Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
The Almighty Buck News

Ask Slashdot: What Would It Take For Developers To Start Their Own Union? 761

Posted by samzenpus
from the coders-unite dept.
juicegg writes "TechCrunch contributor Klint Finley writes that developers have shunned unions because traditional workplace demands like higher pay are not important to us while traditional unions are incapable of advocating for what developers care about most while at work: autonomy and self-management. Is this how most developers feel? What about overtime, benefits, conditions for contractors and outsourcing concerns? Are there any issues big enough to get developers and techies to make collective demands or is it not worth the risk? Do existing unions offer advantages or is it better to start from scratch?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Ask Slashdot: What Would It Take For Developers To Start Their Own Union?

Comments Filter:
  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Monday November 05, 2012 @11:50AM (#41882137)

    In my lifetime, I don't recall a single industry that that has started a successful union in the U.S. (not in ANY field). All the unions that still have any real power are the ones still around from the Roosevelt New Deal and postwar days (the Teamsters, UAW, etc.).

    So it's hardly fair to single out developers. There are very few fields that are significantly unionized anymore, and most of the ones that are are represented by older unions that go way back. When you look around and see that there are no unions with any real power that have been founded in your lifetime, it's pretty easy to be skeptical and pretty hard to volunteer to be the sacrificial lamb (by being the first voice in your field supporting a union) and endanger your career in the process.

    It probably also doesn't help that political support for unions, even among many Democrats, pretty much dried up a long time ago.

  • by larry bagina (561269) on Monday November 05, 2012 @11:54AM (#41882223) Journal
    Does government count? Because that's where all the union growth is coming from. I guess the government (local, state, and federal) is mistreating and abusing workers. Who knew.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @11:54AM (#41882233)

    this may mean licensing or journeyman boards, but jesus. take some responsibility. right now you can just shit code out and put the words "rock star" on your resume. Stop with the entitlement shit until you stand behind your work.

  • by ThomK (194273) on Monday November 05, 2012 @11:54AM (#41882235) Homepage Journal

    "because traditional workplace demands like higher pay are not important to us"

    Since when is higher pay simply "not important"?

  • by TheSpoom (715771) <slashdot@@@uberm00...net> on Monday November 05, 2012 @11:55AM (#41882255) Homepage Journal

    The second a union starts, the company closes the local shop and outsources all development to a place where unions are illegal.

    Manufacturers at least have a direct cost associated with moving a factory; most costs attributed to outsourcing are intangible in development and are thus usually ignored by PHBs.

  • Unions are archaic (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gavron (1300111) on Monday November 05, 2012 @11:55AM (#41882275)

    Before the Internet, and before the common man had access to rally others, communicate to the masses, and see others' opinions, unions had value.
    They kept child labor in the mines but made more money for the children's parents and for the union bosses.

    Today unions are obsolete. The only people who advocate unions are the unions themselves, and those who've already joined that now want to "haze" everyone else because "they got hazed."

    Sorry, jack. No unions.

    E

  • Missed one... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Monday November 05, 2012 @11:58AM (#41882333)

    while traditional unions are incapable of advocating for what developers care about most while at work: autonomy and self-management

    They missed one other one: Unions are also incapable of supporting performance-based rewards and promotion, something tech sector workers appreciate. The notion that seniority trumps all else would not go over well in my workplace, nor former workplaces.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @11:58AM (#41882339)

    Since when is higher pay simply "not important"?

    Since many software developers make far more money than they need to survive.

    I could accept a pay cut of $20K - $30K without significantly affecting my life. And I would consider that a reasonable tradeoff for a job that was significantly better in non-monetary ways.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @11:59AM (#41882353)

    Unions have been attempted in the past for IT personel. There is a reason they always fail. That reason is the general Union mentality that a degree is required to do anything high level. Many high level people in IT currently have no degree, or got the degree while already in the workplace.

    That is just one reason. There are many others. Myself, yes I know I am posting anonymous, I do not support unions in IT. As the only degree I have is a G.E.D. and 21 years experience.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:05PM (#41882487)

    It's quite nice to have professionals negotiating on your behalf when the company you work for decides to sack a lot of people, or when a company decides to not follow the law. Strength in numbers is still valid.

  • Apparent to who?? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall (25149) on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:08PM (#41882527)

    I haven't heard of any either, but I could clearly see a white collar information technology union. The need for one is quite apparent.

    Odd, I have not seen a need to have my paycheck garnished in order to pay the wages of a bunch of executives who do nothing for me. You already get enough of that with company management as it is.

