Tech Companies Worried About Unions

from the recession-time... dept

It never fails. As the economy collapses, someone thinks that the answer is greater unionization. It happened back in 2000 when the tech bubble collapsed, and it’s happening again today, in part due to recently proposed legislation that would make it easier to unionize. Apparently, the tech industry is especially worried about this — and they should be. I’m very much a student of the economics of unions (I do have a degree in labor relations, after all, which included more classes than I’d care to remember on both labor history and labor economics) and while I recognize the tremendous value that collective bargaining provided a century ago to workers who were helpless to fight back against abusive management, that’s not the situation we’re in today. Unionizing the tech industry would be a disaster for the economy and innovation.

Collective bargaining is one thing, but unions tend to be more focused on protectionism, rather than just getting workers together to bargain a deal. And much of our innovative environment is encouraged by a dynamic workforce with increased job mobility, allowing for a cross-pollination of ideas, as opposed to a stagnant and limited workforce. Unionization takes away the necessary flexibility of both workers and employers, greatly slowing down the pace of innovation. It could make sense in a static, totally mature environment, but it’s difficult to think of many of those. These days, almost every industry needs to be innovating, and you don’t do that with a unionized structure. Just the very nature of building a structure that encourages an antagonistic relationship between “workers” and “management” misses the point, these days. A friend mentioned the other day that workers today are more likely to be shareholders than union members, so perhaps they’ll recognize this and not go down a bad path that leads to fewer jobs, less innovation and more economic toil. Unions are the last thing that the tech industry needs right now.

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Comments on “Tech Companies Worried About Unions”

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superdude says:

What about unions for professions like electricians and plumbers and carpenters, etc? You seem to miss the point of most unions. These groups exist for 2 primary reasons outside of collective bargaining.
1. Educating the newcomers to this field. While this may be a moot point in a field where almost everyone gets an education in college, but this could be where people learn skills such as Cobal (is that spelled right?) which I recently read is a lost art.
2. Health Insurance that actually covers people. Union insurance does not fight those it covers, unlike most policies where the tactic is deny and maybe they will give up.
Also every union is unique for it’s given field. For example M.E.B.A is vastly different from I.B.E.W. in both their structure, and to an extent primary purpose. A tech union might not be so bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I have 5 uncles and a brother who are all union contractors.

I was told by some of there “brothers” that they were “ruining the trade” by getting jobs done timely. That is what is wrong with unions today. Somebody busts their ass to get a job done only to catch slack from other union members because they could have gotten an extra day’s worth of work out of it.

TheStuipdOne says:

Re: Re:

My experience with unions …

I worked for a grocery store in high school. I was FORCED to join the union if I wanted to work there. The union took about 4 – 5 hours worth of pay out of my paycheck (when you work less than 40 a month that’s >10%) The only bennefit I got as a regularly scheduled raise of $.25 every 6 months or so. However career employees there had a wage cap no more than $15 an hour. Anybody who started, no matter experience, age, or education started at minimum wage. I didn’t work there very long.

Now I’m a mechanical design engineer, and the last thing I want is to be part of an engineer union of any kind. With job lock-in, salary caps, seniority considerations, union dues it would dramatically decrease my quality of life. If my current employer fires me tomorrow for being online while at work then I’ll find another job because as a highly trained individual I’ll be able to find another job even in this economy. I’ll even be able to choose the company that offeres me great training bennefits and health insurance.

Now maybe I just can’t se the bennefits, but I’ll take merit based pay, raises, bennefits, bonuses, vacation time, and everything else because I take pride in what I do, and I feel that I can differentiate myself from my peers.

angry dude says:

Re: Re: Re:

“…as a highly trained individual I’ll be able to find another job even in this economy. I’ll even be able to choose the company that offeres me great training bennefits and health insurance.”

This is a joke, right ?

Tell it to the soon graduating class of 2009

They will laugh their little unemployed arses out…

Robert says:


You know i use to feel the same way about unions. And even though i don’t belong to one, most companies push around there employees, knowing that an individual employee doesn’t have the resources to really defend themselves. Be it, being fired for no reason, no notice being given when getting laid off or whatever. Look, all Major sports franchises have unions and agents protecting these rich ball players. I would think then, that the guy who makes lets say $15 bucks on hour, he really needs someone to look out for him because if he has no union he is screwed.

Mr S says:

Why is employees joining together such a scary idea?

Collective bargaining is one thing, but unions tend to be more focused on protectionism – source? stats? anything to back that up except blind opinion? Or should we just take your work for it?

Speaking as someone who works for a tech giant (EDS, a HP Company) all I can say is unions would help us plebs something ridiculous

At present despite record HP profits last year (EDS being one of the largest contributors to those profits) and a mere 10% reduction in those already record profits this year we are being laid off in large numbers. Why? so senior management (read CEO and chums) can look good for their shareholders and take some liability off their books (read employees), using the global ‘economic crisis’ as an excuse

This isn’t so we can be clever, innovative, dynamic, mobile or any of the other crap we are fed daily, if anything it’s a risk and the senior managers know this – we are failing to provide basic service to existing customers let alone innovate, senior management has its fingers crossed that we can upstaff later in the year before we lose too many customers

The best anyone can come up with to explain the current lunacy is that since we were bought by another company last year this is probably a tax write off (redundancies and ‘restructuring’ costs in the first year after purchase are an allowable write off for large corporations)

