Leadership

Should IT be unionized?

Patrick Gray thinks unionization is exactly the wrong answer for IT, and the dynamic career IT he has been given would not be possible in a unionized environment.

Today we have a guest post from TechRepublic contributing writer Patrick Gray.

With Greece once again making the rounds in the press, I was thinking back to a speech I gave in the country two years ago as their economic crisis was first unfolding. I was speaking about the IT industry and about how to make it more attractive and effective in the face of impending economic calamity. During a break, a reporter told me that there was a movement afoot in some circles in Greece to attempt to form a union of IT workers, and he asked for my thoughts.

I couldn't help but recall late-night debates I'd had with colleagues early in my tech career. As "new guys" fresh out of college we felt a bit exploited. Here we were, putting in long weeks related to a new systems implementation and earning just a bit above minimum wage when all the unpaid overtime (we were salaried employees) was factored in. Perhaps retaining a bit of academia-inspired wistfulness, we rapidly concluded that an IT workers union would be the perfect remedy to the poor masses of exploited IT workers everywhere. A few decades later, I think unionization is exactly the wrong answer, and the dynamic career IT has given me would not be possible in a unionized environment. Here's why:

Time served versus timely skills

Perhaps the most exciting feature of the IT industry is that it's one of a handful where knowledge can regularly trump experience. A relatively new entrant to the field can command a large salary or senior title based on their ability rather than their seniority. While this is often taken for granted in IT, it's a rare trait in most other industries.

Unions offer legitimate employee protections, but they obviously must trade something in return for those protections. In most cases, unions trade merit-based advancement and pay for these worker protections, and with it the core benefit of an IT career. While protection against "unpaid overtime" sounds good, lower pay and seniority based on a shorter amount of "time served" nullifies the ability for IT pros to rapidly advance based primarily on knowledge and demonstrated skills. While it's obviously not the norm, there are not many fields that can offer six-figure salaries and VP titles to twenty-year-olds with the regularity that occurs in IT.

Killing your golden goose

Critical to any field is regularly refreshing it with young talent. People new to the field bring in different experiences, expectations, and skill sets. If you've been around IT for any length of time, you may have witnessed how new management or even outside influence can engender a technical "renaissance" at a company, where new technologies and methodologies are introduced seemingly overnight.

With a union, maximum protection is earned through seniority. If you've ever witnessed a staff reduction at a unionized school, the people with the lowest seniority (i.e. the newest teachers) are the first to go. In IT, where new people often bring in new and different knowledge, routinely punishing the "new guys" during every economic downturn is a recipe for stagnation for the field.

The question of worker exploitation

Despite all this high-minded talk of knowledge and merit-driven success, are IT workers "exploited"? That might be a loaded and overly dramatic word when considering the plight of far more difficult circumstances, but there are certainly people in IT who put in more effort than the corresponding reward they receive.

While a union might offer some protection, an alternative solution is to manage your career as if you were a tiny corporation. Many workers complain about a lack of employer loyalty, but this is a two-way street. You're always free to say "no" to yet another working weekend, turn off the mobile device during dinner, or ultimately take your skills elsewhere. It may strike some as selfish and perhaps conniving, but your employer will likely consider replacing you when the need arises, so there's no harm in considering replacing them on similar terms.

After long hours and over a frosty beverage, a worker's revolt of sorts in the IT industry may sound like a good idea. Defined hours and benefits, and an overarching organization designed to keep your employer in line, certainly has its positive aspects. However, that stability comes with a trade-off, one that I find too heavy a price to bear. At its best, IT offers young and old a dynamic career where merit and skill trump seniority, pricey academic credentials, and even deep pockets.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

406 comments
hrmsconsultant
hrmsconsultant

Alas ! The career that Patrick Gray desires is not possible in a non-unionized environment either.

rgreenly
rgreenly

I have to disagree. With the ability to create a union in IT, the people of the union can built it correctly and not trade off such a heavy price. I am not sure why you think I.T get's paid bank without the experience, but that is not true. If I were an SQL tech, most job descriptions state I need at least 5 years of experience. It's not that the "New guy" get's the door when lay-offs occur, it's the guy who is least valuable to the company who get's it in the rear at the end of the day.

jayj200
jayj200

In the past unions were needed not any more! In the past companies used thugs to break you down. Now the tides have ebbed in a new direction- now the unions are using thugery. The union leaderships are comprized of mostly comunists! they only want your dues to keep themselves employed- destroy AMERICA unionsize!

jk2001
jk2001

I think the discussion here is great, but here's the problem: people consider joining a union to be a "choice". There is no choice, because there is no IT union in the United States. Nobody can choose to join the IT Union; it doesn't exist. You may as well choose to join Starfleet Command, or choose to move to Middle Earth. I hate to shatter our dreams of a big IT union, but, shatter it, I must. We need to get real. The main reason why there's no IT union is because the AFL-CIO jurisdiction for IT workers is given to the CWA, and the CWA has failed to organize IT. That's all. There's no national CWA campaign to create an IT union. They only go for the lower-waged workers. It's really as stupidly simple as that. Moreover, the way the big unions operate is to analyze a company, see if it can be organized, and then go after the entire company. It's called a corporate campaign. There's one going on with Hyatt Hotels, for example. The UAW is looking at going after the Japanese and German automakers. The CWA is trying to organize at Verizon and T-Mobile. They don't go after single workplaces. A national campaign would go after companies like Apple, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, Computer Associates, Symantec, etc. That takes significant money. I don't know if there's any such effort at this time; perhaps there is. So, really, it's up to IT workers to create their own union. No union organizer is going to come around and ask you to join "the IT union." None of the Libertarians have to worry about agonizing over voting for a union, because there is none. The closest you'll get is SEIU or AFSCME asking some government IT department if they want to join up. And they often will, because they are already government workers, and obviously want to coast along a bit. All this argument and passion is for nothing. I love all the pro-union people here, but I have to tell it to you straight - if you think we need a union, we need to make our own. There is nobody out there trying to organize us.