    As financial conditions deteriorate, and simultaneously the need for more IT labor increases, the more management is pressured to "get more for less."

    As the need for IT labor increases so does the amount you can ask to be paid, and the greater the opportunity to switch jobs for higher pay.

    Eventually there has to be a breaking point.

    We reached it a while ago. Unions are broken, and developers are way too rational to bring long term harm on themselves for short term gain.

  • by curunir (98273) * on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:09PM (#41882547) Homepage Journal

    Unions exist in situations where management is negotiating from a place of power and replacement workers are easy to find. They allow the collective workforce to get a better deal than they would individually.

    Meanwhile, there is a shortage of capable developers and we have the power in most negotiations. Why do we need a union if we can just demand what we want and get it? In our industry, companies have even been caught uniting against workers [techcrunch.com].

    Unions are a tool and developers are taught to us the right tool for the job. When the situation demands a union, we'll unionize, but there's no point in doing that until there are a ton more capable developers to compete with for jobs.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:10PM (#41882581)

    Home schooling, charter schools, private schools - all these things operate well and better than public schools, all without unions.

    Unions are decimating the performance and respect for public schools. Time to get them out of the way if you want to really improve educations for the millions that cannot afford private school, or live an an area too backwards to support charter schools.

  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:16PM (#41882669) Homepage Journal
    You know..rather that strengthening UNIONs and their like...

    Why don't we try to strengthen laws for individuals....and make things easier for people to self employ, self incorporate and contract themselves.

    Let each person be responsible for negotiating their own pay rates, etc.

    Make it easier for people to do their own healthcare, and retirement.....have co-ops out there, etc?

    Why do we keep going down the path of group-think, and putting everyone into the same bowl and treating everyone the same.

    Why not make it easier for people to be in charge of, and manage their own destiny?

    Give the individual more rights, and put more teeth in laws protecting the individual....not the unions.

  • by moonbender (547943) <moonbender@NoSPaM.gmail.com> on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:17PM (#41882683)

    Facilitating communication is, at best, a secondary (if necessary) function of unions. Unions serve as collective bargaining platforms to somewhat level an otherwise inherently unbalanced power relationship. I don't know about the specific unions you're talking about, and I don't care. There are many kinds of unions, and they don't share many attributes regarding their internal structure. I do know that fundamentally nothing has changed regarding the imbalance of power.

    Unions may be archaic, but so is human society.

  • by MightyYar (622222) on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:17PM (#41882703)

    If this is what unions did in practice, I'd agree. My (limited) experience with unions and my wife's much more extensive experience shows that they spend most of their energies defending the weakest people in their membership roles. People who, by any objective standard, should be fired. They shift the whole focus of the workforce from "are we achieving the goal?" to "are we following the rules?". Further, they tend to be run by long-time union members and not by people with a professional background in business, finance, etc. Finally, they poison our political atmosphere - we have very weak rules in the US about who can throw money around. Government unions are a total scam, and private unions often get public officials involved in what should be a private business matter. I won't get into physical intimidation, since I'm sure you'd agree that is a black eye that unions are notorious for. To be fair, employers were the ones who were notorious for this in the past.

    I think the concept of the union is sound and I think they should be commended for some of their past achievements. I just think we need serious reform of the current practice, which is self-defeating.

  • by Svippy (876087) on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:26PM (#41882867) Homepage

    Unions may seem useless in the USA, but in Europe they actually matter, which is probably why my country has a union for developers. In Europe, unions represent employees when negotiating working rules.

    For instance, this means that very few European countries actually have minimum wage laws, because the minimum wag 'laws' are agreements between unions and employers. The idea is to keep government out of working rules (I am beginning to feel this is not the actual term in English), but rather let it remain between the employees (unions) and employers (corporations). However, unions have some rights (e.g. strikes) to protect their negotiation position. Employers too have rights.

    I do not see a problem with this system.

  • by Nerdfest (867930) on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:26PM (#41882869)

    Unions are especially broken for software development. It's not like something like driving a bus, where no matter how good you are at it, you're roughly at the same level of productivity. There have been studies that have shown that a good software developer can be twenty times as productive as a poor one. I'm currently working for an organization that has a union. Current project tracking shows be between 6 and 10 times the output of the next person, yet we get paid the same (and I also have several other responsibilities). With the union, we get paid the same. When it's time for a raise, we get the same. It batters your incentive a bit on occasion. You frequently run into people are so bad that they actually have negative productivity (also paid the same) and managers tolerate a lot because there's a lot of work to do to get rid of someone. The only real way out of it is to do the same thing you would do without a union ... leave, and find something better. Ideally, you would negotiate your own salary and benefits.