“while I recognize the tremendous value that collective bargaining provided a century ago to workers who were helpless to fight back against abusive management, that’s not the situation we’re in today” – wanna bet? When you’re laid off so your CEO can continue to make record profits for short-term shareholders what’s not abusive about that? Please let’s go back to the old days where abuse just involves beatings – I heal, my families livelihood doesn’t recover that easily. At our CEO’s level there is no real risk, even if he breaks the company completely he can retire on his parachute alone let alone his options

“A friend mentioned the other day that workers today are more likely to be shareholders than union members” yeah that’s it we’re all serious shareholders. No, no we’re not, not in any real sense. I know of no middle managers or lower with anything like a shareholding which would be considered remotely serious, the real shareholders remain the faceless brokers looking to make quick bucks off our backs. We can drink our dividends in an afternoon usually

An interesting thing for me is that we are a multinational corporation – the US has already completed two waves of redundancies with little fight back since they have no unions or effective labor laws. In other countries where these exist and in direct correlation to their strength the ‘changes’ are happening slower, employees are receiving larger severance packages and, in a few instances nothing is happening…

Personally if it wasn’t an instantly dismissible offence I’d be joining a union right now

Anyway I’m just off like the busy bee I am to cross pollinate somewhere else – the only good thing about this article is that for once you didn’t use “the market will sort it out” line, actually I’ve not heard that one in a while – can’t think why

George Johnston (user link) says:

…while I recognize the tremendous value that collective bargaining provided a century ago to workers who were helpless to fight back against abusive management, that’s not the situation we’re in today.

Yes, nowadays management is afraid to fly to Washington in their private jets to ask Congress to screw their workers out of their pensions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That’s what I was going to say – so I’ll have to say something else.
One big point of unions is that they give some power back to the workers so that e.g. in a world of “increased job mobility” it’s not just a case of company fat cats telling “you go there and do that” with no real understandig or regard for the consequences for teh workers or the company – management does things for he benefit of managers and pretend that something good for them must also be good for everyone.

Streaker says:

My Experience

My experience with unions is that they should absolutely be avoided. I was active in CWA for several years (serving on my local executive board) and saw how they routinely threw workers under the bus if it benefited their political aspirations.

As Mike says, there is no longer a need for unions. They served their purpose in a time when they were needed. Now, there are federal laws which govern the things that unions used to have to fight to obtain.

Any time I see someone spouting off about “giving power back to the workers” scares me. The “workers” don’t know how to operate a business. Their interests usually don’t go much beyond how they can extract the most from a company using the least amount of effort.

Anonymous Coward says:

“I recognize the tremendous value that collective bargaining provided a century ago to workers who were helpless to fight back against abusive management, that’s not the situation we’re in today.”
Clearly nonsense, e.g. the USA is only a little over 2 centuries old and the constitution is just as relevant to day as it was then. The same is true for labour relations and the issues that go with them.

I could write something like
“I recognize the tremendous value that blogging provided a decade ago to the public who were helpless to harness the power of the internet, that’s not the situation we’re in today.”
This – obviously – has much more credibility.

James says:

Tech ppl will not unionize

I work in the technical field, software development, and I have no worries about this field unionizing.

Unions once served a purpose when employees were abused and powerless, this is VERY untrue in my experience in this field. Jobs are generally plentiful (at least in urbanized areas and current economy considered), if one company treats you poorly, you move to another.

In fact, for many years its often been the case that employees had ALMOST too much choice and some were accused of job hopping for the “next best thing/offer”.

Unions these days bleed companies dry.. see GM, Ford, etc., the airlines. The unions have bargained their way to a point where the companies consider bankruptcy. They hold too much power, in some places, and their time has passed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Tech ppl will not unionize

Yeah poor GM and Ford – nothing to do with short term profits, failing to keep up with technology and still producing gas guzzlers with less power than their more economical rivals

Seriously? the airlines? did you watch the pilot of the Hudson river flight? I’m paraphrasing but [“they keep cutting our salaries to the point that its extremely hard to retain experienced pilots”]. I know a few pilots and it scares the shit out of me that I earn more than half of them – I want the guy flying my plane to be happy, healthy and not working a second job….

Big business would LOVE to blame the unions – evil groups of people insisting their members get a living wage. The simple fact of the matter is the greed of corporate America cannot cope with this as it needs your wages to siphon off and feed itself yet more funds

If your business cannot cope with paying staff a decent wage and looking after them then it’s not the staff and their unions who are at fault – its your business model and quite possibly the larger economical model which says everything has to get bigger every year, the very epitomy of unsustainability

In general would you guys wake up and quit swallowing the bull from corporate America for one second? It shafts you at every turn: Enron, Halliburton, Wall Street, diminishing health care….. And yet every time you seem to turn around and justify whatever the latest outrage is as a “one off”.

Wake up – that’s the way its supposed to work, it’s not fair to you because you’re not invited, government creates blind and toothless regulators to give an impression of fair but somehow they never seem to spot anything till whatever it is becomes impossible to ignore – why is that?

To quote George Carlin – “It’s called the American dream because you’ve got to be asleep to believe it”

Corporate greed has driven more companies into the ground than unions ever could

James says:

Re: Re: Tech ppl will not unionize

1 – is it any real surprise that GM, et al, would try to go w/whats marketable when their work force is bleeding them dry? Reality, most people do not get the kind of pay or benefits these companies unions have been negotiating, and reality drives the markets. Non union car companies (hello Japan) have dominated the car market w/higher quality and lower costs.

2- You must have no idea what airline pilots get paid, pay cut…pfft.. give me a break. We should all be so lucky to take a pay cut from our 6-figure salary.