jk2001
jk2001

These are mostly strawman arguments about how unions operate. There are many different types of unions, ranging from the janitor's union all the way to the director's guild (in film). An IT union would fit somewhere in between that wide range. An IT union would likely be primarily a benefits administrator and a negotiator with larger companies if they got organized, and maybe compete with temp agencies. In fact, dealing with the agencies would be the real hurdle to establishing an IT union -- I tend to think they filled the vacuum that resulted from a lack of labor organizing in IT. Benefits that unions provide would include a portable retirement, probably a defined benefits pension, and portable health insurance. Other benefits could include life insurance, dental insurance, an additional unemployment insurance fund (in addition to what the state provides), a union-owned retirement home, union-operated housing, and prepaid legal services (above and beyond the regular legal representation the union provides as a matter of it's day to day operations). A union would likely organize the frontline admins, and maybe programmers. The admins, helpdesk, etc. are relatively routine jobs where people often end up working excess hours. As admins you're entitled to overtime pay. The union would push for making hours more regular, and compliant with the law. A union might take on training functions. The construction unions do this, and they are well regarded. The union training is considered superior to vocational schools and even the training offered by construction companies. The goals of union-based training are different from what a company provides. Unions focus on safety as in teaching a broad range of skills so that the employees are more able to find work. A company's training tends to be more focused on the minimal skills required. An IT union could take on the training functions and make them more demanding than most of these certification tests. What I notice in union jobs is that the wages aren't always higher - they are typically lower for the simpler jobs, but they are more stable, and the benefits are better. The more complex the jobs are, the higher the pay. For more creative jobs, like in Hollywood, you can read the contracts. They generally set the minimum wages, which aren't that high, but allow individuals to negotiate higher rates. They generally set work rules to deal with long hours, because that industry typically has workdays that exceed 8 hours. The thing is, an IT union probably couldn't do this because it requires having control of nearly all the top talent, and a business dominated by a few companies that are dependent on this talent. An IT union could not behave like a Hollywood union until it had contracts with Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, Computer Associates, Google, SAP, Peoplesoft, IBM, Accenture (and all the accounting firms), etc. Then, it could be an intermediary between the workforce and these big companies. Until then, it would have to organize in the tiny shops, and organize based on managing benefits outlined above.

FredInIT
FredInIT

There are pro's and con's to organized labor. Examples of both of have been illustrated above. The critical thing with IT is it's specialized knowledge in both breadth and depth. Yea, the young whipper-snapper out of college may know all kinds of new-fangled languages (PHP, JAVA over COBOL and C), methodologies (Agile vs. Waterfall), etc., and is indeed (both because of and in spite of) an valuable member of the team. They can be A breath of fresh air. However, I think management forget the value of experience in the field. Yea, you can slam it in - but as with laws of motion, slamming code can slam right back in system down time, corrupt data and other minor inconveniences. Desktop style programming is not the same as production systems development. Experience teaches you the painful lessons of redundancy, fail over, range checking, scope rules, error handling, elegant coding, and other such items that are not heavily stressed even in coursework. They are the things you tend to learn in the field by doing and getting advice from your peers. I think, though, that there is another labor organization strategy that would work for IT as it does for other industries. It's called the Guild. Rather than the shop being created against an employer (e.g. UAW with Ford), the shop is created against the industry (think Screen Actors Guild, Actors Equity, etc.). There is a lot in common with the work ethos of actors, musicians, writers, and IT. You do it more for the love than the money (at least to start). Talent over seniority is the basis for the pay scale. Once an assignment is up you can ply your trade somewhere else. So, what does the employer get out of this? They will have to get something... quality. They know that when they hire a guild member they are getting a particular level of quality of work. Not some recent hack that learned programming out of a book from B&N. Sorry, there is a lot more to good programming technique, or techniques in general, than learning variables, pointers, and inheritance.

csimpson
csimpson

I can't say where or what company because the possibility of death threats is quite real.

smckenna
smckenna

O.K. So don't 'Organize' and continue to be exploited. It's not so easy to move to another job a) in a crappy job market b) when you are old (>40?) Doesn't matter how good you are. And those 20 year old VPs? Most of them know nothing, but if there are 100 20-year old VPs earning 6 figure salaries, that doens't compensate for th 100k regular IT staff who work 50,60,80,100 hours a week. (and you can't say 'no', in this job market).

vmax
vmax

I've worked in unionized organizations. Nothing moved slower, put more work on the 20%, or empowered the sluggards than having a union voted in. If you do this - YOU WILL BE SORRY! (Unless your already a slug - then you're gonna be a happy little slug.)

