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The Almighty Buck

Should IT Unionize? 1141

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the working-great-in-detroit dept.
snydeq writes "Sixty-hour work weeks with no overtime or comp time, a BlackBerry hitched to your belt 24/7, mandates from managers who have no clue what you actually do — all for a job that could be outsourced tomorrow. 'Is it finally time for technology workers to form a union and demand better working conditions?' InfoWorld's Dan Tynan asks. To some, the odds against IT unions are long, in large part because the 'lone gunman' culture is pervasive. Diversity of skills and job objectives is another hurdle for rallying around common goals. But that has not dissuaded several union-minded groups from cropping up across the industry as of late, Tynan reports. In the end, the best bet for IT may be a professional organization modeled after the American Bar Association or the American Medical Association, one that could give IT professionals a single voice for speaking out on issues that affect everyone — such as H-1B visa limits or tax incentives to keep IT jobs onshore."
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Should IT Unionize?

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  • Hell no. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@g m a i l .com> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:21AM (#24873197) Journal

    Well, gee, lets see. Setting aside the economic issues, the inertia and sloppy work that comes with systems where "seniority" is more important than "ability", lets talk about the Bar thing.

    What does the American Bar Association do? Primarily it sets standards for it's members, and enforces them. Almost all professional associations do this, whether it's lawyers, accountants, or plumbers, you can't practice your trade unless they say you can...In Union strong states, you aren't allowed to hire plumbers and electricians who haven't jumped through the hoops, regardless of qualifications...Which is to say Joe Bob with his Master Electrician badge is more fit to wire your house than a guy with a PhD in electrical engineering who has 20 years experience in the field. Not only is he more fit, but you can't even hire the other guy because he can't get licensed without jumping through the union hoops.

    Now, how many people get into IT through "non standard" channels? How many self-taught pros are there out there? How many people have a non-IT educational background? How many people from other countries?

    Do you really want a bunch of senior people telling you what qualifications you need to have? This is a young industry, and it's changing all the time. What you need to know changes all the time. And they think setting up a professional organization is a good thing? Instead of clueless PHBs, we'll have 30 year vets telling us that our modern methods are crap compared to the work they did, back in the day, with punchcards.

    Jesus. If you want to drive offshoring, that's the way to do it. Make American IT more expensive and less efficient than everywhere else in the world, and the work will flee this country and leave us longing for the days of H1-Bs and mere outsourcing.

    • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by phlinn (819946) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:24AM (#24873251)
      Oh for mod points. I agree wholeheartedly.. Can everyone say 'rent seeking'? I found it disturbing that the summary mentions 2 organizations who have gotten the law to explicitly protect them from competition as good examples to follow.
      • by TaoPhoenix (980487) * <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:46AM (#24874725) Journal

        Bingo.

        One reason we moan about lawyers is the artificially protected fees. For simple filings the level of knowledge "should cost" some $50 an hour tops, and small cases could escape under a grand.

        Then Orgs. like the RIAA reverse-leverage this fact to pull their copyright stunts.

      • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @03:46PM (#24878735) Journal

        As a self taught guy who has been building,repairing,and networking PCs since the days of DOS 3, I say it would be a bad idea. How in the hell would you even figure out what to label a guy like me? I have built networks,configured SMB rollouts,custom designed PCs based on performance,power usage,size,etc, worked on embedded medical units, worked up security plans,etc and etc. But if you look simply at the paper all I have is an associates tech degree.

        But one thing I learned a LONG time ago was the difference between a "paper tiger" and a guy that actually knew his stuff. And often the guys I find that really know what they are doing DON'T have any degrees at all,they just love the work and have been doing it since they could get their hands on their first machine. Hell,the best damned website builder I ever saw was a 16 year old girl who could build wonderful rock solid business websites using nothing but an old 400MHz laptop and freakin' notepad!

        And while I would LOVE to have a united voice against stuff like the flood of H1-Bs,the simple fact is it will end up just another hoop we have to jump through and another corrupt organization. If we want a united voice we should build something grassroots like the EFF for IT guys. Some place we can volunteer time and money to to give us a lobbying group,since that seems to be the only thing our bribe takers...oops,mean faithful congressmen and women seem to listen to these days. But the LAST thing we need is another BS group giving us more hoops to jump through. Because degree or not,if I need a business website done I'm hiring the 16 year old girl,thank you very much. Because unlike many "web designers" I have met she knows her stuff. But as always this is my 02c,YMMV

    • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MyLongNickName (822545) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:28AM (#24873299) Journal

      I agree with what you said, except for one small nitpick. .Which is to say Joe Bob with his Master Electrician badge is more fit to wire your house than a guy with a PhD in electrical engineering who has 20 years experience in the field

      Joe Bob may be better qualified. Code changes from year to year, and I doubt an electrical engineer is going to be up one specifics of what gauge wire is appropriate for a given number of electrical outlets to feed, or how far the circuit breaker must be from the gas line. The electrical engineer undoubtedly would have a better theoretical understanding, but I would not want him wiring my house.

      • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@g m a i l .com> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:34AM (#24873401) Journal

        Maybe, maybe not. The point should be whether or not the wiring passes code, not who does it.

        The thing that bothers me most is the exclusivity, especially with craft unions. There is no way in except through seniority, so if you come from a non-union state (or country) with tons of experience and ability, you're automatically a second class citizen in your chosen trade, and the only way out of that is having to jump through union hoops for literally years, maybe even under the supervision of someone with less skill and experience than yourself.

        As far as I'm concerned, the work is what's important. It all has to be inspected, so if it passes code, then what does it matter who did it in the first place?

        • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Jim_Maryland (718224) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:46AM (#24873637)
          Thank you for your great response. As a son of a father who was a plumber in a company that decided to go into the union, I can say that the union seriously ruined productivity and made the work environment hostile. My father had been working commercial plumbing, non-union, for close to 20 years before the company joined the union. His work didn't magically become better when he joined the union. In fact, his productivity went down because of it. He would come home complaining that installing a commercial water heater took twice as long because he had to have a union electrician handle the wiring that he traditionally had done. The electrician of course came on their own schedule and had to bring an apprentice along. A simple task made inefficient and expensive. Prior to joining the union, when he worked on a site that had union employees, he had to be careful where he parked his car for fear it would be vandalized by the union employees. Oh, and lets talk about pay. My father has worked with some good and bad plumbers in his career (oh...and I worked as cheap labor during the summers when I was old enough so I've seen them). When the company went union, everyone went to the same pay scale, no matter how good/bad they were.

          Unions may have helped some industries in the past, but I can't see where it helps now. The last thing I want to happen to my field (software engineering) is a union being created. I'll work and get paid on my merit. If I don't like the work environment, I'll find a new position. There are plenty of opportunities if you have the skills.
          • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Funny)

            by TheLostSamurai (1051736) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:41AM (#24874633)

            I'll work and get paid on my merit. If I don't like the work environment, I'll find a new position. There are plenty of opportunities if you have the skills.

            Exactly. Unions mean that you get equal pay for unequal work. It's called Communism. Joe Bob thumb-up-his-ass makes the same as his most skilled and hardest working co-worker.

            On the other hand, I could spend way more time on Slashdot while my co-workers picked up the slack for me.

          • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Machtyn (759119) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @12:08PM (#24875079) Homepage Journal
            I just came in here to say that Unions were once good, protecting workers from seriously harsh conditions. Workers who could not defend themselves and/or find work elsewhere at a better company. Somewhere along the way between the early days of unions and now, the unions became the pigs of the Animal Farm. The unions are now abusing both the workers they claim to protect and the businesses. Look at the American car industry or the American airline industry. Both are badly hurting because of union practices.