3 – COMPANIES ARE NOT IN BUSINESS TO HIRE PEOPLE! If you have a job you should be thankful you provide a service they need.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Tech ppl will not unionize

So how is it that GM operate Vauxhall in the UK differently despite heavy unionisation?

No unions in Japan? Try another excuse:
Japans auto unions seek higher pay–japanese-auto-unions-seek-pay-hikes-in-annual-wage-talks

Airline pilots all on high salaries? (yes, OK captains of huge transatlantic flights may get high salaries but the rest?) How odd that you know more about my mates pay packet than I do – wow can I have you as a pub quiz partner?

Report on Captain Sullenberger’s testimony:

Average pilot salaries in US (6 figure average – they wish!)
Remember these are *averages* and take into account those who really are on 6 figures…

These links are just 1st page Google hits so not great but it just goes to show how little effort it takes to avoid being ignorant

As for why companies are in business – there are lots of reasons why companies are in business and a company should be thankful it has a workforce to help it make money. There is more to life than the almighty dollar and unions help those who just want to get paid a decent wage for the hours they put in to achieve this

Of course that goes against those hard working people at the top of the pile who need to keep bleeding the company from the top. I have yet to work in or with a major corporation where the bosses don’t ‘bleed’ the company way more than any union member ever could

But back to my original point – that’s the way the system is designed to ‘work’ – keep dreaming…

Easily Amused says:

Re: Re: Tech ppl will not unionize

this is a fallacy… pointing out that management frequently has it’s head up it’s ass does not address the negative effects a unionization of the tech industry would have.
I worked for a major ISP for many years, and every time the pendulum swung to the edges of us doing very well or very poorly, someone would come in from some organization and try to get us to unionize. It was voted down each and every time.
In the end, we were almost all ‘downsized’ nationwide (around 70% of the tech staff) and the jobs shipped over to the Philippines and India.
I asked some of my friends in upper middle management if we had made a mistake in not bargaining collectively and the response was unanimous that it would only have served to speed up the offshore process due to the increased costs of labor here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Tech ppl will not unionize

Can you not comprehend for a moment what you are saying? It basically comes down to

“If we had insisted on decent conditions they would have fired us quicker”

How spineless are you people?

“I would have fought for my freedom but it looked messy so I stayed home and waved at the nice men in black shirts”

Do you not think that string unions, acting sensibly might help stop the move of jobs? 1 person acting alone gets nothing, how quick would they be to move work if every time they started they suddenly had a strike on their hands? Even further a strong union just may be able to do something to protect your job through congress

You know – get labor laws that actually mean something?

Or are you just saying that whatever we do they have won and that we should all just bend over?

How far are you willing to go?

“I would have objected to the forced labor and cattle prods but I needed the food, I can’t get any now all the jobs are in Asia”

Thank god my grandparents had more guts than that…

Ron says:

Somebody Needs to Represent Workers

Having retired after a 35 year career in IT, and both a beneficiary and victim of the ‘mobility’ etc. of our industry, I support worker representation. Most employees have no control over their work-lives but are completely at the mercy of their employers. Their only option in unfair situations is to quit.

Even if every employee possessed well-honed negotiation skills, irreplaceable experience and knowledge, and enough savings to live five years without a job, they’d still be at a disadvantage against their employer. They’d be one voice against many. Even raising that one voice could get them black-listed or fired.

Organizations have all the power, the financial foundation to fight individual legal actions, and the law on their side.

Maybe some unions in past incarnations have not been good stewards for their members, but employees ought to have somebody looking out for and defending them. Collectively, because as individuals, they’re virtually helpless in the face of corporate will.

I’ve worked for “good” companies whose leaders expressed concern for the well-being and rights of their employees. Yet I didn’t have a single experience, even in those “good” companies, where the company interests took a back seat to those of employees. Whenever some sacrifice needed to be made, there was never a case where the leadership said we’ll all take this haircut. Instead the cutbacks were always at the expense of the employees. Even when the leadership caused the problems to the company in the first place.

And that was the good companies. The less than good companies I worked for didn’t think twice about screwing their employees. They sometimes seemed to do it just for fun.

If there were a reasonable form of worker representation in the US, we might finally see some fairness in the situation.

AJ says:

Right to work..

I know how much my particular skill set will command from my employer. If I’m not getting what I want, i have the freedom to find other employment. It works both ways, i think its a fairly good relationship. The only problem I see is alot of employee’s “job hop”. No loyalty to any particular company, they just follow the money. When the current economic situation is over, it will probably get much worse. Company’s are laying off even the best employee’s, this will cause these workers to focus more on who will pay them the most money and to hell with company loyalty. Maybe like the music and movie industries, it’s time to change the way unions organize and operate, if they found middle ground between the employee and the company, they could again become usefull. You would have to find a way to remove the “corruption” factor, that would probably be difficult at best, but possible.

Anonymous Coward says:

Here’s my take, and you can flame all you want, it won’t mean squat to me. Unions are a drain on the economy and the individual worker. The time has passed where an organization was necessary to promote the overall health and well being of the employment environment. In this day and age, even with the economic issues faced today, if you have a problem at a job that can’t be resolved, find a new job. I’m not saying quit then find a job, but find a new job, then quit. I moved half way across the country, had issues finding work, started as a temp and continued searching for a job. When I found a decent job, I quit the temp job. 3 months later, an even better opportunity came along, so I went to work for that company. While I’m sure that people will point to the unemployment percentages to claim there isn’t work out there, there is. It may not be the perfect job, but so what? Take what you can till the perfect job opens up. I, for one, will never belong to a union. I don’t believe in the concept, and I don’t believe in the organizers and administrators. After all, they are getting paid right, so what stops them from looking out for their interests over that of their members?

