Like Clockwork: Question Raised About Techies Unionizing

from the yeah,-it's-not-gonna-happen dept

Pretty much every two years or so, the press suddenly starts asking if techies should unionize. We first saw such articles around 2000, then again in 2002. We must have missed the 2004 one, but there was yet another in 2006. And, now that it's 2008, we've got another one, asking if techies should unionize.

It's all a bit silly. The reason for organizing labor is because the employers have unchecked power to set working conditions and wages -- meaning that there's not enough bargaining power by the employees as individuals. However, that's hardly the case in the tech industry, where there's tons of competition, and good tech employees have many options for where to work and under what conditions. It seems like all of the stories about unionizing seem to be planted by unions themselves looking to boost ranks, but without offering any serious reason why tech workers should even think about organizing.
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: organized labor, techies, unions

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2008 @ 8:06pm

    I really hope techies don't take the bait...

    Unions so far seems to be about the power of the union leaders.

    If there's a union and you're not part of the union (because it sucks), you're out of job...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Dohn Joe, 9 Sep 2008 @ 8:08pm

    Yeah...THAT'S what IT needs...

    ...because the industry isn't quite replete enough with slackers and incompetents.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Mike C., 9 Sep 2008 @ 8:14pm

    I don't believe it's the unions - just fear

    I don't know if it's the unions as much as it is fear by the "average" techie to be able to get another job because the current one has demands that are too high. Fear that they can't get another job makes them feel they must succumb to the demands of management, no matter how outrageous.

    I'm a programmer now, but have been a web master, dba, sys admin, help desk and mail admin. Heck, there were times I've even done phone and network wiring to make ends meet. I generally get good reviews and don't see the idea of unionizing as being all that necessary. That being said, if I had a more difficult time getting a tech job and felt completely powerless in my current job, I can understand the desire to try to take "back" some control.

    With tech, you have to remember that a lot of times, it's an all or nothing job. You either fix the problem, deliver the service, write the code or you don't. There is really never a middle ground like there might be for a sales group: we only met 85% of the goal. If you only do 85% of the work in most tech fields, the problem is still there, the service isn't delivered and the code isn't written. For a lot of people, that can be a very hard concept to accept.

    Given the number of people in tech these days and how easily it is for a small minority to make it seem like they're the majority, this doesn't surprise me a bit. I have a difficult time it's any potential union stirring this up as much as it is the "whiners and complainers" that I see dragging down the name of good techs all the time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    mike42 (profile), 9 Sep 2008 @ 8:58pm

    Re: Yeah...THAT'S what IT needs...

    For your information, since the publishing of "IT doesn't matter", IT jobs have been slashed, and anyone who doesn't do Java or .NET has had a very hard time finding a job, much less keeping one. Most of my friends are very competent in their fields, but since they made the mistake of not hitching on to the "big 2" (like myself) they have been relegated to short-term employement or government work. Even I have had a hard time finding a good job, although crummy-to-average jobs have been a dime-a-dozen.

    P.S. You're an ass, and probably a phb.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Duane (profile), 9 Sep 2008 @ 9:04pm

    Unions don't have to be all bad

    I don't think IT workers should unionize as much as what I like to call "knowledge workers." IT can fit in the bucket, but what I'm mainly talking about are salaried folks who work long hours with very loose job definitions and then get let go at the first economic downturn. These people have boodles of skills -- everything from technical know-how to years of business experience -- but none of that matters if you have to meet the quarters numbers.
    Then of course, once the company realizes those were actually important positions, they end up coming back with different cheaper people.

    A union functioning correctly could help with that. I'm not looking for a free ride, but these days you need someone with clout on your side to protect you from the madness that Corporate America has become.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Scott, 9 Sep 2008 @ 9:22pm

    Re: Re: Yeah...THAT'S what IT needs...

    Tough Shit. Retool you tools.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Mike, 9 Sep 2008 @ 10:17pm

    a more perfect union...

    Anyone ever read the preamble to the constitution??

    You all seem to foget what type of national (union) spirit made this country what it was. The slackers are the people who would rather sacrifice a united state then to sacrifice a couple of dollars to the common good.

    We are all tasked with making a "more perfect union" not the politcal parties so dont rant to me about one or the other.