thejdawg569_2000
thejdawg569_2000

screw the unions all they want is your money for there agenda, bottom line say no to the crackhead unions

logos200
logos200

In theory, it would be grand, but in reality, impossible. How can you unionize a field that encompasses so many different aspects, technologies, vendors, programming languages, etc? What this means is that there is no standardization possible! If you look at the job postings, some are 1/2 page while others are 2-3 pages and want the applicant to be an expert in the particular business, the technologies, the particular versions of the technologies, and a myriad of other things that very few people honestly possess (without fabricating a resume in response). Also, what is the delineation between power users in the Marketing department who know how to create Pivot Tables, write intricate SQL statements, and create Crystal Reports versus a guy in the IT department who also knows those same technologies? The IT/Operations business units are now essentially one. Another aspect about IT: the idea of transferable skills does not exist. So if a person was a COBOL/DB2 programmer for 15 years, his/her experience is absolutely worthless unless it meets an arbitrary tech skill list a company is looking for. In all likelihood, a company will not hire you because there are other candidates whose resumes mirror the job specs (whether they are honest about it or not is a different question). Above all else, an IT department in the corporate world exists for the sole purpose of supporting the business. Increasingly, these days, it's all about doing as much as possible at the very least expense to the business. Every penny is micro-managed by the bean-counters; employees are salaried so they can work 60 hour weeks and still get paid for 40 hours of it. IT is literally changing, evolving every day. What this means is that whether you like it or not, you are a perpetual student. That's all well and good except for the fact that employers expect you to be an expert in whatever they need so they want you to 'hit the ground running'. I argue that no one can know everything, and be honest about it. Additionally, as we get older, it is harder to learn, retain and process information. Hinging on the above, IT is extremely biased; the decision to hire you is based on the whims of a hiring manager. If he/she does not like you for whatever reason, you will not get the job, no matter how qualified you are for it. So you could have written software that saved a previous employer hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it becomes nugatory simply because a hiring manager does not like your tie, hairstyle, voice, whatever. In closing, if I could do it again, I'd choose a different career - one where you can work 25-30 years, then retire with a pension, making nearly the same as you were as an employee. So you could retire at 55 after 30 years of teaching or working for the government, instead of sitting behind a computer screen all day breaking your head (if you're even fortunate enough to have a job), while juggling multiple projects, multiple deadlines, e-mails, IMs, constant meetings, phone calls, and unexpected visitors to your cube. IT is a hobby!

jayj200
jayj200

throw out the baby with the bathwater

Aikon1953
Aikon1953

We cannot continue on the path of closing every USA IT office, just to save labor cost! How many of you have worked in big companies only to see the IT jobs outsource and the augment is labor cost, but in fact it is due to extreme inefficiencies that management makes us work with, but never looks at how to fix it, but instead blames it on their high cost on labor. Build it America, Buy only things made in America and then our money is recycled in the USA, instead of all going to China and elsewhere.

Trentski
Trentski

Always can jump to the next job when wanting improved pay and conditions

mstro7
mstro7

When I first started as a developer in 1987, IT skills were considered a valued profession and those with those skills, "professionals". The attitude towards the IT profession has now changed to being a commodity. I'm not sure unionization is the right answer but it sure would be a good thing to have protection of some sort. My first 3 IT jobs spanned >20 years. In the last five years I have worked for eight different companies. In all the story was the same. You were hired to complete one or a set of tasks and then immediately laid off when the task(s) was complete. If some freshly minted MBA could show the company could save a nickel by letting you go, your loyalty and efforts mean nothing. You're GONE!

John_LI_IT_Guy
John_LI_IT_Guy

Up until a couple of years ago I did not think unions were the answer for IT. After getting laid off twice I think they have their place. There are some companies that treat their IT staff well and there are other companies that do nothing but exploit their IT staff. If you work for the later you definitely need a union. Don't hate the player, hate the game. They created it.

toggle57
toggle57

Unless the question is "should 12 year olds work in factories" - the union question is almost always absolutely not. Young people in IT just need to pay their dues - it gets better with time and unions are not worth the problems they create. Trust that there are good reasons why most business professionals north of 30 don't like them - and you will get there too.

120529-000107
120529-000107

Any rational person will realize that unions are the creation of those who promote collectivism over individualism. The very nature of IT innovation is based on one or more creative, talented individuals -- not a committee. The thought that one should advance to a position or be eligible for perks based upon seniority instead of merit is an anathema to those with talent. Most union contracts insure mediocrity, bloated budgets and the loss of control over non-performing or malfeasant personnel. Why should your money be used to support a single party that may not be of your choosing? Why should your money be used to support bosses who live like top executives without corresponding effort? Why should you cede control over your employer to an outside organization that is politically-motivated and cares only about their welfare? And then there is that little thing about thuggery and organized crime that seems to pop-up from time-to-time. It seems to me that resisting unionization is necessary to help America recover. Look what unionization did to General Motors and the auto industry (now a pension fund with an automotive company attached). Look what public employee unions did to our cities and schools. You can't afford to allow creeping Marxism (with the collective and all that) to gain a foothold in IT without disastrous consequences.