Chronno S. Trigger says:

another angle

I work in the tech industry. I am that one voice. I do not want to join a union. For one, in the union, you’re still just one voice among many, but instead of the employer who sees you as an asset you’re against you’re peers who see only themselves. Where’s the union to fight the greedy heads of the union?

Second, I don’t want to be forced to go on strike for an extra $5 in everyone’s paycheck (my mom did this). I could understand going on strike if employers are firing people because they got sick one day or had a child, but there are wrongful termination laws. My roommate’s mom got rehired at her current job because she was wrongfully terminated.

Third, even if we unionize, how is this going to help the economy. I can’t see a union fighting to make the employer keep an employee if the employer is losing money hand over fist. If the company is going down, laying people off is a ligament response. How is my money going into someone else’s pockets going to put more money into the economy where is needs to be to help.

Forth, If you want to be an electrician you have to join their union. You cannot get a job without it. I don’t want to be forced to apply for union membership, jump threw all those hoops, pay all that money, just so i can get a job several weeks after I needed it.

Flyfish says:

My experience working at a paper mill with all powerful unions gave me a very bad attitude about unions.

My experience as an IT operations person for the past 30 years makes me long for a union, if only for a few years, because every company I’ve ever worked for took extreme advantage of it’s IT operations folk; the network, system and database managers who get hammered constantly by off hours work and pagers. If we complain invariably we’re told to “work smarter not harder” by a manager who hasn’t a clue what that means (nothing).

The problem is unions never go away once they get a foothold in a business and eventually, like a parasites, they kill their host.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve been a developer for 27 years. I’ve never felt the need for a union because my skills are portable and in demand. When I was a younger man, I didn’t think unions were useful any more.

But, my dad the steelworker put 30 years into the company he worked for before being injured on the job and completely unable to work. I have no doubt that his retirement would not be anywhere as comfortable without the union and the contract that was negotiated.

Not everyone has skills that give them the flexibility to choose their employment. The cashier at Walmart is in a very weak bargaining position as an individual. You could argue that this is as it should be and companies should seek to keep their wages as low as possible. You could also argue that the cashier should upgrade their education level and reverse the situation. But, let’s face it, not everyone has the ability to do that. And, somebody has to be the cashier at Walmart.

And, since someone’s going to be doing the low end jobs, as a society, we should want those people to have good working conditions and wages sufficient to pay the rent and feed themselves. It is not just altruism that should make us want to do this. It is self-interest. If those of us at the top end allow the middle class to be destroyed, then we’ll be living in a society with an angry underclass with the potential for a populist revolt.

angry dude says:

Re: Re:

“I’ve been a developer for 27 years. I’ve never felt the need for a union because my skills are portable and in demand.”

How old are you, dude ?

Just wait another 10 years and I will see you in Wallmart restocking shelves cause that’s where you are heading

Do you seriously think you can keep upgrading your IT SKILLZ until you reach official retirement age ?

“If those of us at the top end allow the middle class to be destroyed”


Software developers at the top end ???????
At the very best some of them (like myself) manage to stay in the middle class, but the way things are going…. I would not bet a buck on your future

I have a plan B for myself to get out of this misery
Do you, punky ?

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Re: Re:

How old are you, dude ?”

My dad has been a developer for about the same amount of time (maybe longer) and he’s 45. Just because it’s not a basic language doesn’t mean it’s not developing.

“Do you seriously think you can keep upgrading your IT SKILLZ until you reach official retirement age ?”

how are you near graduating anything in this day and age and not realize you have to keep upgrading your IT skills until you retire. Sounds like you are going to be the one stocking shelves at Walmart in the future. The starting pay is good; $10/h on average.

“Software developers at the top end ???????”

You must be a developer at the wrong place, They may not be upper class but they are the top of the middle class, OK maybe a few at the bottom of the upper class.

“I have a plan B for myself to get out of this misery
Do you, punky ?”

I hope that plan B isn’t you going back to school. Doesn’t sound like you learned anything there.

angry dude says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:


I pay property tax of 9K a year on an average house in NJ

Your family income needs to be well into 6 figures to belong to lower middle class here in NJ

The upper middle class here starts from 250K a year – lawyers, doctors etc.

Nobody pays this much for software development

In fact, wages have been going down for quite a while

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

45 – that’s like so OLD!!…

Ask him in another 20 years how up to date he is

I hope for both your sakes neither of you fall into the trap I have seen so many slip into of working for a company who provides no training, leads you on with promises of management or whatever and delivers nothing

Before you say “I’ll train myself” that’s fine but how are you going to pay for the expensive certificates that most new companies will require

I can’t count how many over 50’s I’ve seen fall into that trap or others and end up on the heap

I can count how many over 50’s we’ve hired in the last few years. Zero is a pretty easy number to count to

Careful just always towing the line – you never know what its attached to…

As for upper class programmers – chances are slim, not too many Google boys or Bill Gates around

nasch says:

Re: Re:

And, since someone’s going to be doing the low end jobs, as a society, we should want those people to have good working conditions and wages sufficient to pay the rent and feed themselves.

That is true, we want that. But how to accomplish it, short of a command economy (which has so far had no viable example)? The minimum wage is one attempt, but what does that do? It drives costs up for Wal-Mart (and everyone employing people at minimum wage). How do you think the board of directors is going to deal with that? Reduce their profit margins? As a last resort maybe. Before that, they will (in no particular order) cut benefits, reduce hours, lay off workers, increase prices, move jobs to other countries. All of those things hurt low-end workers more than anyone else. And even for those who do still have their full-time jobs, most products get more expensive because of the aforementioned higher costs. And who does that hurt the most? Wal-Mart cashiers.