            As for the tech industry... there are plenty of jobs out there to be had. The techies in the industry pride themselves at being very good at what they do and being on top of their game. And, for the most part, we don't want or like to take any crap. We'll find the decent working conditions for decent pay that we want. If we don't want the 60+ hours, plus being on call, we'll find a better place and leave to some other schmuck who's willing to do it. The company demanding that type of condition will quickly re-evaluate the conditions once they realize employee turnover is really bad.
            • Re:Hell no. (Score:4, Interesting)

              by winwar (114053) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @01:48PM (#24876791)

              "The unions are now abusing both the workers they claim to protect and the businesses. Look at the American car industry or the American airline industry. Both are badly hurting because of union practices."

              Workers are the union. If they are getting abused, it is their own fault.

              The companies aren't hurting because of the unions. The are hurting because they have incompetent management. Unions don't mandate wages. Companies have to agree to the contract. A company is (generally) free to fire union members who strike and replace them with others.

          • Re:Hell no. (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Martin Blank (154261) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @01:34PM (#24876517) Journal

            My father was in aerospace for the better part of 20 years, working for McDonnell-Douglas and then Boeing, and he complained about these same things. People that had others clock in for them so they wouldn't be found to be late (not that those that were ever got punished to any great extent), the same raises for people who had to redo their work two and three times on a regular basis, and a huge level of nepotism were but a few of the problems that he had. Things got better when he was transferred to the KC-10 and C-17 lines, as union credentials meant far less there than the ability to get it done right the first time, but he still had to deal with the other union issues.

            Some unions do good things. Others just are full of themselves. Considering the egos present in IT, I fully expect that an IT union would be very much the latter.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by aggieben (620937)
        Totally right. EEs may (and most do) understand the technical issues perfectly well (lots of non EE people do too; it's not rocket science). What electricians do is tie that to standards, building codes, local ordinances, state law, platting requirements, zoning requirements, cost, materials availability, etc, etc, etc.
      • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:15AM (#24874229)

        Well the point is as a EE I can learn real fast. I know how it works in principle, I know how to read well and understand the intent behind the rules. I could pick it up fast if it were profitable to do so. An organization that requires X years of apprenticeship in order to practice the trade would piss me off.

        On the other hand, as an EE I have no job security. My job is offshorable, and goes that way often. The reason we don't unionize is the same: it won't help. Go ahead, build "BS EE" into the law, see how many companies stop being "R&D" companies and turn to "Manufacturing" or "IP" companies. The same logic applies to IT, all that will be left are on-site help desk techs, and networking contractors (unglorified electricians: you won't even have safety on your side). All the fun server room stuff will go far, far away. That's what the ABA and AMA have that IT, and EE/CS types will never have.

        If IT wants to unionize, forget traditional labor unions. Lobby. Make the economy and tech labor issues move to the top of the campaigns. Spread your propaganda to all your union employees and astroturf the hell out of it. MADD and AARP are far more effective "unions" than the teamsters. Bend the laws to make it unprofitable to offshore. Spread beyond IT, many of us EE/CS/ME types feel the same pain you do. I'd pay dues for an organization that had real power in Washington for issues I care about.

    • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:32AM (#24873359) Journal
      On top of that, it's just one more hierarchical power structure that inevitably becomes corrupt.

      I happen to be listening to Lola Vs Powerman & the Money-Go-Round by The Kinks and there's some great lyrics on this in "Get Back in Line [lyricwiki.org]":

      'Cause that union man got such a hold over me
      He's the man who decides if I live or I die, if I starve or I eat
      Then he walks up to me and the sun begins to shine
      Then he walks right past and I know that I've got to get back in the line
      Get back, get back, get right back in the line

      I also would be against IT Unions--on the mere basis that (like SatanicPuppy said) my connections would outweigh my skills. When I was a kid, my dad (an independent concrete pourer) was threatened by a Union. They would tell him that he's ruining the economy by pouring cement for barns much cheaper than the unionized companies and they would try to strong arm him into joining. They were telling him to pay more in Union dues than what he spent on food to feed our six member family.

      Ridiculous.

      • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by oldspewey (1303305) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:41AM (#24873519)

        I also would be against IT Unions--on the mere basis that (like SatanicPuppy said) my connections would outweigh my skills.

        Most times, union or non-union, connections outweigh skills anyhow. I can't count the number of people I've dealt with professionally who talk a good game, know all the right people, and fuck up 90% of the things they touch.

        • Re:Hell no. (Score:4, Funny)

          by GreyWolf3000 (468618) * on Thursday September 04, 2008 @12:21PM (#24875259) Journal
          As someone who talks a good game, knows the right people, and is utterly incompetent, I take offense. We *know* we'll screw up 90% of the things we touch, so that's why we convince socially inept geniuses eager to find a friend to touch things for us. Then we take credit when we meet with the 'right people' for drinks after work.
    • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by macshit (157376) <miles@@@gnu...org> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:35AM (#24873427) Homepage

      Not to mention the idiocy of suggesting that everyone actually agrees on anything.

      I'm an American, but I know a lot of very smart foreigners working in the U.S. on H1-B's who make normal U.S. wages, and who are as good or better than their U.S. "competition". Given what I've seen, the constant whining on slashdot about H1-Bs has always seemed petty.

    • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LynnwoodRooster (966895) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:54AM (#24873779) Journal
      True story... I was setting up my booth at the annual CES show, about 5 or so years ago, and was NOT allowed to plug my own equipment into power strips. Had to be union labor to do that!

      .
      Never mind that at the time I had my PE for the State of Nevada and was certified by the State to sign off on the wiring for the entire Convention center! No, I had to wait for some union stiff - at $50 per outlet - to come by and PLUG EQUIPMENT I DESIGNED AND PASSED THROUGH UL INTO AN ELECTRICAL CIRCUIT I COULD CERTIFY AS SAFE.

      I didn't really care for unions before that, but afterwards earned a healthy hatred for them...

      • Re:Hell no. (Score:4, Informative)

        by drxenos (573895) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @12:49PM (#24875735)
        My dad was an electrician in a union shop. He would get called in to work a lot to change a light bulb, because no one else was allowed to.
      • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @12:55PM (#24875843)

        I deal with this shit every day. "Oh that's not my job. Get the pipe fitter." I deal with test cells running engines. Mechanics can't touch pipe fitters stuff and vice versa. Test cell operators can't touch anything. As an engineer I can't touch a single thing either.

        This is how a Unionized IT would go:
        You start your first day at your new job. You call to get a computer.
        "Sorry, I can't actually deliver your computer. We need the IT movers to move it to your desk."
        It's moved to your desk. But you, nor the movers can't plug it in (see parent). So you wait 30 more minutes for the Plugger Inner Union. (It was lunch, by the clock 11:30-12:00, no exceptions.)

        So you have your fancy new computer. You turn it on. You need Office. Sorry, but the Office Installer Union is actually backed up. The Matlab Installer Union could do it, but they're not "officially trained" nor do they have the certification.

        You wait another day to get Office... you're up and running. Then your NIC craps out. You call the help desk union and they send the NIC repair union. NIC repair union says that it's a software problem. Windows XP Software union rep says it's hardware.

        Cycle repeats for 2 days. You say "fuck it". So you fix it yourself. A NIC rep sees you do this and writes a grievance against you. He now gets paid to do the install even though he did nothing. Your boss bitches at you not to touch anything because too many grievances and you're in trouble.

    • Re:Hell no. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by houghi (78078) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:55AM (#24873795)

      I think it is funny that in the USofA people go to one Union and apparently have no choice and it is solely for a single profession, where in e.g. Belgium everybody can join any Union, regardless of what their profession is.