  • by Q-Hack! (37846) * on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:26PM (#41882879)

    If you work for a company that treats its employees badly and or doesn't follow the law, then it's time to look for a new company to work for. Companies that don't do the right thing, don't last long. You have more power acting on your own behalf than you ever will following a union.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:27PM (#41882881)

    Because abusing an individual is easy?
    Because you cannot afford your own healthcare unless you support something like single-payer.

  • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:35PM (#41883029)

    Because programmers don't *need* unions. Often there is a surplus of open positions. When there is a surplus of open positions then you have a position to negotiate.

    When there is a surplus of labor (as there often is for union positions) then you have a situation where desperation to not starve will drive people to take any deal that keeps them alive until next week (even if it means racking up some debt and digging a deeper hole).

    You also have unions in a lot of places where your job might be a political hot potato such as a police officer who could as easily be thrown under the bus by a politician as protected. If any of us think politics is bad in our office... imagine how much worse it would be with actual elected politicians being in charge of hiring/firing etc.

    The easiest solution that solves both problems is to provide universal healthcare so that people don't have to get a job--any job to stay alive should they fall ill and to ensure they can afford it even while unemployed.

  • by cpwegener (1182841) on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:44PM (#41883197) Homepage
    Right! Force individuals to negotiate one by one with large employers. Why do you think there has been a thirty year propaganda campaign against unions in this country? Why are employment situations in the EU so much better? (Hint, the answer is powerful unions)
  • by Mitt Romney (2766023) on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:44PM (#41883207)
    Then be less productive. Go home early. Enjoy life. Retire on a pension.

    When I'm 6-10 times more productive as my peers, nobody really cares.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:46PM (#41883267)

    In my lifetime, I don't recall a single industry that that has started a successful union in the U.S. (not in ANY field). All the unions that still have any real power are the ones still around from the Roosevelt New Deal and postwar days (the Teamsters, UAW, etc.).

    So it's hardly fair to single out developers. There are very few fields that are significantly unionized anymore, and most of the ones that are are represented by older unions that go way back. When you look around and see that there are no unions with any real power that have been founded in your lifetime, it's pretty easy to be skeptical and pretty hard to volunteer to be the sacrificial lamb (by being the first voice in your field supporting a union) and endanger your career in the process.

    It probably also doesn't help that political support for unions, even among many Democrats, pretty much dried up a long time ago.

    We just started a union for graduate students at our school. They have successfully negotiated better health insurance for us. We don't necessarily need a union as an industry. Sometimes, a union can be successful even in a single organization. You don't always need to rent-to-own a congressman or whatever.

  • by raehl (609729) <raehl311@nOSPam.yahoo.com> on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:48PM (#41883297) Homepage

    The OTHER big problem with white collar workers is that your job performance and satisfaction are far more likely to be influenced by the performance of your coworkers.

    If a guy on the factory floor is slacking, the company's production goes down.

    If a guy on your software team is slacking, it can quickly become a pain in your ass.

    A tech union would just open the door for workers who can't perform to vote themselves protections that limit the compensation and satisfaction of the workers who do perform well.

  • by NewWorldDan (899800) <dan@gen-tracker.com> on Monday November 05, 2012 @12:55PM (#41883411) Homepage Journal

    That's the main reason developers don't need a union. Unions are for supporting interchangeable employees. Devlopers have very specific skill sets. Generally speaking, most high end professions don't have unions: doctors, lawyers, engineers.

    You might be able to unionize at a particluarly large shop (Google, Microsoft, etc.), but most of them are already paying top dollar for top talent. No, about the only place I could see unionizing happen is at some place like Zynga.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @01:00PM (#41883535)

    Government worker unions are the only sector where union membership has increased over the past 10 years. Witness the explosive growth of SEIU, now the largest union in the country. Unions couldn't grow in the private sector after their jobs were outsourced offshore, so the only place they could find any support was in the government, where they bought influence by using their member's dues to donate to political compaigns. They endorsed politicians who helped negotiate favorable contracts guaranteeing them lavish pension plans and health benefits paid by taxpayers. Until the economic crash of 2008, very few government workers had to pay any portion of their retirement benefits, and now they are fighting tooth and nail to keep that status quo.