I like the goal of such efforts, but what do they really accomplish?

jilocasin (profile) says:

If we had decent labor laws we wouldn't need unions.

When it comes to ‘unions’, there’s good and there’s bad.

Unfortunately as other have remarked, when labor has little to no protection, there’s a clamor for someone to help. If the legislature won’t then maybe the union will. Probably not, but they need some level of hope.

When to comes to labor vs. capitol, capitol is always going to be more fluid. Just look at what happened post NAFTA. Capitol moved to to the cheapest labor market. Where is the cheapest labor market? Why those areas that have the fewest labor laws. Without any minimum labor standards all it did was precipitate a rush to the bottom. Everyone raced to provide the least (benefit/pay/security) to their employees they could get away with.

Even lax immigration policy plays into it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all into providing opportunities for American business to hire the best and the brightest, no matter where their country of origin. Unfortunately too many companies abuse the immigration laws to hire cheaper foreign workers instead of equally, or even more, talented local workers. The less skilled the work the worse it gets. Why would a businessman interested in only his bottom line want to stop ‘illegals’ from getting into the country? They bloat the labor market driving down wages and they are unlikely to complain too loudly if you abuse them. If we were serious about stemming the tide of illegal immigrants make it more economical to hire legal workers. If there wasn’t any work for them, they would go home. No ridiculous transcontinental fences, no civil rights violating gestapo needed, but I’m digressing.

Steps to obliterate the need for a union in most cases;

Livable minimum wage (tied to cost of living):
If you work full time at a minimum wage job you should be able to afford a modest apartment, functional cloths, and plain but nutritious food.

An end to ‘work at will’:
An employer should need a reason to fire someone. Too many states have restricted reasons (sex, religion, age) but any other reason is fair game. Boss gets in an accident with some one in a blue car that morning, your wearing a blue shirt, ‘fired!”.
Don’t want to work ‘off the clock’, fired!.
Caught pneumonia from your coworkers because your workspace makes you long to be a sardine in a can, for all the extra room that it would afford, fired!.
Was overheard asking about unions in the grocery store last weekend, fired!.

Workplace laws that are actually enforced:
What’s the purpose of having workplace laws if they are barely enforced?

Universal Health Care:
You ability to see a doctor shouldn’t be tied to your employer to your employment status. One of the major concessions achieved by unions is a decent level of health care. Sensible businesses mostly agree (obviously health insurance firms, big pharma, etc. may object) spread to costs throughout society. Level the playing field from those companies that think health care for the rank and file is just another unneeded expense (you notice that most of the upper management are covered even in those places that don’t offer coverage to mere workers). The donut shops, retail outlets, even some tech companies either drop coverage or allow the workers to ‘purchase’ health coverage at 50-75% of their salary.

Perhaps that last one will take the US finally going to universal coverage. It’s coming, it’s just a matter of how much the average citizen will have to suffer, how many will end up dead, before our leaders finally think about their constituents. The voters, not the big campaign contributors. Woops, I’m digressing again.

Decent, enforced labor laws would make unions less appealing. As long as businesses think more about the next quarter’s numbers over the long term longevity of their company. As long as greed is given freedom to run amock, the idea of a union will remain appealing, whether or not it will actually provide any of the hoped for benifits.

Just my $0.02

Adam says:

Re: If we had decent labor laws we wouldn't need unions.

Hear hear! As the product of a civilized country with universal health care, I try to defend it whenever I hear it demonized. I spent the first six weeks of life in the hospital as a preemie. The hospital staff saved my life many times over, and my mother didn’t have to pay for it. Imagine that!

angry dude says:

Mike is full of it

Come on Mikey, just STFU

You haven’t worked for one day in tech or IT

There are a lot of very very angry professional out there… so if you keep peddling your corporate-paid propaganda to the masses chances are you will be publicly lynched one day

If I were one of those poor suckers (the soon graduating class of 2009 in CS and EE) I would lynch you myself

Weird Harold (user link) says:

For the most parts unions are annoying, obstructionist, and generally the downfall of almost any industry they touch. See steel, automobiles, airlines, government workers… it’s a long list.

However, tech companies on the other side right now are also some of the bigger abusers of workers. Fast and loose with things like overtime, benefits, seniority, and all sorts of other things. It’s all good when everyone is getting paid out the butt and scooping up valuable stock options, commissions, or whatever, but it sucks ass in a down market when nobody is making what they use to.

Make your employees unhappy, and they are ripe for unionization, no matter what industry they are in. Sadly, it’s the first step to being uncompetitive in the world market,so the employees would just be shooting themselves in the foot.

RobP says:

Ok what a bunch of pure bs….

NOTE: the following figures are in 2002 dollars.

In 1972 the typical earnings for males with a bachelor’s degree was $52,087. In 2002 it was $48,955.

In real terms wages for computer science enegenrrrs have declined in real terms since 2000. Despite the fact GDP per capita grew from 34,773.694 in 2000 to 38,400.410 in 2008 (constant dollars). That is a 10.42% increase. And yet REAL wages still did not catch back up to 2000 levals!

Dont believe me? See here:

And that is why we need unions!

angry dude says:

Re: Re:

“Ok what a bunch of pure bs….”