      But then in Belgium it is more about protecting the individual and not so much the profession. Also I never heard of anything that you MUST or CAN'T be a union member. In fact I have never heard anybody ask me or anybody else for a union card about a work related issue.

      The choice is for the individual if he wishes to join a union and also which union he wishes to join. To me is seems as if companies don't really care wether you are union or not. The same rules apply for all anyway (some exeptions for union representatives who were elected. Some different procedures for them.)

      Is there no choice in the USofA to join a union or do I understand this wrongly?

    • Re:Hell no. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ethanms (319039) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:56AM (#24873829)

      Which is to say Joe Bob with his Master Electrician badge is more fit to wire your house than a guy with a PhD in electrical engineering who has 20 years experience in the field. Not only is he more fit, but you can't even hire the other guy because he can't get licensed without jumping through the union hoops.

      I believe you are saying above that a EE w/ a PhD should be able to be an electrician.

      If so, I disagree with your analogy, but not necessarily what you say in your post overall.

      As a EE who worked odd jobs for an electrician I can say that theory and practice are very different things. I would not hire a PhD EE with 20 years experience unless those 20 years were spent wiring houses (or whatever I wanted the electrician for). They are not equal. No more equal then a veterinarian is equal to a human cardiac surgeon--yeah they both work on living beings overall, but if my dog is sick (with no injury) I want the vet with years of experience to help it, not the human cardiac surgeon.

      But I do agree that "unionizing" will do nothing but harm in the long run for IT workers. It will increase costs and complexity, which is not a good thing long term.

    • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by RocketScientist (15198) * on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:56AM (#24873841)

      Agreed.

      And you know, it's worked so well for:

      The auto workers, who have watched 90% of their jobs go to Mexico, Japan, China, Korea, and India. The auto jobs that are here (and aren't in danger of being lost by imminent bankruptcy of GM, Ford, and Chrysler) are the non-union jobs from Honda, Toyota, and Nissan. These companies have been downsizing their workforce, but in case you didn't notice cars and trucks aren't selling very well right now, so there's less demand. Gee, the manufacturers who are able to respond to demand are doing OK, and the ones who have inflexible union rules prohibiting that are almost bankrupt. Nope. No pattern there at all.

      The textile workers, who have watched 100% of their jobs go to Thailand, Malaysia, and China.

      The steelworkers, who through a combination of union tactics AND environmental laws, have seen nearly all their jobs go to China. It's now cheaper to ship ore to China and import the steel than it is to refine it and form it here.

      The fastest way to send jobs overseas is to unionize them. The only unions I can think of that haven't outsourced themselves are the miners and truck drivers, because they're actually location dependent. IT jobs are not now, and never will be, location dependent.

      Another thought. I remember working in a union shop, doing some programming. I needed to move to another cubicle, right next to the one I was in. So I packed my stuff and moved it. And immediately got in trouble. See, I was supposed to wait for one of the union electricians to come over and move my stuff. Which would have been 2 days later. Mhmm. I want to work in that kind of shop. So does that mean I'd be able to file a grievance against our receptionist for setting up an out-of-office message? I mean, that's programming, RIGHT?

      A stupid idea.

    • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Informative)

      by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworldNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:08AM (#24874087) Homepage
      What does the American Bar Association do? Primarily it sets standards for it's members, and enforces them.

      As a member of the American Bar Association, I can assure you that it has absolutely no enforcement powers over me other than being able to theoretically revoke my membership. The ABA accredits law schools, acts as a lobbying arm for the legal profession, and provides advice to politicians regarding judicial candidates, but it is not equivalent to a state Bar and does not regulate lawyers.
    • by gorehog (534288) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:13AM (#24874177)

      I linve in New York, a union strong state. Here the only place you can't hire non-union labor for SOME job is in NYC. Most other places in the state where licensing is required it is called for by the municipality (town, or city). No one up here requires a union to work.

      I've met people who are in the Manhattan electricians union who got there by non-traditional methods. They are truly skilled professionals.

      What I do want is a bunch of senior people telling the company management exactly how long my shift should be, exactly when it starts and ends, exactly how much overtime I get for which extra days and hours.

      Around here, in the Hudson Valley we have carpenters schools, steamfitters schools, I don't know how many union schools we have, beautiful campuses where the union membership goes to get their training updated regularly. Paid training in skills they will then get to use.

      You know what the Teamsters still have that IT workers at Enron didn't? Guess. I'll make it easy for you. The answer is a secure retirement.

      How do you explain all the IT offshoring that already happened? The overwhelming presence of the union? What drove all those call centers offshore? It wasn't the union.

      Look, I know your 4th grade teacher told you that someday you would be rich and the schoolyard bully would work for you. They told you that a lot, that someday you will be the boss by right of your superior intelligence. Ayn Rand is wrong, sure you can excel on your own and protect yourself and what you care about and all that. If you want to make real change, and not remain insignificant, you need to be part of a group that has influence.

      Here's a list of people doing well in unions...
      Cops
      Teachers
      Truck Drivers
      Carpenters
      Plumbers
      Actors
      Screenwriters

      Here's one more thing an IT union would be able to do. It could help define best practices. As in "Nope, that software is not union-spec. If you want our guys to use it you're going to have to pay for their training." Then the union membership (IT workers) would have some say over whether or not non-standard or poorly written software gets union support. As union members we would be protected from having the blame on us for every piece-o-shit software.

      Don't focus on the abuses of power, that always happens. Can't not do something because someone might misuse it. Or do you not use filesharing?

    • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bjourne (1034822) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:27AM (#24874419) Homepage Journal
      I'm a union member and a software developer in Sweden. Roughly 50-70% of my collegaues are unionized. My experiences differ from yours:

      the inertia and sloppy work that comes with systems where "seniority" is more important than "ability"

      I have never experienced that. Experience is important yes, but it is not the union that decides who gets promoted. It is the boss that does that whether he is stupid or smart, because he has the money.

      Almost all professional associations do this, whether it's lawyers, accountants, or plumbers, you can't practice your trade unless they say you can...In Union strong states

      There are at least half a dozen professional associations for engineers in the US. Please provide one (1) example of when an engineering association has prevented someone from practicing their trade.

      Do you really want a bunch of senior people telling you what qualifications you need to have?

      My union has never told me what qualifications I need to have.

      Make American IT more expensive and less efficient than everywhere else in the world

      And American IT can't be more expensive and less efficient than everywhere else in the world because:

      1. American workers are less educated than others.
      2. American companies are very hierarchial, making adaptations to new circumstances slow.
      3. Patents and gigantic auxilliary legal costs.
      4. Poor IT infrastructure.
      5. The fact that driving people to work 60h/week with no sick leave and minimal vacations is worse for efficiency than having your staff working regular 40h/week schedules.
      ???

    • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by pondlife (56385) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:39AM (#24874595)

      This is a young industry, and it's changing all the time. What you need to know changes all the time.

      As someone who got into IT from (natural) languages, I agree with most of your comments, except that one. From what I can determine, based on reading a lot of books about software development as an activity (not about specific languages, or platforms, or tools, or whatever), very little has changed in the last 30 years. A lot of what people really need to know in IT are softer skills like time estimation, requirements management, change management, customer communication, effective documentation, issue resolution and so on. As much as some people would love to believe it, cranking out code for a solid 8 hours a day rarely happens and when it does the results often aren't pretty.