dave
dave

along with 124,999 other people at its peak. Although not published, it was rumored any manager that had a union get formed in his/her group was out of a job. There was some incentive to keep the workers happy. I enjoyed the job immensely for the 13 years that I was there. I could never handle a union rep telling me that I had to take a coffee break, couldn't complete a presentation in the evening on my own time, or stand some slacker in my group getting paid the same as I did or worse yet, keeping his/her job. We worked hard and enjoyed our jobs. Before anyone flames me, my wife was required to be in a teacher's union. I can see from one side that they needed something to keep management honest. However the downside was that they went on strike too many times only because the high school (9-12) teachers screamed and yelled the most to the union and usually convinced them that doing such things was a good thing. Sigh. Where unions fail (many examples but) is when they start demanding stupid things. One airline pilots association wanted free vasectomies on demand. Huh??? What does that have to do with your job? Screwing the cabin crew while 7 miles up? Screwing the cabin crew instead of getting the required 8 hours rest? Any way you get the drift. >>from being replaced at a whim, Sometimes it's unions that cause such things to happen. Too many unreal, stupid, absurd demands and then one day it's the straw that breaks the camel's back. How about the ATC union in the US? Too many demands and you are out of a job. You want your job back then come back on managements terms. How's that for taking your own medicine? Both management and workers need to play fair. Lock both sides in a conference room, one bio break every 2 hours (4 minutes maximum), you eat and sleep in that room until you hammer out an agreement. Then tell your family that because you were a bonehead during negotiations you weren't home for 5 days and nights.

timwessels
timwessels

The ability for IT workers in large corporations to enjoy good working conditions, hours, wages, benefits, training and collective bargaining rights would come from being unionized. Just go ask the 27,000 workers who are about to get pushed out the door at HP or the 6,000 workers dumped by Cisco or the 2,000 people getting put out of their jobs by Yahoo if having a union might not be such a bad idea when confronted with draconian edicts from the C-suite executives of these corporations. Oh, and if any of these corporate masters of the universe screw up, they just collect on the multi-million dollar severance packages spelled out in their employment contracts as they head for the exit door. If employment contracts are good for these corporate geniuses, then union contracts should be good for their IT workers.

ag691234
ag691234

Unions are 19C idea for Low Skill Labor. IT is in 21 Century and involves high skill set. this sums it up. On the other hand, unionizing low level skill job like call center operators, A+ technicians, etc. is a different story. If these low skill IT employees (I prefer not to call them professionals) who get the job with high school diploma, AA degree or a diploma mill school (Phoenix, etc.) are unionized they might have some job protection like the teachers: lower wages, bias towards seniority rather merit, bureaucracy, union dues being spent for political activities, you know all the good stuff.

CodeCurmudgeon
CodeCurmudgeon

One of the reasons older IT workers often stagnate, is that they never get training in newer technologies. I've worked for a state government for over 30 years, and in that time i've been sent to exactly ONE useful training class. I've done a LOT of on the job learning, but I could have picked up a lot of things in a small fraction of the time if I'd had just a few hours of instruction on how a new technology worked. And, of course they've never paid me enough for me to be able to afford the princely fees technology training classes charge on my own. I believe that before employers can qualify for H1b visas, they should have to show that they have attempted to have experienced workers retrained for the technology in which they are experiencing a shortage. This sort of training is something a union could be VERY effective at obtaining. It might require a technologist-only union, 'cause I doubt if a traditional union would be creative enough to deviate that far from traditional, industrial era demands.

TimmyMakesInternets
TimmyMakesInternets

I'm noticing a trend in the comments here. There are quite a few people posting things like - "The unions had their place once upon a time back in the 1800s or early 1900s, but these days they cause more harm than good." My response to this is, unions do have their flaws. But if unions stopped existing in America on Friday, there would be legislation speeding through Congress the following Monday to repeal the very minimum wage, hour, and age restrictions that unions fought for back in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which we take for granted today. I am not exaggerating even a little bit. There are already groups working toward that end right now. Don't believe me? As an example, Google terms "repeal minimum wage", and you'll see tons of propaganda hacks extolling the virtues (on the employers' side, anyway) of repealing minimum wage. You might even find a copy of model legislation, written by ALEC, to do away with a state's minimum wage. Or try Googling "repeal child labor laws" and you'll find that Missouri and Wisconsin have attempted a rollback of sorts. And you know if one or two have tried it, there are others who are thinking it. Take away unions, and you take away one of the biggest factors keeping us from rolling back to 1889.

Howdy2012
Howdy2012

No! Does anyone remember Eastern Airlines? Even though IT is not a "company", IT'ers should have right-to-work freedoms without having a 44 Mag held to their head or their families threatened if they decide to change jobs or careers. Unions were great in their time, but now they have too much influence over people and companies (see current union politics) who are just trying to provide the best for their families (keeping union dues) and produce an affordable product.