    I can speak from a position of knowledge, since I am now an IT worker for a state government agency. The only reason I am in the union is because the union voided the contract under which I used to work, threatened me and told me I had to join the union or I would lose my job (this was in 2010, when the unemployment rate was well over 9% in my state). So rather than face unemployment, foreclosure and poverty, I accepted the union job and immediately took a $1,800/month pay cut. Now, the union takes $86 out of every paycheck for my dues and I enjoy NONE of the benefits I expected to get (I work overtime two weekends out of every month, but am not eligible for ovetime pay). They spend millions of dollars of my dues to bankroll political campaigns to maintain their power in the capitol, offer to bus me to carefully choreographed protest rallys wherever they are scheduled, and gave me a horrible tacky purple SEIU tee-shirt to wear to these staged rallies. On top of this, the president of the union is paid far more than any rank and file member (http://blogs.sacbee.com/the_state_worker/2011/09/seiu-local-1000-council-to-con.html).

    Labor unions had a purpose long ago during the industrial revolution, but have outlived their usefulness and have evolved into organized crime organizations plundering the nation's taxpayers and threatening them with bankruptcy to provide a lavish lifestyle for the "community organizers" at the top of the food chain.

  • by udachny (2454394) on Monday November 05, 2012 @01:02PM (#41883557) Journal

    Because there are very few individuals, the majority of people today are not individuals, they are biomass, compost, collectivists that are yearning for a central planning authority that would make them wards of the State by taxing the few individuals that exist.

  • by ediron2 (246908) on Monday November 05, 2012 @01:19PM (#41883887) Journal

    Bullshit. Choosing to stick with a job in an abusive environment is a person sucking it up and enduring a shitty tradeoff, not 'ceasing to be abuse'.

    We all make tradeoffs. Abuse is a spectrum. Your absurd Randian hyperlibertarianism is showing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @01:25PM (#41883977)

    Labor unions had a purpose long ago during the industrial revolution, but have outlived their usefulness and have evolved into organized crime organizations plundering the nation's taxpayers and threatening them with bankruptcy to provide a lavish lifestyle for the "community organizers" at the top of the food chain.

    Sorry, but this is absurd. Do you really think corporate power has diminished in any permanent way, "just because"? I've personally received health insurance, pensions, and other benefits because there existed a union in an industry where I can guarantee you, without the union I would have been screwed.

    To think that corporations are happy to give employees rights and benefits without being compelled to do so is insane. You can't have a situation where employers hold the purse strings and the power, and the workers are unable to answer them with the collective strength of all their members. The weakened unions in the past 30 years and the simultaneous decline of the middle class are no coincidence. You think getting rid of unions completely would be a good idea? Maybe, if you think the work standards of the 19th century were a good idea too.

    I'd love to get a detailed analysis of what union you' were 'forced' to join, what work you were doing before joining the union, what benefits you were getting from the union even though you weren't a part of it (were you getting paid a salary that just undercut the standard salaries that were negotiated by unions, for example? Were you guaranteed a safe working environment? Weekends off? Overtime? A minimum wage?) and what benefits you say you aren't receiving and why.

  • by iluvcapra (782887) on Monday November 05, 2012 @01:43PM (#41884247)

    People seem to forget that employer-provided healthcare is a product of the 20th Century.

    People seem to forget that effective healthcare is a product of the 20th Century. People used to pay 100% of their own way for healthcare, when they were buying mustard poultices and lizard fat oil, and soaking in epson salt baths four hours a day. It was all worthless and elective, for entertainment purposes only, and thus the market worked.

    It's when people started actually surviving fatal conditions, and not having money became a death sentence, that the actual moral and ethical problems with pay-as-you-go started to become salient.

  • by ThomK (194273) on Monday November 05, 2012 @01:48PM (#41884391) Homepage Journal

    *said the single guy with no kids.

  • by ZonkerWilliam (953437) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:00PM (#41884615) Journal
    Then I guess must be real old because I always took care of my own retirement and never thought that it was anyone's elses responsibility. Working at the state level most of the people I knew who went to work for the state had only one thing in mind, not how well to do a job but to stick it out so they can collect their retirement at age 50 then they could go somewhere else. Or so they've told me. That's kind of what 'entitlement' mentalities provide, not to do a good job but to stick it out, do the job well enough not to get fired so you can collect in the end. And then there are people who want to do a good job and thus get promoted and get better pay and end up retiring when they want to with a million in the bank.

    "Here, we obsess with saving our jobs. There, life balance is better whenever it's measured."

    I've been there I would never say its better, in fact I feel sad for them, there is no exceptional-ism, most of time I've stayed always left with a feeling they are just existing, not for the worse but not fort he best either.

    "We skip vacations, work thru lunch. They do neither. And get more holidays and vacation time. Some have shorter work weeks"

    That's a choice people make, I can't say for others. I enjoy my work so I do extraordinary well at it. IMHO go there if you like that stuff, no one would stop you unless they they have a harder stance on immigration than the U.S which oddly enough they do.