      Realistically, standards in IT are terrible, precisely because we focus on the things that change all the time and deliberately disregard the lessons of the past. We tell ourselves that the IT world is so different from just a few years ago that we can't learn anything useful from what's gone before. And of course that's all part of the 'romance' of IT; every coder wants to feel that he's breaking new ground and doing something totally new. In reality, most people are writing code for fairly mundane purposes and doing it rather badly: just look at the Daily WTF, Coding Horror, or ask a 'senior' developer for a few stories about interview candidates - or worse, colleagues - who couldn't write even a basic function.

      Computer Science is exactly that, science, but in most fields the world needs a lot more engineers who can build working solutions out of what the scientists invent, not more scientists. Out of every 1000 CS graduates, how many end up writing compilers, hacking kernels, or doing other 'deep magic'? And how many more end up writing web-based data-processing applications with some simple business logic behind that still somehow never quite work correctly? Yes, there will always be a Google pushing the boundaries and they will always need PhD types to do it, but an awful lot more people just need developers who understand their needs and can build simple, reliable business applications.

      My personal opinion is that IT has a higher opinion of itself than it deserves. In the end, we're still a young profession (as you said), but yet we flatter ourselves with job titles like 'engineer' when any real engineer (mechanical, electrical, whatever) would be horrified at the amount of guesswork and imprecision we seem to be happy working with every day.

      If we really want to get to the next level as an industry, then we have to stop fixating on the details of languages and technologies and look at the processes and practices. Unfortunately, that's precisely what many techies least want to do, because it's knocking on the door of PHB territory. A professional association would have some problems, because the whole IT industry is so diverse, but it could do a couple of useful things. First, persuade universities to cut back on CS and ramp up "Computer Engineering"; think of CS as "Materials Science" and CE as "Construction Engineering" to see the difference. Make sure the CE course covers effective source control, issue tracking and change management, basic economics and project management, cost calculations, oral and written communication etc., all of which are skills that CS graduates just don't seem to have, but which are clearly needed in the real world.

      Second, persuade insurance companies to underwrite large IT projects, just as they do for large construction projects, and use that as a more or less neutral/independent means of raising the industry's performance. They could also offer professional liability insurance for individuals and companies. If large projects could be underwritten against failure, companies would jump on it a risk mitigation measure: the project fails, at least they get some money back. In turn, the insurance companies would push developers to improve standar

    • by jellomizer (103300) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:41AM (#24874631)

      Unions don't care about the people they care about keeping the Union strong.

      1. They will agree to Layoff 100 High Paid and skilled programmers to hire 500 low paid and low skilled programmers. (as more people and more union dues and strong union)

      2. They work on averages. On average Union employees do get paid more then non-union. However the trimming of pay cuts both ends of the bell curve. That includes getting paid more for a better job.

      3. Less American Jobs. What Unions are suppose to try to keep American jobs? Yes but companies are smarter then that. Oh gee it looks like we are going forced to unionize... That is going to be a big overhead. Lets outsource now before the Union formalizes. Even if it does and a company can have enough infrastructure outsourced they can survive and thrive on the outsourced employees, or foreign devisions of their company as they strike for as long as they wont until they starve, give up, or get a new job.

      4. Loss political power. You are Unioned and you are aligned with the Democrats. That means the Democrats don't need to worry about pleasing you as you will help them anyways as they focus on swing voters. And Republicans will see you as a hopeless cause and ignore you. Besides your voice will have to go threw extra layers of beurocrasy just to get your personal voice heard.

      5. All Management hands are tied. Even the good ones. So they cant fire the bad employees and promote the good ones.

      6. An other layer to please. You are no longer allowed to take the torch and get it done. As if you do too good of a job you make the poor employees feel bad and then you need to explain yourself to the union.

      7. Unable to get outside help. Gasp hiring a consultant or someone else to help brings up the question what can this scab do that a Unioned employee can't. Heck for some jobs you need temporary people to do some work and then let them go when they are done. Hiring for Max productivity is stupid.

      I will give them credit for many things they have done. But for many jobs they have outdone their usefulness. IT is too of a diverse area to Unionize.

    • Re:Hell no. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by professionalfurryele (877225) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:45AM (#24874719)

      Yeah, yeah. The standard American attitude to unions. And pretty much everything you have said is true, the problem is you are ignoring the giant elephant in the room.

      Employers form a monopsony and will screw you for every penny they can given the chance and you are comparatively powerless to stop them.

      If you work in IT you do not receive a fair wage for your labour. Now I'm not talking about the tired old communist mantra of "capitalists profit because they pay less for labour than it enhances the value of a good" crap. I'm talking about the fact that employers amalgamated over the economy behave like monopsonies. In IT the effect of the minimum wage is non-existant, it is below the monopsony wage. Without labour unions employers can (and do) routinely offer lower wages than a free market would settle on.

      Organised labour almost certainly does everything you said it does. But I don't see any alternative to fighting monopsony power.

      Being in a union is a selfish act. So is trying to get a monopoly or monopsony in any other market. Business people do it all the time without a seconds thought. Your employer does it all the time without a seconds thought. If these callous bastards are doing it why shouldn't labour? It is in your own best interest to do so because everyone else will screw you. In fact they already ARE screwing you.

      I'm not saying labour unions are good. I'm saying that people who refuse to join unions are putting down their guns before they walk out into the firefight.

      You want to do that in the vicious dog eat dog world we live in, feel free. Me, I'm not putting down my gun till every other son of a bitch agrees to as well.

  • by qoncept (599709) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:23AM (#24873231) Homepage
    This article answers it's own question. "... all for a job that could be outsourced tomorrow." What better way to ensure you don't have a job than to make yourself more expensive than a contractor?
    • by hey! (33014) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:46AM (#24873635) Homepage Journal

      So we shouldn't unionize to prevent a trend that is already happening?

      Set aside everything for a moment except naked self-interests (our employers do this all the time after all). Companies don't outsource overnight, the dip their toe in it. They also rely upon (and indeed demand) the cooperation of their employees in moving their jobs overseas. If you think you might want to say no to this, you'd better have a union.

      The issue is not whether a union would increase the cost of IT -- well duh. It's about making the man give up a bit more after all. The question is whether the you hurt the man enough that he loses business to a man who has his team in Bangalore. The answer probably depends on the business your employer is in. Businesses like health care, or for that matter government, can only offshore line activities to a limited degree. Therefore if IT (a support activity) in these enterprises is unionized, it probably works against offshoring. If you work in the auto industry, it might be a different story.

  • learn from history (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lord Ender (156273) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:25AM (#24873265) Homepage

    IT unions would turn Silicon Valley into the next Detroit.

    • by Roberticus (1237374) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:45AM (#24873611)
      You mean that I'd finally be able to afford a house there?
    • by Reality Master 101 (179095) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .101retsaMytilaeR.> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:58AM (#24873887) Homepage Journal

      Let's note that American Honda builds all their cars using non-union labor, and we know how Honda is doing. Honda is also one of the best companies to work for.

    • by 4iedBandit (133211) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:20AM (#24874303) Homepage

      IT unions would turn Silicon Valley into the next Detroit.

      Actually, it's Silicon Valley that needs to learn from Detroit as well. Unions came into existence because corporations were taking advantage of the labor force. Individually, labor has no power. If they join together, in a Union, they have power.

      60+ hour work weeks with no over-time or comp-time, because management decided to make all the IT staff "exempt, salaried proffessionals" saves the business tons of money. But it works their labor pool into the ground. Do you think they care? If they cared they wouldn't be doing it.

      My prediction: IT Unions will happen. It's not that IT workers want them, it's that they want to stop working like slaves.

      Keep in mind that there are companies that treat their employees right. Not every shop will be a Union shop, but it's more likely to happen than not. IT workers at IBM already had a union vote. It failed to pass, but I find it telling that there was enough interest that it came to a vote. If the treatment of the workforce continues to degrade their lives, eventually the workforce will rebel.