Unfortunately it’t not just BS – it’s a carefully planted corporate propaganda piece paid for by Mikey corporate donors

You see, whatever topic MIkey touches upon, he is ALWAYs and will always be on the side of giant multinational tech companies
(until he is publicly lynched one day by the angry unemployed US IT professionals…)

Anonymous Coward says:

Not all Good

So many times I have seen unions force a strike on the workers for pay or benefits increases that subsequently put the company in question out of business. Destroying functioning enterprises and the jobs they provide is not good for the economy.

If unionized workers demand more pay, the increased burden can drive jobs offshore. Unions work better for jobs that cannot be done in other countries.

Most of IT can be done just about anywhere, so if the workers are unionized in the U.S. but not worldwide, and the unions’ demands result in increased cost, we can expect more unemployment.

Anonymouse says:

I’ve been an IT contractor to one of the big 3 for almost a decade so I’ve had a chance to objectively observe the union situation there. And let’s face it, when most people think “union”, they think “UAW” so this is what I’ve observed as far as the UAW goes.

There is an overwhelming and pervasive sense of entitlement with the majority of the UAW guys that I know. Now, I agree, that people deserve a “living wage” for a day’s work, but when you consistently see people putting off work until after 5pm for time and a half or purposely coming in on Saturdays for double time, it gets to be a bit ridiculous. And I’m not talking line workers here, I’m talking about low level electricians, “millwrights” (which are just glorified go-fers in most cases)and other maintenance types. These guys make more money than most of the salaried people they work around, and yet are constantly complaining they they’re “being screwed” when their overtime isn’t authorized (because they can absolutely get the job done during regular business hours)or filing grievances when they see someone carrying a box (which is the supposedly the job of the “millwright”), or plugging in a computer (which is supposedly the job of the “electrician”). Give me a break.

These guys are making a lot more than a “living wage” and most of them don’t have any schooling beyond a high school diploma. So blaming all the auto maker’s troubles on “corporate greed” is a bit disingenuous and fairly ignorant. The UAW is all about protectionism. Mostly protecting the sh1t-birds from the axe. You really think that box carrying “millwright” would be making upwards of $25/hr + benefits + overtime carrying boxes for anyone else? Do you think GM, Ford, or Chrysler really *want* to have to pay him that much to carry boxes for people who could very well carry the boxes for themselves and do it for free? Do dedicated box carriers really *earn* that kind of money? Not in my estimation.

As far as cuts/concessions, I can tell you that the salaried workers and contractors take the brunt of those cuts. Whether it’s headcount reductions or mandatory salary/benefit decreases, THEY are the ones feeling the heat, not the UAW guys. So when the UAW gets out there and starts whining about concessions and about how they can’t make a “living wage” if they give *anything* back, well, excuse me if I don’t feel pity for them. They are the one’s driving the Big 3 into the ground. They’ve cut to the bone everywhere else, it’s time for the UAW to pony up.

Now, are there problems at the corporate and executive levels? Of course. Is greed an issue? Yes. There are unrealistic and unsustainable “goals”, mostly coming from the ineffectual middle management paper pusher types. For instance, the group I work for has a Customer Satisfaction metric. We have scored upwards of 9.7/10 for the last 6 years running and after record highs of 9.88 last year, a manager actually told us that it might be a potential problem for next year because “it will be very difficult for you to make your (mandatory) 10% increase in that metric for next year”. Are you freaking kidding me? So what happens when we hit 100%? We fail…for succeeding too much?

So yeah, that kind of crap happens everywhere too, and it’s those types of things that lead to unnecessary and non-cost effective changes that throw money out the window. But in the grand scheme, it pales in comparison to the kind of shenanigans that the UAW pulls on a daily basis.

If IT starts to unionize based on the UAW concept, count me out. I’ve been a member of the UAW (in a previous position) and as far as I could tell, their only interest was protecting the turds and taking dues from the few hard workers in their ranks who wouldn’t ever need their brand of “protection” due to the fact that they are hard workers in the first place.

And to the EDS guy up there, the layoffs happened due to the integration of EDS into HP, not because of the economy. It happens any time two companies like that merge. There’s bound to be redundancy in certain positions and someone is going to have to find something else to do, or get the boot. I don’t like it either, but it has to happen.

As far as any other layoffs happening. Well, supposedly due to the economy (which I’m not sure that I believe), HP just handed me a mandatory 5% pay cut (shared by all salaried employees across the US and other parts of the world) to ensure that that wouldn’t happen, so if you’re still employed, you’re welcome. I don’t like it, but I’ll take a 5% pay cut over a layoff any day. And I’d certainly take it in lieu of being forced into some idiotic union that only serves to protect the people who should have been let go in the first place. If it starts to bother me too much, I guess I’ll find someplace else to work. I hear they’re hiring in Bangalore (which is a whole separate rant).

Mr S says:

Re: Re:

And to the EDS guy up there, the layoffs happened due to the integration of EDS into HP, not because of the economy.

Hello new HP colleague – what an odd place to meet

That’s the story yes but we outnumber your service division employee wise by a very large amount, the number of people we are losing is more than the total in your division as far as I am aware. This is not about “2 people sat in the same seat” although that’s what we’ve been told. I have yet to physically meet any of my new colleagues. In short the work is not being merged it is just not getting done

It relates more to the terms of the takeover in which as far as I am aware HP get to cut any first year ‘takeover costs’ (or whatever the term is) out of the final price paid for EDS somehow, I am not 100% on the specifics but that’s about the size of it. So basically Mr Hurd get’s rid of loads of liability (employee benefits, time served etc) and gets someone else to pay for it, never mind that he’s dragging the company right down with unnecessary risk or the kind of true pain this causes previously hard working employees. He’ll employ new ones at the end of the first year probably

Would it pain you to know that the 5% is OPTIONAL outside the US, due in a very large part to effective unions and labor law?