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:07PM (#41884715) Homepage Journal

    We're talking about programmers, aren't we? Very few programmers "deal retail", e.g. writing a Java applet for Mrs Scroggins down the road. They generally work for medium to big companies.

    Thus I don't see how you've addressed any of starworks5's concerns.

    I can be as self-employed & personally-incorporated as I like, but that's going to make zero difference if Sanjeet in Bongobongoland will work all week for less than the cost of my morning coffee.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:17PM (#41884863)

    "What Would It Take For Developers To Start Their Own Union?"

    Abject stupidity.

    Speaking as a musician, the union is considerably more in the way of musicians than it is helpful. I don't want anything to do with it; but you'd be amazed at how my avoiding the union negatively affects what jobs I can get, etc. "We only hire union bands" (because if they DO hire a non-union band, they may never get another union band in there.) And I'm perfectly capable of setting my own wage limits.

    Extending that to the programming world... oh, brother. I think I'd take up something else, much as I love programming.

    Looking at it from the other side: One time my company was setting up a display at a Chicago show. We had a burned out light bulb along the top; a matter of unscrewing the old bulb and replacing it with the new one by screwing it in. We had the spare bulb. I reached for it, and the "floor steward" was there, he informed me the replacement had to be done by a licensed electrician -- at a cost of $60/hour (this was in the late 1980's) with a one-hour minimum. I expressed my opinion that this was ridiculous (which it of course is), and he informed me that my options were either have the licensed electrician do it, or have our company ejected from the show. So we paid the extortion, but I *never* forgot that, and I will *never* join or otherwise encourage these gangsters.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:54PM (#41885395)

    Cool, so just sell the house you are underwater on, and move your kids to a new school and find your wife another job too. Sounds so easy, doesn't it?

  • by ahodgson (74077) on Monday November 05, 2012 @04:05PM (#41886267)

    You're already paying for that. You don't think it really costs thousands of dollars a day to stay in a hospital, do you? Of course not. Your insurance pays that so that the hospital can afford to treat everyone without insurance who walks in the door, which they are forced to do by the government.

  • by Comrade Ogilvy (1719488) on Monday November 05, 2012 @04:31PM (#41886541)

    Most industrialized nations can manage to provide healthcare of very similar quality to what insured Americans enjoy to their entire populace, and the total bill comes in at ~40% less than what Americans pay. Under single-payer, it is entirely plausible your bills will go *down* (and I can prove that possibility with more than a dozen real world examples).

    I hold that America does not need to be uniquely incompetent at providing affordable healthcare forever.

  • by nbauman (624611) on Monday November 05, 2012 @05:03PM (#41886871) Homepage Journal

    What a load of twattle!

    All payment for health care comes from people, whether directly, indirectly via insurance using premiums paid by people, or even more inefficiently via government which uses taxes paid by people.

    It is no secret that government is an incredibly inefficient redistributor. Therefore it is obvious to any thinking person that insurance companies could handle the same level of health care and charge less to do it.

    It is no secret to anybody who has looked at the numbers that the government is more efficient at distributing health care than the private insurance industry.

    When you pay a dollar in health care premiums, the insurance company takes at least 15 cents off the top for profits and administrative expenses. (Talk about inefficient.) They give 85 cents or less to your doctor or hospital, who spend at least another 15 cents managing the administrative expenses of private insurance. Overall, each dollar you pay for your premium buys you 50-70 cents in health care.

    Social Security, in contrast, pays about 2-3% in administrative costs.

    As a reality check, look at the real world. The Canadian government provides health care as good as ours for about half the cost in taxes than we pay in taxes and insurance. Look around the world, and every country spends less money than we do. (The closest, second most expensive is Switzerland, which has the system most like ours.)

    There is no country in the world that you would want to live in that has a free market health care system.

    Oh, you say, that's because we have an imperfect free market. If only the government would stop interfering with the health care system, we would have the best of all possible worlds.

    That reminds me of what my Communist friends used to tell me -- Russia doesn't have real socialism. Under real socialism, life would be perfect.

    The answer to you is that we will never have a free market. A free market is like one of those trans-uranium particles that exists for a tiny fraction of a second, and then transmutes into something else. In the US, the free market, to the extent it existed, has been taken over by the wealthy, and even if you could get rid of all the liberals and unions, the wealthy 1% would still run the country.

    I challenge you to name one country in the world that you would like to live in that has a free market by your definition. Afghanistan? Somalia?

The speed of anything depends on the flow of everything.

Working...