      Did you know that IBM recently lost a lawsuit regarding over-time pay for IT professionals? Do you know what IBM's response was? They cut all their IT salaries by 15%. You know what this means? They hired you, you expected a 40 hour work week for your salary and they expected a 46 hour work week, but they didn't tell you that.

      Unions are monsters. Ironically created and unleashed by corporate greed.

  • by imag0 (605684) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:29AM (#24873319) Homepage

    Isn't this really what is comes to? You're just paying money out of your check for someone else to tell you what to do.

    No thanks. I'd rather stand on my two feet.

    Imag0

  • by RogueWarrior65 (678876) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:30AM (#24873329)

    The only way this would work is if it was implemented like the way effing lawyers do it.

    "No I will not fix your computer for free."
    "It's $1000 a hour and the clock starts ticking now."
    "No I will not give you free computer advice."
    "Oh, and we need to get that retainer agreement signed before we proceed further."

    Now if we could figure out a way to make the IT equivalent of ambulance chasers, we'd be on to something. "Did you or any member of your third-cousin twice removed family get the Britney Spears virus? Call the IT offices of James Suck-A-Glove. And we only speak english, dammit."

    Trouble is that it's way too late for this. There are too many people willing to prostitute their geekdom for free.

    • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@g m a i l .com> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:14AM (#24874207) Journal

      Too many of those skills are things that people are growing up knowing how to do these days...You can't expect the same compensation for work that the guy next door will send his 11 year old daughter over to fix.

      I dealt with plenty of this crap myself a few years back. Moved into a small town, and when I couldn't get a full time gig, I started my own company doing whatever I could.

      I started deploying PostNuke websites as a sideline (that was the big thing then) for pretty reasonable rates, and it made all the local HTML jockeys lose their fucking minds...They'd gotten by for years with photoshop and dreamweaver doing static pages for big money, and I was undercutting the fuck out of them with big dynamic sites.

      I probably put a few people out of business, but it wasn't my job to make them look good, and I wasn't going to bill a thousand dollars an hour to equal their ridiculous prices.

      If they were a craft union, on the other hand, I wouldn't have even been allowed to sell my superior product for my lower rate. They would have kept their sweet sinecure, and I would have starved.

  • by freedom_india (780002) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:31AM (#24873347) Homepage Journal

    The current Indian Government pre-empted such a move by classifying IT as a "Profession", meaning no fixed working hours, no overtime pay, no benefits, but, we do need to pay close to $50 a year as Profession Tax.
    Plus major indian IT cos have gone on record stating that long hours are simply "fiction" and each employee works only 8 hours a day: The last time i checked my team was working 14 hours a day.

  • Is that one of its first tasks will be to lobby for a law requiring that membership in it become mandatory for anybody practicing in the field. No thank you.

    Unions are broken for very similar reasons. Basically, any large organization that claims to 'represent' you actually represents itself and only has your interests as a peripheral matter because appearing to cater to them is how it gets political power.

  • Tempary Unions (Score:4, Insightful)

    by olddotter (638430) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:32AM (#24873369) Homepage

    I don't like political parties. I don't unions. I don't think either organization should have a long life span. They should create, fight for a cause and then disband. Standing unions I think become evil, like many large organizations.

    Unions or bar associations would become money sucking parasites on the backs of the workers, as if the workers didn't have enough problems. Having said that, uniting against clueless management seems like a good idea, just don't call it a union, and don't charge dues.

  • ...or comp time sounds like it's time to change jobs, not unionize. Unions correct for errors in the free market, and are not effective in situations where the market already has checks and balances in place. And in any case, there are few companies with large enough IT workforces to make unionizing a viable idea.

    I think what you need to look at is the fact that IT jobs are becoming a blue collar skill. Just about anyone with a computer can pick up enough training to do the majority of desktop and server support work that the market demands. On-Site support for mission critical machines are increasingly being moved to co-location centers who have highly trained staff available. What this means is that there is an overabundance of workers in the field, thus decreasing the value of the service.

    If you want to get more respect in the IT field, I recommend that you move to large data center work rather than desktop or small server support. Another idea is to develop industry-standard certification programs (not MSCE) that show qualifications for work in sophisticated environments, thus further helping differentiate desktop support from high-end IT support. These certifications would work a bit like the Engineering or Electrician certifications that differentiate true professionals from the trade-school material entering the field.

    That being said, let me turn this thing on its head. Has anyone thought of addressing the reasons behind why you work 60 hour work weeks? Is it truly because the field demands it or is it because your environment needs improvement? Whether it be greater automation, additional help, or better procedures, you need to be making an effort to help reshape your environment so that you can accomplish your job more effectively. Not only will it help reduce the hours you work each week, but shaping your environment displays the true mark of a professional.

    • You are working 60 hour weeks for 40 hours pay because you are spineless.

      I had a programming job that was paid hourly wages. Then I was "promoted" to a salaried position. It was explained that this meant no over-time. If I worked a 40 hour week it was a raise in pay. So I stopped working over-time. I came in at 9, left at 5. My manager asked me to stay late once, and I said what would my compensation be? He kind of looked puzzled and I went home. I worked a free hour of OT here and there when milestones where behind, but not every day. I was the only guy there not working for free everyday.

      It is not my problem if management doesn't know how to run a project. And I don't work for free.

  • by davejenkins (99111) <slashdot@davejenkins. c o m> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:34AM (#24873403) Homepage

    Ah, yes-- the siren song of unionization, born out of the early 20th century labor struggles where socialism was still an idyllic future utopia, and factory conditions were truly brutal.

    Collective labor bargaining has a brinksmanship game at its very core: give us what we demand or we all quit. The problem is that this brinksmanship is all too easy to call bluff now: globalized workforce, wider literacy, part time contractors, etc. Beyond the obvious changes to the labor pool, the idea that IT work-- one of the most portable sectors in the economy-- could be unionized is laughable.

    The AMA and ABA are possible because the inflow of labor is restricted from the beginning: one must graduate Med School or Law School from an accredited university. The AMA and ABA have very strict tests before one gets into these schools, and even harder tests at the end of them before they'll let you in the club. In that way, each association has monopolized the labor force by severely restricting membership. Would such a scheme be possible with IT?

    An ITPA (IT Professionals Association) would require specific graduate schools and horrendous tests. The last thing IT needs is an officially ordained priesthood about what is IT and what is not IT. This would restrict the labor pool so tightly that businesses would freak out, the hopeful students would freak out, then the government, and the whole thing would fall apart before it got started.

    I consider myself an IT professional, and I got my degree in Japanese Literature.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by WilyCoder (736280)

      "I consider myself an IT professional, and I got my degree in Japanese Literature."

      That explains the hentai pinups in the server room.

    • by catmistake (814204) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:46AM (#24874733) Journal

      I consider myself an IT professional, and I got my degree in Japanese Literature.

      Awesome. I too consider myself an IT professional, and have a degree in Philosophy. I thought this was rare until last week... had interviews for 2 seperate positions where I met 2 Philosophy grads working in IT. I, for one, think Computer Science grads should stick to the Science (or development or the CIO, CTO, or Chief Archetecture slots) and leave the 'practice' of computers to the experts. They are devaluing their expensive education and helping to drive our salaries down. Do lawyers work as paralegals? Do sugeons take jobs as nurses? Get out of my field, you stupid geniuses!