It certainly hurts me to know that the 20% cut Mr Hurd has opted to take actually probably only equates to a 0.7% cut in his take home monies

It REALLY hurts that if standard bonus schemes apply for saving money this stunt will probably net him another increase in earnings this year

We’re not all in the same boat – we’re barely in the same ocean

PS – I hear you re Bangalore

Anonymouse says:

Re: Re: Re:

Believe me, I’m not saying I like the cuts or even buy the reasons they were supposedly made (I’ve netted less every year that I’ve been employed by HP due to benefit contribution increases and wage freezes), but I don’t think a labor union , especially one as potentially abusive as the UAW, is the answer.

And, yeah, as soon as I heard about Mr. Hurd’s “20%” cut, the first thing I asked was whether or not it was off of his total compensation or off of his salary, which is a FAR smaller cut. I’ve been around long enough to not be fooled by that kind of “sharing the pain”.

I’m not a big fan of job hopping, but I’ve come to accept that, in this industry, it’s the norm. I’ve never once gotten a real raise from any IT firm I’ve worked for. Plenty of cuts, but never more than a cost of living increase which amounts to about nothing after increases in benefit contributions.

BUT, over the course of my first 4 years in the industry, I managed to go up 15k/yr in salary due to hopping from contract house to contract house, mostly staying in the exact same contracted positions. That would not likely have happened had I stayed with the same firm, union or not. On top of that, I met more and more people, who remembered me and liked my style, and that’s how I ended up with HP, and another ~13k increase + better benefits.

Now, yes, I’m unhappy about the constant cuts, and I do happen to like where I am right now, but like I said, if I decide that HP is getting a little *too* aggressive with their attempts at “market parity”, well, I’ll take my talents elsewhere. Their loss. I don’t need a union to drag me, as well as a bunch of useless layabouts, up to management to demand anything.

Adam Long says:

Antagonistic Relationship

There already exists an antagonistic relationship between management and workers. This is why American wages have barely kept pace with inflation over the past several years. Corporations slash benefits, give all extra money to shareholders and top executives, and workers are expected to work more and more for less and less. And leaving isn’t much of an option, because businesses drive the market. Suddenly there’s a competition to cut costs throughout the market, so everyone cuts costs and pays their employees less. Or send jobs offshore. We need stronger labor in this country. Workers need collective bargaining to even begin to level the playing field, and if it takes unionization, so be it.

The average American CEO makes 417 times what his average employee makes in a year. British CEO’s seem to do just fine for themselves on only 15 times what their average employee makes in a year. From Michael Moore’s “Dude Where’s My Country” (say what you will about Michael Moore, he doesn’t get his facts wrong.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Antagonistic Relationship

And that proves what, exactly? Only that Moore managed to “beat the wrap” in the very few cases where someone had both the money and determination to actually bring a suit.

So, by extension, everything he says is the truth?

Tell you what, I’ve never been sued, much less convicted, of slander, libel, OR defamation. I have a couple of bridges I’m looking to move and a nice ocean front condo in Kansas for sale. Interested?

You might want to have a look at this, too.

And before you go on ranting about the source being some kind of neo-con hit piece, Dave Kopel is a registered Democrat and self professed Libertarian. The guy voted for Ralph Nader and is a member of the ACLU for Pete’s sake. So, hardly a biased source.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:


Pegging again.
Unions were enormously useful a hundred years ago, and are not necessary now BECAUSE WE STILL HAVE THEM!
The real problem is education. For some reason that defies any reasonable understanding, the people who control such things constantly tend toward elitism in education (ego? lack of self-esteem? who knows?). What we need is to make education freely available to all. Otherwise we have the problem with protectionism in the labor force, and morons electing morons to run the government, in the process gutting science and education (sound familiar?). Someone once said a educated populace is the foundation of democracy! It was true then, it is true now.

Ryan says:

Quite a sense of entitlement around here

I didn’t realize so many nutjobs read techdirt. Or maybe some union had its member come on here to comment on the piece. There is really no question at all that unions with the current laws and protections they are afforded as a result of lobbying the government are almost always harmful to their companies. As Mike said, they lock in the company to inflexible terms and then prevent it from taking action to adjust to market changes. Or maybe you all think that GM is only helped by all the wages it is paying retired former workers at full-time rates?

If a company wants to fire you, it will fire you. If it wants to pay you less, it will pay you less. Deal with it: it is NOT YOUR COMPANY! You do not own it, unless you are a shareholder. Management has no obligation whatsoever to give you what you want; they do so only insofar as it improves morale and productivity, and encourages others to come work at the company. If you don’t like it, go get another job! Unions in the big picture hurt the economy by decreasing the profitability of companies and general employment.

Ryan says:

Re: Re: Quite a sense of entitlement around here

Another union salad-tosser?

Why don’t you do us all a favor and become a guinea pig for the CDC?

Look at me everyone, my arguments are making me look like a dumbass!

I also fail to see how my original post was some pro-corporatism, although I recognize that ignorant dumbasses have an argument template titled “Portray the Opposition as Pro-Corporation” that they like to dust off as often as possible. My argument was pro-economy and pro-ownership.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Quite a sense of entitlement around here

Just checking but I bet your another one of those who can’t understand why employees feel no company loyalty? Or is that a different sort of entitlement that works differently?