    A union for the general population of people that are graduating today from technology type fields would be the best thing for this country. Obviously the elite in the field can always set their own rates...AS IS IN EVERY OTHER TRADE that is unionized.

    Actually if you think about it the majority of the "network engineers" around today are nothing more then plumbers who keep S**T flowing... why dont they deserve an entity that looks out for them as a whole like a union would. I know it seems to be an antiquated form of organization for todays economy, but if a management structure can be selected by employees, unions make sure everyone feels that they have been treated fairly in all negotiations.

    Even to go as far as asking companies to commit to certain contract as a group rather then by the person. This will most certainly make for better aggregate wages amoung union members.

    My father spent more then 25 years in a union and is now happily retired in a nice area and can enjoy the rest of his life. Why cant I have the same type of benefits for 1/4 of my life spent at a particular trade.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2008 @ 12:19am

    its the 3rd 60+ hour week i have encountered in a row working as a salaried employee for a global web release. isn't a union supposed to offer some sort of protection against this being the norm?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Dan Sarg, 10 Sep 2008 @ 12:22am


    I really don't see what would be wrong with techies joining a union - it just gives them some piece of mind and protects them from harsh employers and gives them the power to fight back if they're being unfair.
    In the UK there are general unions that anyone can join, including techs. Unions are a good thing and this article just seems to be negative along with the early comments.
    Why SHOULDN'T techies be in a union??

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    wasnt me!, 10 Sep 2008 @ 1:12am

    IDK how it works in the US but the unions over here:
    - they take your money (year subscription fee)
    - they taxes you on your projects (licenses for various reasons)
    - they do have some sort of cheap Med Care solution but it covers cloth(sp?) to nothing.
    - they lock you out of your field if your not a member of the union (or if you haven't paid all your dues).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2008 @ 1:45am

    not so true in the UK

    What you say may apply in the US but in the UK we have a major problem with off-shoring work - particularly for low and mid range tech jobs, so joining a Union is generally a good option (YMMV) however since the companies are generally big US or Japanese owned, gettingthem to recognise the rights of Union members is another story...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    George Orwell, 10 Sep 2008 @ 2:47am

    Just a little Email from a friend at Microsoft

    Yeah, and you should see the people we recruit from communist countries... talk about taking a pounding over the head without complaining about anything. Now that the golden handcuffs of the internet stock options age are gone we've resorted to the green handcuffs and cultural handcuffs. When we get foreigners they won't complain about much and can't move jobs even within the same company if it changes job description without delaying their green cards. Therefore it keeps salaries down artificially if you ask me. And then with the people we get from Russia, Ukraine, Romania, etc. they will gladly be exploited without any complaint whatsoever... they are paranoid that anything they say will be used against them by everybody being big brother. You need to hire your own folks for your own company and be the exploiter... we're old enough now to look the part if we can keep a poker face.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Better Quality, 10 Sep 2008 @ 4:40am

    I believe that most proponents of unionizing in the IT field want it for other reasons than job security and wages; they rather envision something like a trade association, a bit like doctors and engineers have.

    It would do 2 things (at least in their minds):
    1) Get rid of the most incompetent workers. The field is still full of self-improvised "experts", "consultants" and "gurus", who cause a lot of projects to fail;
    2) Force employers to listen to techies, instead of hare-brained PHBs, for techincal decisions. There are rules and regulations to design a bridge, the same should apply to IT systems.

    That should insure a better level of quality in IT projects.

    I personally think such entities have more downsides that upsides (walled-garden mentality, hive-mind, upward-spiraling demands, etc...), but I just wanted to throw this out there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Some Guy, 10 Sep 2008 @ 4:56am

    Strength in numbers

    Companies merge, to make them stronger against their competition, as a country we United to make ourselves stronger and named ourselves the United States. As techs we maintain divided, have no place or say at the big table, whether that be with the government or with the corporations, we have no influence with lawmakers an and decision makers. Even actors had enough sense to unite themselves to make them stronger, and they are suppose to be the dumb ones. Doctors also have formed their own quasi Union so they have power. We are suppose to be smart ones, what power do we have as a divided group?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Underpaid, 10 Sep 2008 @ 5:05am

    FLSA Exemption

    How about a movement to remove the exemption in FLSA that allows companies to not pay us overtime? Computer Professionals (could they make that any more broad?) are the only field singled out as exempt from time and half... SO they know they can screw us

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Michial, 10 Sep 2008 @ 5:08am

    Unions could be a good thing too


    I've been in the IT industry since 1979, and if pre-2k you asked me if the union would be a good thing I would have agreed that it wasnt.