  • Hell yes. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SilentChris (452960) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:34AM (#24873411) Homepage

    I'm going to take a purely myopic, personal stance on this. I got into IT because I was interested in technology. I have seen more burnout and sacrifices by coworkers in this industry than any other. I have seen people responding to Blackberry messages at 2 AM (when they work 9 to 5), spend their days freezing their bodies slowly in server rooms and watched IT managers lose their hair trying to explain that "technology" doesn't mean "magic all the time" to executives.

    I always thought there were worse occupations out there. Surely the garbage man or coal miner has a less satisfying/harder job than me. However, at the end of the shift, these guys go home. The garbage man doesn't need to pick up heavy cans in his living room. The coal miner doesn't need to chip away at the walls in his bedroom. In no other industry is the disconnect between work and life non-existent like in IT. Hell, even doctors have calling services.

    The joy of learning new things was quickly squashed by the nature of this industry. Even when I'm programming or building new hardware, I'm connected to the responsibility of maintaining 24/7 systems on a 24/7 schedule.

    I know some are saying "You don't need to have a job like this. There are other jobs in the IT industry that don't demand this kind of schedule." Bullshit. We brought this unto ourselves. We were the ones arguing for telecommuting. We were the proponents of portable tech. And now we have to "eat the dog food". We sold people on it, we have to bow to it ourselves.

    I was thinking about this the other day. I'm almost 30. The internet came about in my generation. IT has been going on much longer. How was it done before "always-on", "always-connected"? Surely it was less efficient. And yet, you hear about IT people from that time staying in their jobs for decades, loving what they do, etc. Nowadays you're surprised to see someone stick around 3 years in a "permanent" job.

    What did we do to our industry? How bad have we fucked it up? Can we change it by unionizing? I'll do anything at this point.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ostracus (1354233)

      "What did we do to our industry? How bad have we fucked it up? Can we change it by unionizing? I'll do anything at this point."

      Interesting post and it's best answered by looking at other professions that likewise have the distinction between work and personal blurred. Did unionizing work for them?

    • Re:Hell yes. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Da Fokka (94074) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:47AM (#24873649) Homepage

      We were also the ones that designed the 'off' button on the blackberries.

    • Re:Hell yes. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by aggieben (620937) <{aggieben} {at} {gmail.com}> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:47AM (#24873657) Homepage Journal
      Unionizing doesn't even make sense. The IT industry is the one industry more than any other where market forces really are at work: you don't like your job? Go get another. There's a bajillion IT jobs across a bunch of different industries, and IT workers are very, very mobile. You don't need a union, because the active market already protects you from bad management. We haven't f****d anything up. Quit your bitching and get another job.
    • Re:Hell yes. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Pope (17780) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:50AM (#24873699)

      What did we do to our industry?

      Setting unrealistic expectations to the management/managers by trying to be lone superheroes all the time.
      Poor, unclear, late or non-existant communication.

      Hell, I'm guilty of it myself from time to time. But I know the problem and I'm trying to fix it.

    • Re:Hell yes. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Reality Master 101 (179095) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .101retsaMytilaeR.> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:54AM (#24873771) Homepage Journal

      What did we do to our industry? How bad have we fucked it up? Can we change it by unionizing? I'll do anything at this point.

      Anything except find another job, apparently. Sheesh, quit whining. NO! Not every job is like that, and if you think every job requires 24/7, then you're simply myopic. Come out of your cave and do some research.

      Or to put it another way, employers will stop taking advantage of you when they don't have the opportunity to take advantage of you. Why should they turn down someone who is willing to work 24/7? Apparently you're happy, since you're willing to do it.

    • Re:Hell yes. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by blhack (921171) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:59AM (#24873899)

      I feel you man.

      I can't tell you how many times i've been laying in bed on my blackberry in the middle of the night or the early early morning explaining something to somebody at work.

      I can only guess that there used to be staff on-site 24/7 that could answer questions.
      The problem is PHB types just getting used to us doing things that go above and beyond. I just had my boss have a meltdown on me this monday (yes, labor day) because he came into my office asking me to do something that is impossible, and I informed him that it was impossibe. (he wanted to embed video from our security system's DVR in a power-point presentation. Unfortunately, the DVR (for whatever insane reason) uses a propriety codec and doesn't offer a way to transcode).

      Our bosses get so used to us going above-and-beyond that when we DON'T it is grounds for firing.

      Can you imagine calling one of the accountants in at 2:00am because somebody messed something up? It wouldn't happen. If it DID, the accountant would be hailed as a hero that is committed to their job and deserves a promotion.

      how many times have you been sitting at dinner mentally working through a coding problem? Or a networking thing? We're in the process of building a satelite office right now and I interrupted date last night to make a Fry's run to buy a telco rack and some patch panels. (because i needed it this morning and the city where our satelite office doesn't have a place that sells this kind of stuff).

      Luckily....the girl needed a ipod case so it worked out....but it just pisses me off that this sort of behavior is expected.

  • Define IT (Score:5, Interesting)

    by El_Muerte_TDS (592157) <elmuerteNO@SPAMdrunksnipers.com> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:36AM (#24873443) Homepage

    Are we talking about sysadmins, application developers, support staff, programmers, testers, system analysts, etc.?

    if Hollywood writers can organize effectively

    That's because it's only a specific selection of writers. It's not like there's a union for all writers (fiction authors, non-fiction authors, columnists, manual authors, speech writers, journalists, etc.).

  • Of course not (Score:4, Insightful)

    by goose-incarnated (1145029) <lelanthran.gmail@com> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:37AM (#24873449) Homepage Journal
    All those posting here believe that they are of above average quality and that their job is not going to go away merely because they are so damn important. The only people who would lose their jobs are those incompetent anyway.

    The fact that they have no bargaining power or that their skills are irrelevant when it comes to cutbacks ... just too inconvenient to consider ... so no unions or trade association. Only *losers* would need those things after all
  • Be my guest. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Legion303 (97901) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:38AM (#24873465) Homepage

    ...just don't come crying to me when the union--after having gladly taken your money every two weeks in return for getting you a paltry night shift differential--tells you to fuck off when you ask about job placement options after the company lays off 60% of its workforce in an effort to bolster failing stock prices.

    Hi, Lucent and Communications Workers of America! Not that I'm naming names or anything. At least, I'm pretty sure I didn't mention Carly Fiorina in there anywhere.

  • The ABA? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ChePibe (882378) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:39AM (#24873477)

    An organization that gives "a single voice for speaking out on issues that affects everyone"?

    Uh, what?

    The ABA does play many important roles in the practice of law, but it is hardly the only body to which lawyers belong, and a great many attorneys are recoiling away from the ABA based on its continuing politicization of virtually everything it touches - everything from who law schools must admit to what recruiters should have open access to law students, etc.

    If you're looking for an example, the ABA is probably not the best one.

  • by Tryfen (216209) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:40AM (#24873497) Homepage

    The UK has some very strong employee rights - but I would still recommend that anyone join a union.

    I'm a member of Connect [connectuk.org] which is a specialist union for professionals in the Telecoms sector.

    The way I look at it is like this: my employer has several floors of lawyers - how many do I have? I hope never to have to fight my employer for my rights (sick leave, working time directive, disciplinary etc) but if I do - I want a team of lawyers on my side.

    I realise that the situation in the USA is different - the corruption and ties to organised crime that you see doesn't seem to have affected unions over here.

    It's important to draw a distinction between "You can't do that - it's not your job" unions and "You can't do that to me - it's illegal" unions. The former are usually found with low-paying, blue collar works who have a vested interest in protecting their job at the expense of all else - including the company. The latter are usually composed of professional members who own shares in their employer and who want reassurance that should the worst happen, they're legally protected.