tavent
tavent

for one thing you have to be a bit more precise about what you mean when you say "union" since the phrase is used to define everything from "collective bargaining" to "single payer health plans" and just about any stop in between. I agree that there are trade-offs. There are always trade-offs no matter the situation; that is economics generally. A couple of aspects: 1) If the hiring businesses already collude to control the employee market, having employees or potential employees organize in order to balance that uneven playing field, seems reasonable 2) unions typically also have a system of training and certifying. Although commercial certifications exist, they don't necessarily prove mastery of a technology nor the ability to apply it in a complex existing environment. And these days IT is not done by individuals, but rather by teams, and frankly the ability to work well in a team structure, might be more desirable that some particular talent in a single facet of the biz. No matter where the training comes from, there is a constant challenge to keep that training "current and relevant" to what IT units are actually doing, and right now frankly I see far to much emphasis in the industry about "the coming thing" rather than "keeping the existing infrastructure stable and reliable". I guess the former is sexy and attractive and the latter lack-luster but the latter is what the real work looks like. 3) so far I have not observed a particular downward pressure in the pay rates for IT jobs, but on the other hand, IT mid-management and upper-management (CIO/CTO) jobs seem to be grossly overpaid for the contributions that they generally make. Given that "outsourcing" has been a typical tactic to lower the cost of IT operations, if it is so obvious a solution, why do we then pay the CIO's millions to do it, where their pay basically sops up all of the blood on the floor, that would have represented the dubious savings by doing these drastic re-orgs. 4. The industry tendency to off-shore an IT support function, is certainly reason enough for those thus affected to try to take steps to stem that trend. Whether they can actually "protect" themselves by forming a union, remains to be seen. Frankly I doubt it. While all of this is going on, in India (a typical place to off-shore an IT support staff) the folks there are starting to realize that they are working for pennies on the dollar and starting to bid-up their prices. Naturally big business is then looking to China and Bulgaria and Central America, for cheaper labor. Next I guess they will be looking to Mars or the Moon.

schmidtd
schmidtd

The big boys ALL have lawyers and experts look over their contracts before they take a job, you should too. It is a sign of wisdom when you are able to admit your ignorance and look for help. That doesn't mean you are stupid, quite the opposite. We need unions for this function since most of us can't afford this help on our own. Good unions know how profitable businesses are and how much value your work adds to the company, without this knowledge you can't realistically ask for a reasonable salary that reflects the value you provide. Average market wage only goes so far without knowledge, the average of uninformed opinions isn't necessarily accurate. Sure prevailing wages matter, but a good negotiator knows how to take all those into account. If you don???t want teamster style strikes to fight over some technicality, great, I only encourage people to know all the facts when they make decisions. There are good and bad unions just like there are good and bad agents in Hollywood, but you still always better off with an agent of some kind. You don???t need to support abusive strikes by unions, but you also shouldn???t tolerate abusive practices by companies, I hope you don???t accept either. I hope you will take responsibility and participate to make a workplace we all will benefit from. Finally I might add, since it has been noted that your spending is my wage, and you can???t spend money you don???t have, all this union busting hasn???t really been good for the U.S. overall. You don???t do the economy or the U.S. any favor by accepting less salary, if you provided value you really are entitled a healthy part of that value.

ceso_softdev
ceso_softdev

I already lived this at the beginning of my career and I can tell you its an absolute nightmare. I was brought in to manage a small IT operation at a company where all non-managament employees were Union, yes!... even IT folks were unionized. We all know how things roll in IT. something critical breaks at the worst possible momment and needs being fixed ASAP and you simply can't leave until its done. Just try to run an IT operation when people who work for you give you this for an answer at every oportunity... "talk to my union representative..." So, when things got very bad and my folks refused to do their jobs I did what any professional with a decent work ethic would do. Rolled my sleves and fix things myself, no big deal. Obviously, all the while my so called "direct reports" just sat back and relaxed while I was doing the work they refused to do because of so called "union regulations". Things got trully bizarre when they not only kept refusing to do their jobs, but also had the nerve to complain to the union that I was "usurping" their functions. My users were really happy that somebody was finally actually solving their problems, but my team was in mutiny. Needless to say, I left that disfunctional company at the end of my first year. So I say HELL NO!!!! to unionized IT. It has been one of my worst experiences so far. It did not worked for the company either, union workers were not to be touched and could get away with murder. So forget it. and no, I have never collected a single overtime hour in my career and I don't feel bitter about it. I love IT and long hours come with the territory. end of story.

Big B
Big B

Have to agree with gary1. Unions had their place in the early 1900s, but for the last couple of decades have done more harm than good. The few benefits they have to workers are far outweighed by the disadvantage they cause to almost all industries. While we're at it we should remove something else in society that once had it's place a hundred years ago, but now it does more harm than good.... the electoral college.

mwclarke1
mwclarke1

In the US, unions are mostly tied to labor shops, those whom work in non-exempt class positions, there are exceptions. I for one do not like Unions over all. But due to the increasing labor and overtime demands of employers taking advantage of most of IT being classed as exempt from overtime pay these days, something needs to be done. Is a gray area for most but basically the federal labor laws never classified most IT jobs as exempt. The intent of exempt classification were to be for those in high professional positions that are paid based on salary, no determined work hours but more task oriented. back in the day when computers were just coming into the scene, programmers were highly recognized professionals with 4-year science degrees, were considered up there with other engineers, doctors and such. The labor law specifically references certain fields as exempt listing programmers as an example and much of the IT industry took that to mean all IT jobs. Was all OK when was not as much a push on getting so much done in so little time. 30 years ago took six months for a single project now they want it over night, work 12 hours days for weeks and every weekend. Use to reboot servers in the middle of the day to make changes, not the only window allowed is 1:00am to 6:00am every Sunday, guess what, everyone is working that time every Sunday now. And if did come in on a week end to work we were hitting the golf coarse all day the next Friday. And the Company does not have an official policy on comp time, Up to one's Manager, and most only let you have a half day for working all weekend and expect to be in there working the next weekend, never mind having a family or life. Most IT jobs if really scrutinized would not pass the exempt status test overall. And in many places are starting to change that, California Supreme court rules that many IT jobs should be non-exempt and employees are now suing left and right to get back overtime pays! I myself am getting out of IT for this reason, all employers what to do is get as many hours of work without any additional pay, some is reasonable but has gotten way out of hand lately. Either Unions are going to be needed, or some sort of major court action to reclassify most IT jobs non-exempt at the federal level is needed. Maybe if everyone starts with class action suits may get somewhere.