I just find it odd how the western country with the least empowered unions, weakest labor laws, least market regulation and supposed free-est market is hurting the most in the current economic climate

In the big picture corporate greed and the market didn’t sort it after all – turns out it requires honest workers and their taxes

Who’d a thunk it?

Ryan says:

Re: Re: Quite a sense of entitlement around here

Just checking but I bet your another one of those who can’t understand why employees feel no company loyalty? Or is that a different sort of entitlement that works differently?

I was unaware that we were in the midst of a rash of employees losing loyalty to their companies. Anti-corporate sentiment (i.e. against AIG right now) does not mean that employees in general are any more or less loyal to their own employers right now. Do you have some evidence or rationale for this?

And I have worked for three companies in my life, none of which were unionized. My current one gives me good pay and benefits, and I feel very loyal to it. One of the others was with Wal-Mart, which is seemingly the antichrist of unions. Yet, they paid me decently and there was even an instance where they had a payroll error for several months after they upgraded their system during which time we all got paid an additional $1.50 an hour; they were aware of this, and told us to just take and keep the extra money while they worked out the issue.

If a company wants to hire and retain good, competent employees, then it needs to treat them well. A union is not needed for this. Those that don’t have loyalty toward their companies are welcome to seek employment elsewhere; if better compensation cannot be found, then that seems to me a pretty good indication that they are either being paid market value, or are perhaps even being done a favor by being employed. Union proliferation will only hurt the market and growth, and by extension employment rates.

I just find it odd how the western country with the least empowered unions, weakest labor laws, least market regulation and supposed free-est market is hurting the most in the current economic climate

Many of your assertions in this sentence are false; in fact, I am not certain that a single one is. There also don’t seem to be any sound logical cause/effect constructs within. Could you clarify how you reached your inferred conclusion from the premises, and back them up with evidence?

In the big picture corporate greed and the market didn’t sort it after all – turns out it requires honest workers and their taxes

This does not seem to have any relevance whatsoever to the rest of the discussion, and I am uncertain as to what you are referring to anyway…if you mean our current economy, it is still quite bad after spending trillions on bailouts without having given the free market a second to work. Not to mention that the SEC failed to recognize the Madoff ponzi scheme for years upon years despite being warned numerous times, and that the current recession was for the most part caused by government interference in the subprime loan markets and the Fed artificially holding down interest rates. So your diatribe against a free market makes no sense(not that we have one, obviously…

JustMe says:

Explain why I need a union?

Preface: I have had a union card in a previous life and I support the idea of unions.

Is this tech workers asking for the ability to collectively bargain or unions looking to halt the decline in membership (both in raw number and as a percentage of the workforce)?
As far as I can tell from TFA this is backed by unions.

I’ve been in the tech industry since the early 90s. I’m paid well, I have a cushy work environment (roof, a/c, heat, etc) compared to a lot of the people in construction or manufacturing. I have better-than-excellent health care, education benefits, health club subsidies, cell phone, and a bunch of other stuff. I didn’t need to collectively bargain to get these benefits. The people who work for me didn’t need to collectively bargain. The other people in the office who don’t work for me have similar arrangements. You could say that The Man realizes these benefits are required to attract and retain good talent. I suppose you could also say that we have skills which are highly valued and that probably puts us in a better position to individually bargain, but I haven’t had to do that very often.

I think the difference is that the market is working for us. If it isn’t working for other people that’s a shame, but I, for one, am not looking to have someone ‘represent’ me. I do just fine.

Finally: Re – Mr. S. I’ve had what seems like a lifetime of experience dealing with European unions. Cheese and crackers man, it was horrific. It isn’t ‘working’ for them. A) They have no choice but to join a union. B) The countries with strong unions who have negotiated shorter work weeks, for example, are not as competitive as the right to work countries. C) Countries like France and Germany are rethinking a lot of policies and we may see a reduction in union influence.

Like I said, I’m not opposed to the concept in general terms. There are a lot of places where it just isn’t necessary and the tech sector isn’t one of them. IMHO YMMV TVDNRTVOME FWIW

Mr S says:

Re: Explain why I need a union?

I think the Europeans (the British especially) would take offense if you lumped them all together and implied they were all the same

There are very few countries in Europe I am aware of where people have to join a union, yes there are some, and there other others where there are certain trades, just like in the US where not to do so severely cuts back on your chances of employment, but mostly that’s the limit

The shorter working week is something of an odd obsession from my experience working in Europe, it’s like all such ideas – some people swear its fantastic and the reason why countries are doing so well, others swear its their downfall – neither side seem able to produce any real figures to back up their assumptions

Since you pick Germany and France they score 6th and 17th respectively in the recent Competitive Industrial Performance report from the UN (the US scores 11th)

Britain came in 15th and despite having much stronger unions, works councils and such like than most countries Sweden and Belgium came in 5th and 8th (anonymouse – I checked and your Swiss friends are 4th)

I’m not saying that Belgium and Sweden got their positions *because* of unions and works councils but it does seem to suggest that perhaps they don’t have as large a negative impact as people are making out (done correctly of course)

Don’t get me wrong – its great that you enjoy your job, get paid a decent wage and don’t need representation, I truly hope you never do. But, when you find yourself losing your job in the middle of a recession because some CEO is looking to make a fast buck trust me they look pretty interesting

Baja says:

Unions are only good for the middleman

Unions are the middlemen. They cost both sides money. How can this be good? Do a search for “auto strike”, “pilots strike”, “steel strike”, etc, etc. How are these industries doing? Unions have power and they use it politically. Millions of people that vote as a block, controlled by the middlemen. How can that be good?

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