    I view my union dues (less than £10 per month) on the same level as life assurance, building insurance etc. I don't want to pay them - but I realise it's probably a good idea. In fact, as well as all the legal help, my union also provide me with sickness and death benefit as well as good deals on general insurance etc.

    Basically, if you think your employer is perfect and would never shit on you from a great height - don't join a union. If you live in the real world - sign up.

    T

  • Nope. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AuralityKev (1356747) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:40AM (#24873509)
    I've seen the way unions run in a scienc-ey type background. My gf is an immunohemotologist for a large non-profit organization. She's a lab scientist that tests blood for matches with specialized requests from hospitals.

    Because the blood bank uses a manufacturing component to bag the blood and ship it to area hospitals, the lab workers are forced to be unionized. She can't earn a larger raise for doing better work than her peers because the union sets the pay increases during negotiation. She is the last in line for a day shift position since she was the last to join 2 years ago. Senior people have transferred departments at will, opening a day shift position up, yet she's unable to apply for the position since it's pretty much held open until the person who left decides to come back (which they usually do). That leaves them both short staffed on the day shift as well as relatively disgruntled on the second and evening shifts.

    Pay is based on years in the union, not on merit. Vacation is not negotiable. Promotions grant increased responsibility without pay jumping along for the ride. Incompetent people within the lab are still continuing on just fine since the non-profit can't fire them. Union dues are about $60 a month, plus the union actively endorses (and this is a personal gripe, I know) political candidates that are the polar opposite of our personal politics.

    Long ago unionizing helped workers and looked out for their best interests. I don't think it would be a fit at all for our industry.
  • by Millennium (2451) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:41AM (#24873513) Homepage

    The thing about unions is that they require basically 100% participation in order to function. The monopoly on labor is where a union's power comes from; without it, companies can simply look elsewhere for employees.

    In the past, this has not been so much of a problem, because most jobs have required the worker to be physically present at the work site. This makes the process of maintaining a monopoly much easier, because you only have to focus on one region. The employer can't feasibly move elsewhere, and so if you have a lock on the region then you have a lock on the employer.

    The problem with unionizing IT is that you can't do this. IT jobs, by their nature, no longer require the worker to be present at the work site, and in fact much IT effort has gone into making this a reality. This effectively expands "the region" out to the whole world, and so you would need a worldwide union that all IT workers are required to join. This is not going to happen; not now, not in the near-term future, and likely not ever.

    None of this is to say that IT workers don't need better working conditions. We clearly do. But the nature of our field makes the union approach impractical: those who fear outsourcing are correct in that. What we need to do is find another way.

    What's the answer? I don't know. But we need something that works for us, and something that requires a monopoly we can't obtain is not it.

  • by StealthyRoid (1019620) * on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:41AM (#24873525) Homepage
    I cannot think of a single thing that would make employers and customers abandon US IT more than if we unionized. We'd be signing our own death warrants. It's _already_ incredibly easy to fire up e-lance, and grab a Romanian and Indian developer, even if there are the quality and language issues. If we unionize, we'll only increase their incentive to do so by burdening them with all of the baggage that comes along with having unionized employees.

    Unions rely on the ability to have a monopoly on labor (and violence, and backing from the government for their violence, but those aren't relevant to my point). With manufacturing jobs, where the physical presence of the employee is a requirement, their hold over an industry is far greater than it would be over IT services, since it's very very easy to utilize non-local labor that doesn't care about the fact that there's a union that went on strike.

    Furthermore, I think that it'd be a straight up financially bad idea for almost everyone. In addition to making the barriers to entry for new developers and IT professionals higher, we'd all suffer in terms of the actual money we take home. Union contracts base pay around seniority, not productivity. In fact, most unions violently oppose productivity-based pay scales. That'd remove a lot of the incentive for new, young developers who are just _better_ than their older co-workers to excel at their jobs. They'd be locked into their pay level. It'd also make it MUCH harder to fire shitty employees.

    I also reject the concept that there CAN be a single IT voice to represent us all. We're a fairly diverse group of people, from all backgrounds and with all goals in life. The incentives of, say, a sysadmin working for a NOC are not the same as a web developer working for a small business. They have different sets of priorities, both of which are completely valid to their particular situation. Say, for example, that the NOC guy is a little older, has some kids, and wants benefits, while the young kid doesn't care, and just wants as fat of a paycheck as he can get. How do you resolve those competing, equally valid desires? As it stands now, we negotiate our own contracts according to our desires. With unions, we'd be locked into the choices made by other people.

    Another problem with unions, highlighted by this article, is that they're often ideological tools of the leadership. I don't have a problem with H1-B visas (except that I think they're too restrictive) or offshoring. I think both things are awesome. It's the market at work, and forces us all to be competitive at SOME level, whether that be on quality or price or reliability or whatever. Competing against a guy in India or a new Chinese H1-B immigrant is no different than competing against a college kid. The idea that we need political protection from that is absurd.

    We also shouldn't ignore the negative impact that unionization of IT would have on the economy. You want to see the long-term effects of unionization? Take a look at the auto industry. Completely saddled with legacy labor costs imposed by union contracts, they're in many cases simply unable to compete on price. Unions are little more than mechanisms for imposing arbitrary minimums and caps on the costs of doing business, which decreases the flexibility of businesses when responding to changing market conditions. The only reason that Japanese automakers hire anyone over here is because we force them to by law.

    There's nothing that a union can give you that you can't achieve for yourself by paying attention to your contract. Do you want a guarantee that you'll never be asked to work more than 40 hours in a week? Put it in your contract. Do you want cash instead of benefits? Put it in your contract. Do you want to get paid better? Don't work for less. You make the choices that you want to make, and don't impose them on the rest of us. We'll do likewise, and we'll all be happier.
    • by jalefkowit (101585) <jasonNO@SPAMjasonlefkowitz.net> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:59AM (#24874939) Homepage

      I think that it'd be a straight up financially bad idea for almost everyone. In addition to making the barriers to entry for new developers and IT professionals higher, we'd all suffer in terms of the actual money we take home. Union contracts base pay around seniority, not productivity. In fact, most unions violently oppose productivity-based pay scales.

      Not all unions are the same, you know.

      Professional baseball players have a union. [mlb.com] You think they're getting paid based on seniority?

      Actors [sag.org] and writers [nwu.org] have unions. You think they're not getting paid based on their performances?

      A union is whatever the workers who form it make it. Those workers know the facts of their industries and form their unions accordingly. Just because some unions stress seniority doesn't mean yours has to.

  • by MistrBlank (1183469) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:42AM (#24873541)
    I'm in IT and in the public sector represented by the CWA. The pay is crap but I work 5 days a week seven hours a day (plus an hour lunch) and get paid OT or time and a half back for extra work hours. I make more than enough to live.
  • by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:43AM (#24873555) Homepage Journal

    a teenager could be more knowledgable and do a better job at a certain technology than a guy in his 30s

    meanwhile, if you are talking acting, or steelworking, fields that are unionized, your set of methods is pretty standard and unchanging

    what this means is that barriers to entry can be established, means to control who gets in and out of the workforce, seniority can take hold, and unionization becomes effective

    unionization is not effective when who you are hiring for what is still such a fluid skillset in IT work. today's buzzword technology is tomorrow's joke

    comparisons to associations such as in law or medicine are not applicable either, because again, these fields are ossified into pretty rigid standardizations of education and certification

    no one is going to lecture the guy on intellectual property law who works in the field, and certainly not a nonlawyer. but a teenager could very much lecture a thirty year old on the properties and methods of a new toolset library

    therefore, without any rigid system of seniority, unionization is frutless

    which is kind fo good i guess. IT, at least until (if ever) its technology skillset hardens, is a pure meritocracy. and that will be reflected in payscale as well, so there is no need to unionize, just get very good very quick at the next big thing

  • by nysus (162232) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:43AM (#24873557)

    Yes. It is the corporate DNA to pay workers as little as the can get away with and produce as much work from workers as possible. That's just the nature of capitalism. By joining a union, workers can push back against being treated as nothing more than a disposable tool.