Darren B - KC
Darren B - KC

If you boil it down to the bare bones of it, unions are nothing more than a barely legalized form of organized crime syndicates. It boggles my mind when I see idiots driving thier American made pickup truck with a "Yes, Union!" bumper sticker on it, knowing that if I were to ask them, they'd be whining about jobs being outsourced to foreign countries. What that same idiot doesn't realize is that it's the very unionization that he/she supports that has forced those jobs out of the country. When a union comes along and demands ridiculously high wages (UAW anyone?) how can you expect the company that employs those union workers to stay in business if the money they pay out in wages sucks up all the profits?? Finding cheaper labor becomes the only way to stay in business, but of course, this is not news. Auto makers might be a somewhat bad example though because their financially fat CEO's could certainly stand to take a pay cut to keep costs under control. I mean, it's not like they actually WORK for a living or anything. For a few years in the late 90's, I worked for an automotive supplier, a company that made stampings, welded safety components, frame subassemblies, suspension components, etc. for nearly every major car manufacturer on the planet, except the exotics. I'll tell you a story of how I went to the Saturn plant in Nashville, TN. for a couple of weeks and worked on the assembly line floor with Saturn auto workers. I will say that they, as people, are some of the friendliest folks you'll ever meet, but that's just how it is in Tennessee. But, as workers, they're the laziest bunch of whiners I've ever known. EVERYTHING they did came under their own scrutiny, and it was always a matter of "Is that in our union contract? Are we getting paid to do that?" If there was a question at all, they would stop the line and call a meeting between their union steward and the department supervisor from Saturn. And they'd talk for an hour or two, even making up silly questions just to keep the meeting going so they could delay getting back to "work". (Yes, they invited me to sit in on the meetings.) In a given 10 hour shift, they probably only actually "worked" about 5 to 6 hours, at the most. The rest of it was spent discussing things, goofing around, taking lunch, taking breaks, having "emergency" meetings, etc. Nearly everything they do is assisted by machinery, making it so that they only had to push buttons and do very light physical work. And yet, I know that these same people will fight for higher wages, whining and complaining that the work they do is SO hard and SO tiring and SO important... that surely it demands another huge raise at the end of the union contract. You want to know why I was there? The company I worked for at the time supplied Saturn with a reinforced stamping that goes behind the instrument cluster. Those stampings were stacked in small containers, about 100 stampings in each. However, the sound-deadening material that we applied to each stamping made them stick together about halfway down the stack, from the weight. The Saturn employees complained about having trouble pulling them apart, so we started adding a very thin sheet of clear plastic, barely the equivalent of a 12"x12" square piece of Saran Wrap. (Actually, it was thinner than Saran Wrap.) But it did the trick and the stampings no longer stuck together. But, now, the Saturn employees saw this extra step of having to take the plastic sheet off the stamping and place it in a trashcan next to the work station as being something they were NOT contracted to do. Oh yes, they called a meeting and said, "Hey, we're not contracted to handle those pieces of thin plastic, so we're not going to do it." Saturn called us and said, "We need you to send someone from your company down here to work on the line in our plant and remove those pieces of plastic." And that's what I was doing there. My company paid for me to drive my personal vehicle 430+ miles, about 8 hours drive at $12/hr and $0.32/mile, down to the Saturn plant on a Sunday... put me up in an extended stay hotel (a nice one, with a kitchen in the room, in a part of town where I saw Ferrari's on the street) for two weeks. Each weekday I was there, I'd get to the Saturn plant in the morning, and I could go through all the boxes of stampings that I knew they would need for the entire shift, removing the plastic sheets and "pre-staging" the stampings so they would be easier to get out of the boxes (A method that works right there on the shop floor, but isn't viable for shipping.) I was able to complete this task in about 2.5 hours, then I would spend the remaining 7.5 hours of the shift in the break area, playing games on my handheld, reading the paper, watching TV, or talking to Saturn employees as they stopped by on thier breaks. And I was just ONE of the people that my company sent down there to do this "job". After my two weeks was up, they sent someone else for 2 or 3 weeks to do the same thing... and this went on for over 18 MONTHS. All because the UNION employees at Saturn didn't want to remove a small, thin piece of plastic from a 2.5 lb. metal stamping. It was easy money for me, but looking back, I realized what an incredible waste it was, and how stupidly childish it was on the part of the Saturn employees to refuse to do something so minor. This is just one example of what the UAW has reduced American workers down to... and that was more than 10 years ago. I can't imagine that it has anything but worsened since then.

