipment use from the owner (unless he or she has explicit permission to do this). And presumably by going this route, the owner doesn't have a chance to compete for your contract but is forced to subsidize your product, thus lowering the effective cost for you.

Is okay to pay people less than minimum wage if they are willing to work for it?

Those are some thoughts on this. My reaction is that it does seem a bit skeezy. I've worked with folks who did this (ie did work for someone else while earning money from a primary employer) and found it pretty unethical and very problematic.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:06 PM on December 27, 2011

And I started out ecstatic, 'cause now I have a contact who can machine many more parts for me in the future.

You really should take a moment to realize how fortunate you are if you have found a skilled, reliable machinist to make parts for you.

I have had to have parts for woodworking machines made and finding a good machinist is often a trial-and-error process.
posted by mlis at 5:10 PM on December 27, 2011

I don't know what the ethics are of canceling at this late date for the current job But the whole thing sounds pretty iffy and I wouldn't work with him again without absolute assurance that this is ok with his employer. .
posted by SLC Mom at 5:15 PM on December 27, 2011

Of course, he could be using the shop after work hours with the bosses blessing, which would be great.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:18 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, that was my thought -- that's what I'd expect to be going on. I haven't had much to do with machine shops, per se, but among tradespeople there's a fair bit of "hey, boss, I want to borrow the big hammer drill over the weekend for some side work" that goes on. Since the machine tools are kind of hard to bring home for the weekend, I can see slipping personal projects in on the side during down-times in the day. Sort of like using the bandwidth at the office for big data downloads.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:22 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

My ex is a mechanical design engineer. There are always people from his company who use the machine shop & borrow tools & etc. nights & weekends for side jobs or personal things. It's viewed by the company as an informal benefit. Nothing skeevy about it.
posted by headnsouth at 5:36 PM on December 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

My father is a machinist and this kind of thing happens all the time. My understanding is that as long as the regular shop's work is getting done on time, it's pretty much ok. This is why the two guys said it would take them a while because they're doing it at work. They're working on it during breaks, or while waiting for material to arrive, or waiting for another machine to open up, or for 30 minutes at a time after hours. Like a lot of jobs, there's an ebb and flow, and working on other stuff during reasonable downtime isn't frowned upon, as long as everything else that is supposed to be done is being done.
posted by Edogy at 5:46 PM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Fourthing that this is pretty common.
posted by Brian Puccio at 6:17 PM on December 27, 2011

Also, call a few machine shops and get a price quote. You will pay a lot more.
posted by mlis at 7:21 PM on December 27, 2011

Yeah, you just need to know if his workplace is okay with it. The few machine shops around here with which I've dealt let their employees make things on their own time / breaks as long as they pay for stock and don't break things. (The same thing sometimes happens in construction work here, too: the employees can use the dump truck after hours as long as they pay the boss a little cut, etc.) I actually suspect that a lot of things are made with scraps and cut-off ends that would normally go to the recycler (and thus earn a little cash for the employer), but it also seems to be one of those "the boss knows, but doesn't officially know" things. I've never pulled too hard on that particular thread.
posted by introp at 9:01 PM on December 27, 2011

I'll add that this could be completely above the board. (Though it might not be.) If it's really bothering you that much, ask him straight up. If you need a way to ease into the question frame it around needing to find someone that you can work with long term.
posted by Ookseer at 10:30 PM on December 27, 2011

The thing worth noting is that the wear and tear on the equipment (assuming you know what you're doing) is pretty negligible, hence a lot of shops not really caring about this sort of thing. If you come back and say, "OK, I need two hundred just like this prototype." then you're probably going to be told to talk to the boss because now it's real work and not just some noodling around job your contact can do next time there's a mill free.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:40 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another vote for it being an informal benefit that he can do this after hours at his work. I've known machine shops that let their employees borrow equipment for weekend work.
posted by arcticseal at 12:32 AM on December 28, 2011

I know people in the trades who do this kind of thing after hours with the complete blessing of their employers. I don't think it is unusual at all.
posted by imjustsaying at 2:44 AM on December 28, 2011

Not just a benefit to employees, to some employers it is a good thing to have their guys honing their skills on their own time, and getting some practise with personal projects that are a little outside the box of their day to day work. It's a cheap way to upskill your workers. Everyone benefits.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:23 AM on December 28, 2011

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