    Are unions perfect? Of course not. But neither is anything institution run by mortals. But like anything, you have to weigh all the advantages and disadvantages.

    There's no question unions have brought more balance to laissez faire capitalism. Unfortunately, they have become victims of their own success. Health care, vacation pay, pensions, 40 hour work weeks, overttime, health and safet regs, etc. All of these were the result of workers pooling their money and getting themselves political muscle. Believe me, it wasn't given to them. Ask you grandfather or great grandfather who got his head cracked open with a club for participating in a strike.

    Unfortunately, it's in most people's nature to be sheep and be complacent to try to protect what they have. Why risk your job by going against the company's wishes to remain union free. It won't be until workers really feel the sting of boots on their necks grinding them into the pavement will workers actually get pissed off enough to fight back.

    So, look for your hours to get even longer, your paychecks to shrink even more, and lose more benefits before unions can become a reality.

    But ff they were smart, and could learn to stick together (get over that rugged individualism bullshit they like to believe), techs could do a lot for themselves here and now.

    I should know. I'm a union guy working in the tech industry.

    • Speak for yourself (Score:5, Insightful)

      by reidconti (219106) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:31AM (#24874489)

      No. I like working longer hours some days and spending the odd afternoon at the pool. I like having a non-adversarial relationship with management and playing foosball with my boss. I like being free to negotiate my OWN salary. I like participating in an industry where free thought reigns, not a mob mentality.

      It's the union members who are sheep and do whatever the union tells them to do.

  • nonono (Score:5, Informative)

    by thermian (1267986) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:45AM (#24873599)

    Unions aren't a good idea any more. When they first started up, employee's had very few rights. Now the rights unions fought for are enshrined in law.

    A union won't save your job, and to be frank, if you're job is at a high risk of being outsourced, or management is being retarded then you need to get a new job, because just as you have the 'right' to walk out in protest, an employee has the right to save their business by dropping you as an employee for any reason and going elsewhere.

    Unfair dismissal doesn't work if you put their business at risk by striking, even if you have a union telling you to do it, not any more.

    There is also the fact that employers need not employ anyone who is in a union. Join/form one if you like, but after the first time you 'punish' a company, I'd bet actual English pounds that none of your members will work in the IT industry again.

    I was a member of a union when I was a teenager. The damn thing nearly fucked me by saying we had to go on strike. I didn't want to, I had rent and a bike to pay for, and the last thing I needed was no pay for a week, or even a few days.

    Luckily the strike was averted because the management pretty much said 'sure, go ahead and leave, but you won't get the pay rise anyway, and you put your jobs at risk if the factory closes for long'. Seemed fair to me.

  • Union = Monopoly (Score:4, Insightful)

    by alyosha1 (581809) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:45AM (#24873601)

    Given that the whole point of a union is to create a monopoly on one form of labour, I'd have to say the idea is laughable.

    I think most slashdotters agree that monopolies=bad, and in a field as fluid and as locationally independent as IT, I'd add that monopoly of labour = impossible, as well. This isn't coal mining or manufacturing, where it might be feasible to completely control the labour supply in a city.

    As a provider of IT services, I'm quite content to sell my services to the highest bidder, and I've had no problems funding a comfortable lifestyle doing so.

    As a consumer of IT services, I glad when I have the freedom to choose the best individual or company for the services I want. It's bad enough when there's only a single provider of, say, operating systems or cable internet available. Restricting the supply of labour further would not improve things.

  • by dghcasp (459766) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:02AM (#24873953)

    Day 1: Really excited by my new development job, even though I have no seniority. Was trained by the person with second-least seniority, who told me my job was to access the bug database and make a graph in powerpoint of "severity x days open."

    After about 5 minutes of this, I said You know, I could write a perl program to do this in less time than it would take to do it by hand.

    He smiled, and said that's what he thought on the his first day. However, we were programmers and the IT people had the responsibility for the bug database and they were in a different union. Ergo, we weren't allowed to build programmatic interfaces to their tools.

    Day 10: I've got building the chart down to taking only six hours a day, and have spent my other 30 minutes (minus union-mandated lunch and coffee breaks) a day looking at the code in read-only mode, trying to familiarize myself with it. Having worked on open-source projects, I knew how to use the SVN web-viewer.

    Day 20: I noticed a quite-obvious buffer overflow in the code, and went to the developer who wrote it to point it out. She was quite upset that I had been looking at the code, and filed a union grievance about me exceeding my job responsibilities.

    Day 22: Grievance day. The shop steward yelled at me for a while. Afterwards, Management took me aside and told me it was nice to see someone who had some initiative, and they'd see if they could find me something interesting to do...

    Day 41: Time to build PPT charts now 7 hours. I had gotten it down to 5, but there have been a rash of bugs and features over the past few weeks.

    Day 52: Management tells me there's a small feature they've wanted developed for years, but it never seems to get done. It's completely self-contained and sounds pretty simple. They give me the bug # for the requirements list, and caution that I can only work on it in my spare time, and not generate overtime.

    Day 56: I've done a bit of looking into it, and now understand how to do the side project. The problem is, I'm already at 15 minutes of overtime a day because of making those stupid charts. I think I'll work on it at home.

    Day 57: Tired at work today, since I stayed up until 3 AM working on the side project.

    Day 58: Gave the completed side project to Management, along with all the source code. They thanked me profusely, saying it's nice to see people who can get things done.

    Day 59: Called into a meeting with the shop steward and one of the senior developers. Apparently, the task that I did had done was assigned to the senior developer, and Management had given him my source and said "We got something off your plate for you." It turns out the task had been on his plate for a year, and he had never done it. I asked "I know it wasn't my responsibility, but isn't it good to have something off your plate so you don't have to deal with it?" He exploded and said he was saving it because it was a simple task, and if he ever had to raise his productivity to meet a quota, he could have done that.

    The shop steward said that it didn't look as if I was going to fit in, and they terminated me on the last day of my probationary period.

  • by Carik (205890) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:59AM (#24874931)

    I work for a large state university. All full-time professional jobs have the option of being part of the union. If you're not part of the union, you're required to pay them a fee for doing all your contract negotiation -- dues turn out to be about $15 a month higher, but they buy you great dental insurance and discounts on things like museum admission (actually, most are free), travel arrangments, cell phone service, and all sorts of other things.

    Working under a union-negotiated contract, I'm also guaranteed a 40 hour work-week, reasonable vacation and sick leave, decent pay (I work for the state, so it'll never be great, but it's decent), and I can't easily be fired without cause.

    Now, that said, I think the union has too much power here. There are people who can't be fired, even though everyone knows they're incompetent, simply because the paperwork is a pain. The amount of administrative overhead for dealing with the union is horrific; it mostly comes down on the university administration, so I don't have to deal with much, but there's a tremendous amount of it. There are a lot of other issues, as well. The examples other people have come up with -- states where union workers are required by law, where no one can do anything without the union's approval -- are all good examples. They're rediculous. The point of the union is to keep the company from taking advantage of the workers, not to allow the union to take advantage of everyone else.

    But overall? I'm glad to be working a lower-paid union job. I've been offered higher pay in industry jobs (more than doubling my pay, actually), but you know what? I think it's unreasonable to be expected to work 80 hours a week and be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year. I'll take my moderate pay and pleasant working environment any day.

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