Dyalect
Dyalect

Its worth it to have your rights, job and wages protected. No union, you will be farmed out for cheaper low quality labor every time! (Or if the boss doesn't like your face.) Unions are not perfect, but the alternatives are much harsh. No sick time, no vacation, no life outside of work. No thanks.

dba88
dba88

On the other hand... IT has taken so much of a beating, that a union might offer certain protections until many of our large and mid-sized US companies begin to "get it." Remember the offshoring of America? Well, it's still going on and it has grown way, way out of control!! We're allowing too many US companies to control us in too many job / career / professional ways. One reason we've allowed our IT jobs to fall in salary, number and stature is that business lobbies and immigration law lobbies are so super strong in Washington, DC, that any attempt by us to fight back falls into a black hole. It would never even make a corner story in a newspaper. Organizing in the form of a union gives us the tools necessary to fight back. If the numbers are large enough, companies will listen and hear what we're saying. I would think there are sufficient labor laws and labor attorneys that would love to take on the challenge! It would be an excellent test of our rights! Sometimes big biz needs to be put on the right path. Management can't have it both ways, although currently, it looks like they're getting just that! The pendulum now needs to swing in our direction.

macmanjim
macmanjim

if companies keep jackassing IT employees around, it could happen. I am not particularly fond of unions, but there are cases where it makes sense and as long as contracts are made between consenting and willing parties, it's fine with me. Companies are very short sighted when it comes to employees in regards to training and professional development. They create their own problems by not investing in employees, so, The economy is bad and they know they can crap on employees and they'll take it, but they know that when the economy gets better, the better employees will leave, so why invest in them to be more productive to competitors? But not investing pushes them to competitors. Even sports teams have minor leagues and invest in players. In IT, workers are just widgets to be replaced by the lowest bidder with the most credentials and experience. Good luck I say.

davidmartinomalley
davidmartinomalley

I'm generally pro-union. I think unions protect those in low-skilled or vocational work from being replaced at a whim, and are very important in protecting workers rights in these situations. However, the IT industry is neither low tech, nor vocational. The people that would get hurt the most with unionization are the IT pro's themselves - the majority, at least. IT is a process of constant learning, pushing the envelope, and staying ahead of the curve. That's just not consistent with a rules-based approach that Unionization would offer. The IT unemployment rate (in the U.S.) is less than 4%, at a time when the national rate is twice that. I just don't see what unionization would bring to the industry.

spseale1
spseale1

I have worked in a couple of IT shops that could have used a union. The management took advantage of workers with the 'you're on salary' mantra and there was no work/life balance. Here's what you do....you leave! If you work hard and perform well, and aren't recognized for it, then move on. Take your talent somewhere you are appreciated. You deal with it until you can go. There are some good parts of unionization, but I believe the bad far outweigh it, as mentioned in the article. Just because you've been there the longest doesn't mean you deserve the raise/promotion.

geofer50
geofer50

Unions are good in theory, but they have a tendency to bugger up an organization resulting in less productivity, higher prices and hold back those who could excel on their own and make more money. It is a sure way to force an organization to move itself over to countries like China. I have worked for a union and have done better on my own with out one.

sbl416
sbl416

I think some IT jobs need to be unionized. If you are chained to a helpdesk, a good contract can get you a few extra benefits and better working conditions. Where I am layoffs are taking place. The union can't stop the layoffs, but it can make sure the process is fair and governed by the merit principle. Not all contracts have seniority rights. Its a lot cheaper to pay monthly union dues than hire a lawyer when things go south.

dpondysh
dpondysh

In listening to people thinking they can't be exploited because they have so much talent, take a look at reality. There are many people much brighter than yourself that are looking for work because their job was exported. The bigger picture is not about being jealous of the guy making 1000 times what you are, for doing very little, but for a fairer and free'er society. A society where people can share their knowledge with others, instead of hoarding for job security and superiority over others. In the America I knew many years ago and had the privilege of working with a great group of people @ HP, "before the sell-out of American workers, that had given these companies the environment to flourish", was an exciting and evolving place of work where we all worked together like a machine. Unions could have prevented this Exodus, with the pressure that was never exerted by our government to penalize companies for such maneuvers. Just like Ross Perot said "giant sucking sound as jobs left our country".

ThePurpleLady
ThePurpleLady

I'm not a proponent of unions - for myself. If I don't like my salary, or working conditions, I'll let my feet speak for me. I've seen too many inadequates retain their jobs while competent workers are shown the door - because of unions and seniority.

rmmontgomery
rmmontgomery

Yes the IT industry is chock full of employers squeezing the last drop of blood out of the staff knowing there are no award wages and using every loophole to get the most money for the least of their workers. But unions would be the big bad bogeyman? Seriously? Of course the kids came out of the mines through the largesse of the employers. No wait they didn't, that would be the union movement. And unions ruined the auto industry? Not poor management, a lack of imagination and foresight in design or exorbitant executive packages but the unions!!!... Hasn't that nonsense argument lost a lot of steam when so much of the vehicles that were being made during the near collapse of the industry were being made in 3rd world countries where unions are a joke. Pretty much an invalid and worthless argument.

kjohnson
kjohnson

Anyone who's been in a Trade Union knows how false the common stereotype is. Trades Unions generally act to resolve disputes before they escalate into industrial action and ensure that the law is respected. Union-led strikes are so rare, compared with walk-outs in non-union plant, that the first national strike in the Scottish National Health Service for forty years is headline news. Make no mistake, bosses now are the same as bosses a hundred years ago. That's why the bosses and their parliamentary representatives have constantly tried to prevent workers from combining into effective trades unions. Without the trade unions there would be no minimum wage, no protection against arbitrary dismissal, no limit to hours of work, no paid holidays, and small children would be slaving in factories sixteen hours each day - as they still do in the factories to which British and American companies happily outsource production. The trades unions have proved equal to the task of mitigating the bosses' constant demands for more work at lower pay, and without the trades unions, the rights of workers would rapidly erode away, as is happening in Scotland now with the proposal to re-introduce the boss's right to dismiss workers without a good reason. If anyone knows the appropriate Trades Union for an IT worker in Scotland, please tell me.