    Today on the other hand some kind of union or something is needed. I've watched my billing rate climb from $19/hr to $125/hr and then begin dropping to below $50/hr. I've watched time and time again Programmers being fired in favor of outsourcing to some country that not only does not understand US business practiced, but would rather blow themselves up to kill us rather than live side by side with us.

    Just like all jobs in this country about the only IT jobs not getting outsourced are the lower paying IT jobs such as Network Admins, Desktop Support etc...

    SOMETHING needs to be done to help keep US jobs in the US, and about the only thing with the power to do this is the Unions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Far Side, 10 Sep 2008 @ 5:17am

    Re: Yeah...THAT'S what IT needs...

    haha... thanks for that this morning.

    (I might be one of them...)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    David Good, 10 Sep 2008 @ 5:19am

    Why not a guild?

    What we as techies need is more like a guild. An organization where we would have apprenticeships, journeymen status, and a final qualification exam leading to master status. This would at least insure that all techies would have a certain level of competency, and allow for collecive barganing. Te best paid tradesmen, plumbers and electricians, make more than we do on an hourly basis. Why, because they have the power of a national organization behind them. As an added plus, they also have the standardized training in place to command those rates.

    Having been in ALPA(Air Line Pilot's Association) in a previous career, it would seem that we could only benefit from collective barganing. This could also alleviate some of the unfair labor practices that are rampant throughout the IT feild.

    Besides, if there were a nationwide strike of all techs, everywhere, think of the collective sh#tfit the PHB's would have.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    RevMike, 10 Sep 2008 @ 5:32am

    The problem is variance in productivity

    In a unionized environment, the workers end up being treated as nearly identical cogs that can be shuffled or replaced without affecting the work output. The problem is that IT work is far from that. The variance in productivity is huge between the top 10% and the bottom 10%. It is not unusual for a top performer to be 100x more productivity than a bottom performer. That kind of variance just doesn't happen amongst plumbers or assembly line workers.

    So when we bring in a union, these bottom performers and these top performers all get paid the same wage, a wage far, far below what the top performers would otherwise receive. So these top performers end up leaving the union and striking out on their own. The union is left "bottom heavy". The overall productivity of the union workers drops, which puts downward pressure on wages. The above average start to dessert to follow the top-performers. This further reduces productivity. The cycle continues.

    After this cycle has gone on for a bit, the union is left with only the below average. There is no reason for employers to deal with the union, in fact the union offers them nothing of value so any employer with half a brain will stay away.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    rebrad, 10 Sep 2008 @ 6:31am

    I live in Ohio and the only things the unions have done here is to chase Industry out. While the Tech business is different from the auto and equipment production the fact is it is even easier to move Tech work somewhere else. Unlike plumbers, doctors and other groups that have organized Tech work doesn't require much physical presence. The only thing a Tech union would do is to increase the competition for fry cooks at McDonald's because the Tech work will be in India, China, (take your pick) but not in the US.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    angry dude, 10 Sep 2008 @ 7:02am

    Another paid drivel from Mikey

    Yeah, right..

    How can a person like Mikey who never worked in tech can be taken seriously ?

    Just tell this BS to somebody who lost his tech job to (cheap) overseas competition - he'll kick your ass

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    angry dude, 10 Sep 2008 @ 7:11am

    Stupid techdirt lemmings

    breakfast has just arrived
    Eat your daily dose of outmeal with cookies and another portion of corporate propaganda from the Master of Demagogy
    - Mike Masnick

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Dmonney, 10 Sep 2008 @ 7:12am

    I can see why

    I'm a system administrator now, but for a long time i was a grunt tech going around fixing desktop problems for a major corp. For the people on the high end of the tech chain (Developers, Administrators, etc) there is no reason to unionize. However, the people getting paid hourly rates far below their skill level simply because one subcontract company outbid another, It makes sense. The unions rarely ever cover salaried employees anyways, it's the hourly people who need it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    angry dude, 10 Sep 2008 @ 7:17am

    Re: Re: Yeah...THAT'S what IT needs...

    "anyone who doesn't do Java or .NET has had a very hard time finding a job"

    With Java being the first language taught at school java folks are dime a dozen nowadays
    .Net is dime a dozen too
    DOn't kid yourself, kid
    the only safe IT employment today is inside the government or on some highly classified DOD projects

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    not so angry dude, 10 Sep 2008 @ 7:24am

    Re: Another paid drivel from Mikey

    Do you ever see anything here you appreciate reading? I have never seen any indication that you like visiting this blog... So, why come back if this is a place you hate so much?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Fat White Guy, 10 Sep 2008 @ 7:28am

    I like not working hard

    We need unions because I don't want to work hard or improve myself professionally. If you send my job overseas I will cry and say racist things.

    It's my god given right to sit on my ass and get paid large sums. If I can't get rich doing nothing in tech, then I may be forced to go into music instead.

    I can't be expected to stay current or invest in myself because I am too arrogant and lazy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Some Angry Anti-Union Guy, 10 Sep 2008 @ 7:39am

    Collective Bargaining

    Those two words send shivers down my spine. I want to be the guy doing the bargaining for my salary and benefits and I know if the company I'm at provides a work environment that is bad, I'll go find another to work at.

    I live in a heavily unionized part of the country and it's painted my overall opinion of unions negatively. I realize that's my personal bias, but to me, I see three common things that seem to follow unionization:

    (1) Employees begin to see management as "The Enemy", and Management views unionized employees as lazy.

    (2) Seniority trumps virtually everything else. Since when does how long you're at a company equate to how good of an employee you are? That circumstance would benefit me greatly in my current position, but I'm already being treated well because what I produce is very valued. This is the perfect way to encourage new employees to be lazy and keep old employees working just hard enough to remain in their protected positions.

    (3) Collectively, between Management and The Union, the customer gets lost: The guy who buys the car, the parent's who's children attend the school (or, perhaps, the property owners who pay the taxes), the kid who attends college (again, tax payers as well) don't factor into the job that's being done. This means lousy schools, lousy cars, and a griping group of people who can't seem to figure out where it all went wrong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    *angry dude, 10 Sep 2008 @ 8:09am

    Re: Re: Re: Yeah...THAT'S what IT needs...

    Don't say Java!

    It reminds me of C+
    and that makes my balls do their "phantom limb" aching bit...
    ;P (unk)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    DanC, 10 Sep 2008 @ 9:27am

    Re: Stupid techdirt lemmings

    Apparently our education system has failed angry dude, since he hasn't learned the proper definitions of propaganda or demagogy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    angry dude, 10 Sep 2008 @ 12:05pm

    Re: Re: Stupid techdirt lemmings


    I am largely a product of superior Soviet educational system
    American education is a castrated version of what real education should be
    Have a nice day punky

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    angry dude, 10 Sep 2008 @ 12:09pm

    Re: Re: Another paid drivel from Mikey

    Actually, no

    This shitty blog for me is like a red coat for a bull - it's so f****** stupid I can't stand its presence

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    DanC, 10 Sep 2008 @ 1:53pm

    Re: Re: Re: Stupid techdirt lemmings

    I am largely a product of superior Soviet educational system the Soviet educational system failed to teach you the proper definition of words. You're splitting hairs... Either way, the posts don't constitute propaganda, and Mike doesn't meet the requirements for being a demagogue either. So you're lying once again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    TomTheToe, 22 Sep 2008 @ 5:40pm

    Unions No Way

    The only thing a Union will do is work to place your wages above your productivity. When that happens bye-bye job. Look what happened to the steel industry, car industry, etc. When you start paying 25-30 dollars an hour to someone to tighten a bolt or watch a pot boil the product becomes to expensive for the avgerage consumer and the jobs go overseas to cheap labor. Tech will go the same way with a union. Set up an Exchange server, I can name that tune in $7000, set up a pdc $5000. Cheap non union labor sweeps in does a poor job at a cheap price and everyone walks away a loser. Tech jobs are no place for a union.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)


Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.