jk2001
jk2001

However, the challenge of the guild is that it needs to remain organized at all the big studios/companies, and there are basically no unionized IT companies. The closest (and I've researched this) are Lucent/Bell Labs/Avaya and Xerox. They don't have organized IT. IBM has a workers org. Amazon has something, but I don't think it's IT. SEIU and AFSCME have some IT workers who are organized along with other public employee staff. WIthout a foothold in the industry like SAG/AFTRA, Equity, DGA, WGA, and the below the line unions like IATSE have, it'll be tough to start the guild. I'm not saying it can't be done - but it'll be tricky.

jk2001
jk2001

Announce it after it's in.

jk2001
jk2001

IT was started as a war project. It's always been a collective effort.

timwessels
timwessels

Employees have a fundamental right to organize and hold union elections. Intimidation and suppression of the right to organize and hold an election to unionize is against the law. DEC avoided the issue largely because the company's management was very paternalistic in the treatment of its workers. Unfortunately for DEC's employees, Mr. Olsen lost his vision of where DEC needed to go to in the mid-1980s and the company failed to survive. Not to speak ill of the dead, but other than personal embarrassment, what did Mr. Olsen suffer? DEC's workers paid the price for his lack of vision when Mr. Palmer came in to sell off DEC piece-by-piece until it was gone.

jk2001
jk2001

Unions started out as a 19C idea for high skilled labor. Skilled trades dominated labor unions until the 20th century when the CIO, an industrial union, became powerful. CIO members were considered lower-skilled. Then later, the service unions got large, and again, they were considered even less skilled.

jk2001
jk2001

The problem here was that the union didn't understand IT and didn't have a contract that would work for IT. Such a contract would allow for staying late to fix something, but with some stipulation, for example: "At 14 hours, you'd have to start paying overtime, or call someone else in to cover. At 10 hours you need a lunch break or food must be brought in. If you go over 40 hours, you have to pay overtime." The point of the contract isn't to stop work - which is what happened - but to allow work to be done safely, reasonably, and with proper compensation. I'm sorry that your experience was so bad. I can only assume that the IT folks had little input into the contract, and if they did, they were jerks. If there were an IT union, it would probably have a section dealing with emergency situations.

jk2001
jk2001

If you had a union that would put some teeth behind the law, would you like that? If you had a union that would make sure you get a 1-to-1 comp time, and overtime for working more than 40 hours, would you like that? Since no large union is organizing in IT, it's up to IT workers to form their own unions. That means the union will do what you want it to do, since you or your coworkers will be running it.

Rico2012
Rico2012

Darren, I too have had similar experiences in a few organization that were unionized. I too saw incredible apathy and abuse of the system. I too drew the same conclusion that wow...what a waste. Funny thing...I saw this in NON Union houses too! Only the difference was it was business pulling the same self absorbed actions and arcane rules totally counter-productive to profit making with little to no regard for its labor force. I imagine many people can share similar experiences as ours..from BOTH sides of the equation. The problem I have is how one attempts to compare the "idea of unionization" to the perversion of application and behavior. Wether its the business doing so at its own benefit despite its workers...or the workers doing so at its own benefit despite the business. Either way its absolutely stupid and highly unproductive most of the time for EITHER party. But, you rarely hear the same venom, when it applies to business! You rarely hear the same soundbites and stump speaches to rally support to "down with business" because of how a few APPLY the rules. For every horror story about union corruption, waste, unproductive behavior you and I and everyone can share personal or otherwise, someone else can provide rave reviews of how unions can work and its success stories. Equally the same for every corrupt, profit greedy, worker disregarding examples of business "sticking it to US workers", all while they have record PROFITS...but lay at the feet of US labor that they can't be competitive globally because of "costs", which we all know as soft speak for LABOR COST. Someone can highlight glowing examples of US business that gets it right. That MORE profits, not A profit... at the expense to workers, isn't the way to be competitive or productive. So to talk about the minority of extremes on either end gets us all nowhere. As I have written in earlier post here on this topic, the discussion of fair and honest critique of unions is perfectly legitimate. It has a place in the American discussions, but equally so does the fair and HONEST critique of business! Business, governments, etc do not get a pass, as they play most of the time equal part in the erosion of the US wages, job losses, and the decline of globally competitiveness. To continue in any forum to lay the blame of US companies at the feet of organized labor is grossly inaccurate and completely misses the bigger picture. ALL US workers have benefited immensely from organized labor...read my earlier post. All US workers are dependent upon a fiscally viable business with an ability to grow and sustains itself. Labor and business are irrevocably bound together and its problems and solutions are also. I have submitted on this lengthy post that we should be having discussions surrounding what BOTH sides can do to solve this crisis facing American workers, not scape-goating on side or another because the talking bobble idiots have us believing their BS garbage. This applies to BOTH sides of the aisle...democrat, republican, conservative, liberal, whatever your flavor of the month! All of us have a stake in the success of American business and labor, so let's ban together not apart. Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts...