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The Almighty Buck

Unions in the Tech Sector? 217

Posted by Cliff
from the stuff-to-think-about dept.
nanogeek asks: "I've worked for a few years in the computing infrastructure/support department of a large university. In my time here, there have been organizational movements and/or strikes by many segments of the employee and student population (librarians walking out, grad-students seeking a fair wage for TA responsibilities, etc). However, none of this fervor for collective bargaining and fair treatment by the upitty-ups seems to have touched our department; and this seems to be rather endemic to geekjobs. In a year when commerce was brought to a halt on the west coast over a dispute about the change in the use of technology in the shipping industry, I have seen my department and my co-workers displaced, disrespected, displeased, and occasionally dismissed over the same kinds of technological shifts (in both my case and that of the longshoremen, the changes require retraining and reshuffling of workload, manpower, and payment). Common complaints have been that we were never consulted before these changes were enacted, and I wonder if a powerful union could be the answer. Is there room for such labor organization amongst geeks? Does the mutability of the technology involved preclude the kind of stasis brought about by unionization? Does the status of the economy currently make it so that any attempt at such broad-based organization could be circumvented by black-listing and purging members from the rolls? Or could a powerful geekunion bring about a sea-change after which a modicum of parity between the bosses and the drones could be established?"
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Unions in the Tech Sector?

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  • No Unions! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by glenstar (569572) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @01:20PM (#4566006)
    The main problem I see with unions is that while they theoretically exist for the benefit of all members, they tend to prop up the underachievers and demote the go-getters. In other words, they breed mediocrity.

    Also, think of this: with an IT union, wages will most likely be capped for its members. Rather than the open market determining rates, it will be the union. I, personally, would much rather take my chances and go for the higher wage.

    • Re:No Unions! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Ummagumma (137757)
      Someone needs to mod this up. He said it perfectly:

      "they tend to prop up the underachievers and demote the go-getters. In other words, they breed mediocrity."

      I don't know about the rest of you, but I have done very well in the tech sector on my own - last thing I want is a Union to 'represent' me, take part of my paycheck as 'dues', and make me follow thier rules and regulations.

      No, I don't think so.
      • Re:No Unions! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by glenstar (569572)
        Someone needs to mod this up. He said it perfectly:

        Thanks! I have expressed that opinion before, but being from Seattle and surrounded by Boeing, dock workers, etc... it is generally not very appreciated. ;-)

        don't know about the rest of you, but I have done very well in the tech sector on my own

        To put this in perspective... I haven't worked more than 9 months out of the year for the last several years. I would take a 3 month or so contract, work like a dog and then take 3 or 4 months off to travel, and I would still bet that my average yearly take was larger than if I worked a full year in a "union tech job". Of course, doing things that way is truly risky (especially in this market!), but I like to roll the dice. ;-)

    • Re:No Unions! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wrax (570032) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @01:48PM (#4566338)
      really well said. I work for a university technology department and I have seen some pretty incompetent people have their jobs saved because of a thing called "seniority". "seniority" seems to mean that the old employee who has been there forever keeps his jobs when the cuts come down because of a thing called "bumping". "bumping" is when a less qualified but older union member kicks a younger person out of his job just because the managment cut his position. This has happened to a number of friends of mine who had no choice but to be fired from their positions so that the older person could keep working, even though they had better qualificaitons than the people who were bumping them. unions work in the mining business, for hospital workers and for factory workers for safty reasons only. educators don't need unions and neither do technology workers.
    • Re:No Unions! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by neitzsche (520188)
      I partially agree with you, but for nearly opposite reasons.

      You say that unions "theoretically exist for the benefir of all members" but that is not true: they theoretically exist to combat abusive management.

      What *really* scares me about unionizing the IT sector is that we would suddenly have more concrete/inflexible/mandated diploma and certificate requirements. Rarely does a BS in CS indicate that someone can program well. Experience is a much clearer indicator. If all IT were unionized, my job would require someone with a BS or MA (as it currently does) but the rules would not be able to bend to allow me to work!
    • Re:No Unions! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by BitGeek (19506)

      Nevermind that you should find the idea of inviting the mafia in to extort protection money repugnant.

      Who would voluntarily pay %15 of their salary to an organization that demands it under penalty of loosing their job?

      And ultimately, when it comes down to it, the union will always negotiate the best deal for the UNION.

      Only you can negotiate the best deal for you.

      • Re:No Unions! (Score:2, Interesting)

        by xyzzy-ladder (570782)
        "Only you can negotiate the best deal for you."

        CEOs hire negotiators and lawyers when they are joining a new company. Why? To negotiate a good deal for themselves and to have a better bargaining position.

        That's why they make the big bucks.

        So Joe Geek goes to get a new job. It's Joe Geek on one side, and the manager, HR, and the legal department on the other side. Who's in a better position?

        When you get a job, you sign whatever paperwork they tell you too. They have it printed in advance, you can read it (or not), but if you don't sign it, you don't get the job.

        Now if Joe Geek had his own laywer (or a union rep), he can say, "Change this, add this, take out this."

        A union evens the playing field. That's why someone with a union gets more pay, better benefits, greater job security, and more control over their work than people who don't

        The Labor Movement - the People who brought you the weekend.
        • If you want to hire (and pay) for a professional negotiator then that's your business. If you are a poor negotiator it might even be in your best interest. However, pretending that the Union boss is going to negotiate in your best interest and not the best interests of the Union and all the old cronies that have seniority is laughable.

          You are also naive if you think that having a Union rep would allow Joe Geek to modify his employment contract. When you join a Union you invariably end up with the Union-negotiated contract which almost certainly doesn't have your best interests at heart but instead has the best interests of the senior employees and the Union representative.

          • Re:No Unions! (Score:2, Insightful)

            by xyzzy-ladder (570782)
            If you are union, and you don't like the employment contract, you can vote against it. If you are not union, and you don't like the contract that the company writes for you, too bad.

            If you don't like the union rep, you can vote him out.

            If unions are so bad, why do companies always form unions of their own, like industry associations, the chamber of commerce, etc?
            • I suppose I should make the distinction between Labor Unions and other assorted assocations that sometimes are called "Unions." There are plenty of times when it is in a person's best interests to organize into groups for social or political reasons. Industry associations and the chamber of commerce are nothing more than a group of like-minded folks trying to effect local or national politics. If this was all Unions did, then I would be 100% behind them. Heck, I have even been part of a Union.

              I just wasn't so naive as to think that my Union representative had my best interests at heart. My Union rep wanted a piece of my paycheck, nothing more, nothing less. As a model employee I had no need of the Union for job protection, and as a low person on the seniority totem pole I could be guaranteed that advancement opportunities were impossible.

              I have found that making myself invaluable to my employer is far more lucrative than using a Union to make me hard to fire. Your experience might be different.

        • Re:No Unions! (Score:3, Insightful)

          by BitGeek (19506)
          When you get a job, you sign whatever paperwork they tell you too. They have it printed in advance, you can read it (or not), but if you don't sign it, you don't get the job.


          Thats just stupid. I have yet to sign one of these without making changes, and I have yet to have someone retract a job offer because of it. And I didn't need to get a lawyer or give up %15 of my income to a union to do it-- I am a competent individual who is able to read contracts and write changes. Its not that difficult.

          Unions don't level the playing field, they make it so that incompetent bofoons get paid just as much as competent people-- which drives down job satisfaction.

          On top of that, a union better beat my deal by %20 to even break even, since they are taking such a large cut of ones salary.

          The labor movement did not bring you weekends.

          The labor movement is what brought the mafia into the mainstream of business.

    • Re:No Unions! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 4of12 (97621)

      Practically, those kinds of problems do exist with unionized workplaces.

      It's too bad unions are that way, because they are a natural response to the kind of exploitation that can occur sometimes (cf 19th century industrial revolution) when very few labor purchasers swim in a very large market of individuals. Natural market forces will push wages down to levels where your serf society starts to look downright feudal and would make current poverty problems look mild by comparison.

      The problem is that most unions are run for a blanket protection of the whole herd of sheep.

      Scragly, mangy sheep get the same equitable protection as those bristly, wool-producing rams. The universal broad-based support needed to form a union seems to rely upon that kind of universal protection extended to everyon without regard to ability. In the same way, the United States Declaration of Independence got broad support by positing that "all men are created equal" and deserving of equal protection, when, really, many at the time probably figured that white, over 25, property-owning, non-enslaved males deserved more protection than other kinds of people. The framers just needed something general to garner broad support to fly against the much-hated system of ancestral rights based on family name of the nobility.

      IMHO, it's symptomatic of the chicken-egg problems with teachers and teacher pay.

      Teachers have to unionize to get paid anything decent, but once they have the union they resist merit initiatives that would differentiate and pay good teachers a lot more than bad teachers.

      The justification for rejecting merit pay usually seems to be that deciding upon good and bad teachers is put into the hands of those no-good management lackeys working for a highly political school administration, whose sole aim in life is to destroy the union by firing the top organizers (I'm sure it does happen sometimes.)

      But in reality, I suspect that the highest ranks of the union are populated by members who boast of seniority and good people-organizing skills, not necessarily good teaching skills, so there's a built-in conflict of interest.

      If teacher's unions organized their own internal quality standards and ratings, perhaps they could get some sympathy from the administrations and voting tax base for higher pay. Otherwise, they could simply present data showing their good teachers were leaving for better-paying positions elsewhere and your Johnny and Sally are getting a 2nd-rate education.

      I doubt geeks will organize in the same way for a while. There are barriers to entry to prevent the supply of knowledgeable and highly-trained geeks from increasing to where their salaries go down severely. Geeks can still get paid a lot better than your average high school graduate - certainly better than your average teacher.

      • Re:No Unions! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by schon (31600)
        It's too bad unions are that way, because they are a natural response to the kind of exploitation that can occur sometimes (cf 19th century industrial revolution)

        Yes, and you'll note that today (in first world countries), other things that appeared in the 19th century aren't around either - things like child labour and unsafe working environments...

        Unions were a response to unfair working conditions at that time because there were no labour laws... fortunately, society has evolved to recognize that chaining children to sewing machines isn't a civilzed thing to do, and we've passed laws against it... just like we've passed laws regarding minimum wage, and workplace safety.

        Unions had their place at one time, but they serve no useful purpose today, except to drive up the cost of doing business. Just because an idea was useful at one time, does not mean we need to keep it around once other, more effective, methods are available.
        • You're right, in that many of the most egregious reasons for unions have been ameliorated by various laws.

          However, there are many people who would argue that such laws do not yet go far enough.

          The minimum wage, in particular, has seen considerable erosion in real terms over the past quarter of a century. Maybe it was too high then to compete in a global economy. Maybe it's too low now. But it's a matter of debate rather than a foregone conclusion.

          Likewise with workplace safety.

          Conditions in modern meatpacking plants are not as safe as some people would like. I haven't personally worked in such a factory, so I can't say anything more than I've read some pretty atrocious accounts in books such as Fast Food Nation. There again, I'm sure there's a debate over what laws represent a reasonable and cost-effective safeguard against bad things.

          You and I do agree that laws can address some of the problems that occurred in the 19th century.

          I think, though, that the free market will constantly push towards reducing costs and increasing profits in innovative ways, including attempts to make the legal environment less burdensome to business.

          Where the right balance lies is a very tricky thing to find. There's a great deal of both emotion and of money involved that tends to cloud where the right answer lies.

  • wah (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GigsVT (208848)
    I have seen my department and my co-workers displaced, disrespected, displeased, and occasionally dismissed over the same kinds of technological shifts

    Oh yeah, poor you, forced to work there. Unions are the last refuge of the inept and the inflexible.

    People whine about the RIAA being anti-free-market, protectionist, etc, then turn around and propose something like a union? Gimme a break.
    • Re:wah (Score:5, Interesting)

      by duffbeer703 (177751) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @02:06PM (#4566523)
      Too bad you can't think for yourself.

      RIAA is the antithesis of free market. RIAA is an organization of media companies who band together to fix prices and shutout competition. RIAA is why you cannot find music published by smaller record labels in music shops.

      A companies actions are not necessarily capitalist just because a company is a private enterprise. In the past, meat packers, oil companies and steel companies banded into trusts and exerted monopoly influence over the markets. Coalitions of organized labor and progressive reform movements defeated the trusts, who are now re-emerging today. A great example of this is ExxonMobil. When Rockeffeler's Standard Oil Trust was broken up, the two largest parts were Standard Oil of Pennsylvania (Exxon) and Standard Oil of New Jersey (Mobil).

      Whine about the ineptitude of organized labor all you want. When you find yourself paying $4.00 a gallon for gasoline to a giant oil conglomorate, you will be doing so because there was no powerful force like organized labor to counterbalance the power of oil company campaign contributions.
      • Whine about the ineptitude of organized labor all you want. When you find yourself paying $4.00 a gallon for gasoline to a giant oil conglomorate, you will be doing so because there was no powerful force like organized labor to counterbalance the power of oil company campaign contributions.

        Trust me -- a free market could combat $4 per gallon gasoline, without the need of unions. Remember when gas prices skyrocketed in the 70's. What happened? The japanese came in and showed us how to create cars with better fuel mileage. Free market prevails. No union required.
      • RIAA is the antithesis of free market. RIAA is an organization of media companies who band together to fix prices and shutout competition. RIAA is why you cannot find music published by smaller record labels in music shops.

        The RIAA is a cartel, just like De Beers. A cartel is what it's called when sellers in a marketplace agree amongst themselves not to compete with each other on price and often on quality, thereby inflating the price and reducing quality to the lowest common denominator. This is because it is not in the economic interest of any member of the cartel to provide a better quality than any other member, since they won't be rewarded for doing so. A marketplace should act in the best interests of both sellers and buyers, but a cartel skews the market against the buyers. In most regulated markets, cartels are illegal.

        Hiring labor is a market like any other. There is a buyer (called an "employer"), and a seller (an "employee"). The seller is selling time, and the buyer is buying it.

        The only difference between a cartel and a union is that unions are legal. It is no coincidence that the heavily unionized industries - auto manufacturing, steel, coal mining - have been wrecked, because the internal market that rewards quality and implicity punishes poor quality has been destroyed by the activity of the cartel. A company is an organization for generating economic value. If productivity is not the criteria by which it is measured, instead it employees people to artificially swell the payroll even though they do not produce more than they cost, the cost/benefit calculation fails, and its resources cannot be allocated efficiently. It is doomed therefore to burn its capital, and will implode when that is exhausted. Like any protectionist policy, a union can only protect the interests of its members in the short term, because it is inherently less efficient that a free market in labor.
      • by schon (31600)
        When you find yourself paying $4.00 a gallon for gasoline to a giant oil conglomorate, you will be doing so because there was no powerful force like organized labor to counterbalance the power of oil company campaign contributions.

        I'm sorry, but WHAT!?!?!

        Are you implying that the price of oil is regulated by the government? And that the only reason that gas is the price it is today, and not more, is because organized labour are paying the government to keep the price 'low'?

        Whatever you've been smoking, you should seriously talk to your dealer, because he's cutting it with something nasty!
        • Nope, I'm implying that oil prices are determined by cartels of oil producers and refiners.

          Oil companies manipulate the available supply of various petroleum products to maintain high prices. During the winter, for example, supplies of fuel oil are constrained, shooting the price up to $1.50 a gallon in NY and guaranteeing the refiner a profit even if the winter is mild.

          Back about 40 years ago, the petroleum industry was heavily regulated and playing games with supply led to a stiff fine.

          Today oil companies and media conglomorates represent the vast bulk of political contributions and heavily influence US laws and policy.

          All I am suggesting that organized labor was a much more powerful force in the past, and influenced policy that helped regular people more than corporate executives and shareholders.
    • Learn some history (Score:5, Insightful)

      by V. Mole (9567) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @02:11PM (#4566578) Homepage

      Unions are the last refuge of the inept and the inflexible

      Before you make such an ignorant comment, I suggest you read a little history about what working class life was like before unions. Or what such life is like in non-unionized countries. Or what's been happening in the US as the power of the unions has been undermined by the plutocrats who run our country.

      Sure, there are problems with specific unions, and specific situation. Guess what? There is no perfect system. But if you want to see a real refuge for "the inept and the inflexible", I suggest you look into the manager and low-level VP ranks of any significantly sized company. It sure isn't those folk who get laid off when the senior management fscks up.


      • Spoken like someone who has no clue what it takes to run a company.

        Here's the clue you're lacking:
        Just because some decision does not fit your agenda or make your life easier, does not mean the person who made it is inept and incompetent. It means that person had to take other factors into account.

        The inability to do so is why you will never join his ranks.

        • Spoken like someone whose never worked with incompetent management. I know quite well what it takes to run a company. I've worked with many *good* managers.They've made decisions I may not agree with, but for understandable reasons. They were universally able to explain the decision, and what their priorities were.

          I've also worked with many whose primary purpose in life is to advance their career while making sure that no bad decisions can be traced to them, although they of course are all over the credit for anything good. Unfortunately, because of this way of working, they tend to infiltrate high enough to protect each other, while shooting down the good people as threats to their position. If you've never worked in such an environment, you're damn lucky.

          As for myself, I know work in a reasonably successful 6 person company. You damn well better believe I've got some idea of what it takes to run a company, and how to make *business* justifications for technical work.

      • I suggest you read a little history about what working class life was like before unions. Or what such life is like in non-unionized countries. Or what's been happening in the US as the power of the unions has been undermined by the plutocrats who run our country.

        And I suggest YOU read a little bit about labour laws in those countries, and compare them with ones in first world countries.

        Yes, I realize that many of these laws are the result of union lobbying, but once we have them, there really is no need for unions anymore.

        At one time, Unions were a neccessity, but no longer.
        • Yes, I realize that many of these laws are the result of union lobbying, but once we have them, there really is no need for unions anymore.

          Uh, right, Because we all know that the laws we have now are near-perfect, and can never be repealed or changed, and are always enforced fairly.

          At this time, most skilled tech professionals don't need a union, because we hold enough market power by dint of rare skills.

          But as programming becomes a less-skilled profession, and as jobs migrate to cheaper overseas developers, the time will come when we'll want to pool our selling power to negotiate the best deal - just as buyers often pool their purchasing power to negotiate a good deal.

    • There's nothing wrong with unions that the unions themselves couldn't fix. Traditionally, unions performed a gatekeeper role. They would say to an employer "this person is qualified to do job X". The company could go to the bank on that qualification. At some point in time (50's-60's ?) the unions by and large ceded that role. My brother-in-law works in a union that still subscribes to this viewpoint. If you don't pass union training, you don't move up. If you suck, you get moved down or moved out of the union.
  • Lack of desire (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ctr2sprt (574731) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @01:28PM (#4566102)
    I think that where there aren't unions, it's almost always because the workers don't want them. Part of that is because people feel they're making enough without a union, but I think a lot of it is that unions often have a really bad perception. This perception seems to be most common among the upper and upper-middle economic classes, which is where most IT types are. People like that tend to point to the dockworkers' strike (where the average salary was something ludicrous like $100k/yr) as an example of what unions are today.

    That said, I tend to share that attitude. I think unions are a critical part of a modern post-industrialized society; but they all seem to think that they need to be doing things constantly. Frankly, right now in the IT market, a hypothetical union shouldn't be doing anything significant at all: pay is decent, benefits are decent, and so on. The reason it's not as good as it was two years ago is the economy, and you can't blame just one or two companies for that. And I just don't trust unions not to try to wring concessions out of an employer, and get half the union downsized out of jobs in the process to pay for the bennies of the half that got to stay on.

  • It's probably not going to happen. Unions tend to foster lower pay in exchange for job security and steady hours. Tech heads tend to want high pay in exchange for little job security and strange hours.
  • Unions are evil (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GusherJizmac (80976) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @01:34PM (#4566178) Homepage
    Unions do not do anyone any good except those who will not work hard and achieve. Without a union, you are still free to demand higher wages and better conditions and quit if you don't like it. A Union constricts the employers and employees and allows slugs to subsist on the achievement of others. If you want job security, go work for the government. Tech jobs are probably among the best, most well-paid and have the most favorable environments, and saying that you need a union to improve upon that is just crap.
    • Without a union, you are still free to demand higher wages and better conditions and quit if you don't like it. Are you smoking something? What do you call a worker who makes demands without a union to back him or her up? Fired. Tech jobs are probably among the best, most well-paid and have the most favorable environments, and saying that you need a union to improve upon that is just crap. "Probably" is a key word. You don't even work in the tech industry, do you? You don't know what you are talking about, and it shows.
      • Re:Unions are evil (Score:3, Insightful)

        by BitGeek (19506)

        Funny, I've never been fired for telling my boss that some aspect of the employment situation was problematic.

        Sometimes I've left when they didn't rectify the issue- but even then they were promising they would (that one was a poorly managed company.)

        No, when employees have an issue it almost always affects productivity one way or another (Why do you think health care is provided by employers? Its not because of unions!!!) and management tries to rectify it to keep productivity up. And that also keeps employees happy.

        Where does the union fit in? It just sours this relationship, destroyes productivity and profitability.

        A workforce unionizing is the death toll for the company-- you should just shut down now, or offer the employees whatever it takes to reject the union.

        It will be cheaper in the long run.

  • University Union (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jhughes (85890) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @01:46PM (#4566310) Homepage
    When I worked at a University I was a member of a union (I didnt want to be, but they took dues out of your check weither you wanted to be one or not). It wasn't just for tech heads, it was all campus workers.

    There was a time when the union came in handy. Our boss (anti union) wished to put two union workers under a non union boss (demotion) and change work hours (for some reason you made more pay if you worked second shift/overnight shift) without changing pay rate. Also an increase in hours, on call times, yada yada, plenty more I wont go into . Overall the union did a fine job keeping a boss from abusing his employees.

    However, the same union rules prevented us from accomplishing things as well (no unapproved overtime, so when a project ran long, we HAD to go home, even if we wanted to stay and fix the problem so that several hundred users would be operating okay).

    They're sometimes useful, but more often then not, they're an annoying hassle.


    • AND They stole a cut of your pay!

      You should have reported them to the police.

    • (for some reason you made more pay if you worked second shift/overnight shift)

      It's not odd. It's usually called Shift Differential Pay, and it is very common in hourly jobs. Nurses, policemen, firemen, 911 operators, etc. all get the extra pay in order to compensate them for not being able to live a "regular" lifestyle because they are working in the middle of the night or other odd hours.
  • by legLess (127550) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @01:50PM (#4566362) Journal
    Most geeks are arrogant. We're used to having complete control over our own domain (whether that's our personal box or a huge network) and we brook little interference. We each believe that we're the best, or that with a little more experience with X, we'll become the best. After all, we got where we are largely by teaching ourselves, right? What's so hard about learning a few more things?

    There's something to be said for this attitude - most people have trouble with computers just because they're afraid of them - but there's much to be said against it.

    Stastically speaking, most geeks are not high-end, in-demand, uber-geeks. Nor will we become such. We forget that other people learn at least as fast and well as we do, that the entire geek population is filled with people who basically get high on learning new ways to control their digital environment. It's like the Prarie Home Companion: "All the children are above average." It ain't so.

    All the replies to this thread so far have echoed a common perception of unions: they exist to enforce mediocrity and prop up the lowest common denominator. Question for those who hold such a view: where did you get it? From the newspaper? From TV? From a series of reports on-line?

    Hmmm ... imagine that ... the mainstream media, controlled by the same few large corporations, presents a largely negative view of unions to the U.S. public. It's occured to me that perhaps they have a bias.

    My older sister is pretty high up in the USPS union, and she talks about it a fair amount, so I am informed. Being in the union is a little like being arrested by the cops - everyone, theoretically, has the same right to a defence. This [supposed] sniper guy - he's getting a public defender. Yeah he looks guilty, but that's not the point; the point is that it has to be proven - he has to be granted due process.

    There's a large part of unionization for you: due process. Management knows that it can't capriciously fire someone for (e.g.) having the wrong political viewpoint because the union will take it to task.

    Another part of unionization is collective bargaining. Those with valuable skills in a certain domain will band together and say to management, "If you want our skills, here's how we define 'fair treatment.'" There's nothing anti-capitalist about the idea of unions (implementation is another thing) - it's simply one group of people selling their services to another group.

    People are stronger acting together. Unions, implemented correctly, start and end with that sentiment. This "rugged individualism" (rugged geekdom?) plays well on TV, but doesn't scale to real life. We've all seen that typical geek skills are becoming more common and less valuable.

    Once upon a time being an auto worker was an arcane skill - only a handful of people could build cars, and no one thought it was possible to automate the process. In hindsight that was incorrect. Put down your cyberpunk novel for a minute and realize that the assembly-line was created by Henry Ford specifically to commoditize auto labor, to take as much skill as possible out of the profession. And it worked, while everyone else thought it was impossible. Who'll be the Henry Ford of geekdom? Want to bet your future that one will never appear?

    Ask yourself why organized labor scares management so much. Is it because companies care about their workers, their products, or the people who buy them? If you believe that you haven't been reading the news for the last ... 250 years.

    Having said all that, there are some very real problems with unions. But no more so than with any other group of people, with human faults and foibles. You're a cog in a machine. Maybe you're an especially large and influential cog, but you won't stay that way. Whether you organize with the other cogs is up to you.

    • Organized labor scares management because there is no class of individual more skilled at bleeding a company dry than the mafia.

      Any business owner would be foolish to not be very concerned indeed, especially given the plentiful examples of companies that could be profitable but are never able to make a profit because the union is sucking them dry. For instance, almost every airline, car manufacturer, airplane manufacturer, etc.

      And the counter examples are even more telling: Southwest airline is one of the few profitable airlines right now and they are that way because they DON'T have a strong union. They treat their employees right and the union stays out of it.

      Any company that wants to fire me because of my religious beliefs is a company that I didn't want to work for anyway (but I'll be happy to take their stock due to this cause less firing).

      Any company that allows its workforce to be orgnaized is foolish. And the laws that prevent it from firing employees that organize violate basic human rights (Right of free association)

      If you have been reading the news, maybe you've noticed that unions are unreasonable (the demands of the dock workers-- the issue was over how many non-working stiffs would be kept on the payroll!) and that this country was unionized in a war of violence-- you didn't unionize, hoffa burned down your shop.

      Unions have outlived their usefulness, been proven to be completely corrupt and not managed in the interests of the lawyers.

      Only a fool or a sucker joins a union.

    • All the replies to this thread so far have echoed a common perception of unions: they exist to enforce mediocrity and prop up the lowest common denominator. Question for those who hold such a view: where did you get it? From the newspaper? From TV? From a series of reports on-line?

      No... from friends and family who have worked in unions, and around others who are in unions. Some of the biggest horror stories I've heard are from my cousin, who is a LAN manager at a large phone company in the northeast. The IT guys are not union. The rest of the company is.

      Unions prop up the dregs. A free market economy does not require a union, in MOST cases.

      Hmmm ... imagine that ... the mainstream media, controlled by the same few large corporations, presents a largely negative view of unions to the U.S. public. It's occured to me that perhaps they have a bias.

      My older sister is pretty high up in the USPS union, and she talks about it a fair amount, so I am informed.


      Ahhh, so you're getting your info from an equally biased source.
    • "If you want our skills, here's how we define 'fair treatment.'"

      That's a convienient little leap of logic in your argument there. What should that definition be? Why should the definition of 'fair treatment' be one sided, when there are potentially three sides? How long do you think 'fair treatment' will stay 'fair' when it's dictated by one party. Here's a hint: Is it fair when it's defined solely by the employer? What about people who are unemployed, and are willing to work in conditions that a union is protesting. Companies aren't allowed to ditch the greedy union members for a new workforce. The law doesn't provide exceptions to that protection, and it gives unions too much power.

      Put down your cyberpunk novel for a minute and realize that the assembly-line was created by Henry Ford specifically to commoditize auto labor, to take as much skill as possible out of the profession. And it worked, while everyone else thought it was impossible. Who'll be the Henry Ford of geekdom? Want to bet your future that one will never appear?

      Welcome to real life. When your skills are no longer needed you need new skills. The correct solution to the problem, should the Heny Ford of geekdom ever come along, will be to get jobs doing something else. The solution is not to force the use of outdated labor on an industry to preserve unnecissary jobs. People with your attitude will end up in mediocrity, their jobs only existing because they are leveraging the power of a union, not because they are truely useful. The rest of us will adapt to a changing environment and accept the risks of life in exchange for the potential rewards. The best part is that even if the risk doesn't pay of financially all the time, life will be much more interesting and flexable along the way.
    • Unions, implemented correctly, start and end with that sentiment. This "rugged individualism" (rugged geekdom?) plays well on TV, but doesn't scale to real life. We've all seen that typical geek skills are becoming more common and less valuable

      Answer me this: if your skills are less valuable, by what logic should you even be paid the same for them, let alone more?

      There's actually little reason for your skills portfolio to become less valuable over time. Let me give you example. When I started in IT (1996), HTML and Perl CGI were in-demand skills. Very few people had them, lots of people wanted them, those that did have them were well paid for them by those who wanted them. Nowadays, of course, it's difficult to find someone who doesn't have HTML, and Perl CGI isn't really in demand anymore now that PHP, Cold Fusion, JSP et al are used.

      But, I'm not unemployed, because I kept my skills up to date (FWIW, I do mission-critical OLTP work for investment banks). Someday, that'll be obsolete too - but I'm not even worried slightly, in 5 years I'll have a whole new skill set, and I'll still be ahead of the curve.

      What would a union do? Demand, backed by threats of strikes and pickets, that companies should stick with old-fashioned, labor-intensive technologies to save their members from having to develop their skills? Demand that only union-members are employed, then restrict membership to drive up the price, even though there are people with the same skills happy to do the work for less? That's what happens in unionized industries. It rests on the assumption that all workers are equal and are entitled to equal treatment.

      But that falls apart in any business where individuals can have an impact on productivity, and those individuals know that by freely associating, they can get a lot more done. You can see this time and time again - mini-mills outproducing Big Steel is a typical case. The buyers will go to where they can get the most for the least - that's rational economic behavior. Without government protection, customers will leave inefficient union shops in droves. Without customers but the union insisting that the payroll isn't cut, the organization will lose money, eating into its reserves. Eventually those will be gone, and rather than a few people losing their jobs, everyone will lose their jobs. If there are no subsidies forthcoming from the taxpayer, the employer will collapse.
    • All the replies to this thread so far have echoed a common perception of unions: they exist to enforce mediocrity and prop up the lowest common denominator. Question for those who hold such a view: where did you get it? From the newspaper? From TV? From a series of reports on-line?

      From union fucktards that won't let me haul my own equipment at trade shows, then use 3X more manpower, take 2X more time and demand 5X more money to move 1U boxen a couple hundred yards.

  • by chriso11 (254041) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @01:50PM (#4566367) Journal
    I don't know about you, but there are many reasons to consider unions for techs:
    1) H1B visa abuses.
    2) Exporting IT and programming jobs overseas.
    3) Significant layoffs across the board in silicon valley (yeah - some might think that it's deserved, but ask no for whom the bell tolls...)

    I am quite concerned about being able to work as an engineer for 20 more years (I've got 11 years already). I think that the corporations will find ways to reduce our salaries. What will you do when your $100K/yr job is gone and the only things around are $30K work at Frys?
    • I don't know about you, but there are many reasons to consider unions for techs:

      While I am understanding and even sympathetic to your reasons, I hold that the reason that companies are utilizing H1B workers, overseas development shops, and laying off workers has everything to do with market demand. Since we have a free market for IT workers, we (collectively the IT industry) should have capped our rates ourselves, or at the very least made them reasonable. In other words... is it *really worth* 300/hr to pay someone to write code when the industry averages tell us that might only produce 6 lines of code? I don't think so. On the other end of the spectrum, we have people on places like eLance who are demeaning themselves by charging $3000 for a project that should cost $30,000.

      So, what's the answer? Keep plugging away, I guess. Take a good long look at *your* value, and then take a long, hard look at what a client (or employer) is willing to pay, and somewhere in between is the rate you should be charging.

      I am currently working on a project that will compete directly with offshore call centers, component manufacturing and the like. We have capped our rates to be more than fair to both our workers and our clients. The potential clients are tripping all over themselves to participate. Sure, it might cost a couple bucks an hour more per person than an Indian (or Russian, or whatever) shop, but American companies tend to prefer contributing directly to the American economy, given a prudent financial choice.

    • There are two reasons why techies don't have a union. 1. We would have to create one from scratch, as there are no existing IT unions we could just join. 2. Management types and republicans have many of us believing unions are bad, even though nyone with half a brain can see management would have us working for free if they had their way. If we don't get organized, the few IT jobs left in the US will soon be paying minimum wage. People have already left the company I work for (Pomeroy)because assistant managing an Arbys pays more.


      • Think about what you just said-- they'd have us working for free if they could.

        But they can't because we won't work for free.

        That is what keeps our wages up.

        A third party there to tell them that we won't work for free doesn't help us, and it costs us because we have to pay the third party. That's all a union is.

        the idea that IT jobs will be minimum wage is down right silly. Just cause we're in a downturn you think that's the future of the industry?

        they will never pay minimum wage because we would go do something that paid more than minimum wage-- after all, we can make minimum wage anywhere.

        If arbys is offering a better deal than a tech job, then that company is in trouble. But somehow, I start to think you aren't really doing tech work.

      • nyone with half a brain can see management would have us working for free if they had their way

        And who can blame them, when the whole Open Source community is hell-bent on doing so anyway? :-)

        If we don't get organized, the few IT jobs left in the US will soon be paying minimum wage

        I suggest you read Yourdon's books, "Decline and Fall" and "Rise and Ressurection of the American programmer".

    • Of course corporations will work to reduce our salaries, just as we work to raise them.

      But you can't get blood from a turnip-- if the wages don't make sense economically, the union certainly can't get them for you.

      As to the racist fear of foriegn workers, get over it. If somebody else can do your job better than you, then he deserves it-- whatever his ethnicity.

      Basically, tech jobs are pretty secure-- we will continue to participate in job growth and income growth and we don't need unions-- they would only make matters worse.

      The economy didn't go away.

    • > What will you do when your $100K/yr job is gone and the only things around are $30K work at Frys?

      Pray they have a good dental plan.
      I couldn't agree more with the H1B Visa abuse. Unfortunately, I have seen people who have a dollar for every time they abuse an H1B, and they all drive Mercedes.
      I know too many people that have lost their job, destroying the cohesiveness and effectiveness of a department, just so management could look good by showing they saved a few hundred dollars by outsourcing projects offshore (Getting undocumented crap).
      The last one I don't agree with. There was a lot of fat in the industry that needed to be trimmed, and it is down to the bone.
      There are a lot of problems with the tech sector (Engineering and IT, both of which are very different). Uniting in a union might solve problems, and Unions don't always prop up the "underachievers", people just like to see the worst-case scenarios.

      Making an IT/Engineering Union just will not work, though. People must be willing to risk their entire livelihoods to start a union from scratch. Most Unions in the past were created to force management to make working conditions safer.
      Unless computers become deadly-killing-machines soon, I don't think ENOUGH people will be willing to risk it all to start a union.

  • Unions mean you work when you are told and under the conditions of the union. Entrepreneurs are going to constantly be presured to tow the line or leave town. No moonlighting. Competitive wages will be gone. You'll work for scale, and give a (large) percent of your income to the union.

    In the case of United Auto Workers, unions costs have doubled the price of most cars. Expect IT to become more expensive and go overseas. The tech sector is already hurting. Unions could kill it.
    • You'll work for scale, and give a (large) percent of your income to the union

      I know dozens of people in unions. Union dues are typically 0.5% of your base pay. That's hardly a 'large percent'.

      • Yeah, that's why my girlfriend paid %15 of her salary to her union. And after she got fired, she STILL owed the union money.

        And she didn't have a choice-- they guy a father of three fired because he didn't join the union.

        EXTORTION. And don't believe the lies about how little they extort. Even for unions that don't extort that much, its still extortion.
        • Yeah, that's why my girlfriend paid %15 of her salary to her union. And after she got fired, she STILL owed the union money.

          Smells like a Limbaugh...

          As I said, I know many people in unions and trade associations: grocery workers, nurses, teachers, tech workers, doctors, and have NEVER heard anything remotely close to 15%.

          Here's some data from a non-union-friendly org that shows that a typical union due is $200-500 a year:
          http://www.epf.org/research/newsletters/1996/ff2 -1 1.asp

          The highest deduction that I've heard of was 5%. This was for the Longshoremans Union, they used that 5% to provide healthcare, life insurance, unemployment benefits, build affordable housing developements (nice developments) for the members in the center of San Francisco, and provide a great pension for all retired workers.

          Yes, they probably used some of it for partisan politics. And yes, for some jobs it's a compulsory union. Not things I agree with, but the union is the only thing that makes the job bearable. Without the union, longshore workers would have the shittiest job in town.

          They organized brilliantly. More power to them.

        • 15%??? Did you leave out a decimal point there? I call your bluff. Name of the union please.

          And can someone really be fired for not being in a union (I presume in the US)? In the UK I beleive we have laws enforcing your right to join or not join a union.
  • Arrogance (Score:4, Interesting)

    by duffbeer703 (177751) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @01:56PM (#4566431)
    A large portion of the tech community consists of people who have an impaired ability to work with others and a distorted view of their own importance.

    Plenty of IT types see themselves as the backbone of the company, since they "support" the systems that are the "backbone" of most organizations. They work long hours without overtime and are often on call. Programmers often have it even worse, having to deal with short deadlines and an always increasing demand for quality.

    To make this more palatable, companies have infused workers with the idea that they are being "entrepreneurial" by working outragous hours and doing unreasonable work. The lure of stock options and advancement has convinced plenty of people to abandon their lives and families in favor of careers.

    In reality, most IT workers are tiny cogs in a wheel. As time goes on, distributed systems and offshore labor will either automate or export their jobs out of the market.
  • No way (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kelleher (29528)
    Call me crazy, but I'd rather get paid for the quality of my work - not how long I've been the member of a union.

    I don't even believe in tieing vacation to length of service. Give the cash and the bennies to the high performers and let the mediocre fight for the scraps.

    • Call me crazy, but I'd rather get paid for the quality of my work - not how long I've been the member of a union.

      So go into consulting.

      Oh, you meant you'd rather get paid for how good your negotiation skills are.

  • by stefanlasiewski (63134) <slashdot@stef a n c o . com> on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @02:06PM (#4566528) Homepage Journal
    Alot of the Slashdot Libertarians will post their negative views on unions (And I agree with some of those negative points), so I'll post a positive view.

    I'm actually amazed that IT wokers don't organize. IT workers are willing to bend over backwards for their bosses: 15 hour work days, no weekends, cancelling vacations, endless workloads, changing goals. You would rarely see this in a union shop.

    I used to work at one of the only unionized IT shops in the US: www.igc.org [igc.org] (Some of you may remember IGC from the early-web days. We provided usenet, web, and mailinglist services to nonprofits and NGOs). I served as a union rep for 1 year.

    After 2.5 years in a union shop and 2 years at a non-union-shop, I prefer the Union. Here's why:

    - At the union, we all worked 40 hours a week, sometimes more to meet the deadlines. I rarely worked weekends. We got more pay for pager duty.

    - Most union members get Wage pay vs Salary (but this isn't specific to the union). More then 40 hours = overtime pay. This financial incentive encourages management to hire enough staff. With Salary pay, it doesn't matter if you work 70 hours vs 40 hours, you get paid the same. Management has a financial incentive to squeeze you for as much time as they can get

    - At the dotcom, I worked 50-70 hours a week. Refusing the work was not an option. Even though I made 20% more money at the dotcom job, I made LESS PER HOUR then at the Union.

    - Equitable pay rates. None of this "John and Jane both do the same job and have the same experience, but John makes $30K more then Jane because he was hired during the dotcom boom" bullshit.

    - You can still get more pay with more experience

    - You can still get bonuses based on merit and goals.

    - You can have a Union rep on the board of directors/management team/leadership circle . None of this "Managment is switching all of your tasks. You need to have project Y done by next week! Now get going!" crap that I see in typical businesses.

    - The union reps have special legal protections in most states. A union rep can go to the head of the company, and say that their plan is doomed to failure. In a typical business, you might get fired or disciplined for 'subordination'. That can't happen to you if you are a union rep (In most US States).

    - We had monthly union meetings to make sure that our shop was on track

    - Union reps were elected in a fair, anonymous, democratic process

    Note: Most of the above points can occur in any business. But it's rare unless the workers organize.

    At the same time, none of the above issues are mandatory to a union. It's your union, and your membership can decide what it wants to do. You can be as strict or as flexible as you want.


    • Wow. Almost every one of those is a reason NOT to have unions!

      Who wants a rep-- you go talk to your boss directly.

      And the state giving union reps special rights and protections-- that's just wrong.

      Plus, and in the end, I will never allow a third party to extort part of my paycheck.

      My job is a relationship between me and my employer. If either of us don't like it, we can end the relationship. Unions make the country less productive, the workers LESS happy, and the employers more likely to go out of business.

      Oh, and since I started reading this, you marked me as a foe-- I haven't even posted this response yet, so you marked me as a foe because of my opinion posted elsewhere in this thread? Cover your ears and close your eyes!

      I've never seen a union that was democratically run, and every time I've had to deal with one or been a member, it was NOT in my best interest.

      They are great in theory- and any 10 or so employees can collectively bargain, they don't need a union- but unions themselves are a bad answer to a problem more easily handled by ad-hock collective bargaining. and cheaper too!

    • I'm a bit conflicted on the whole issue of unions, myself. I've seen good ones, and I've seen bad.

      Some of the best I've seen are probably the professional theater unions. I'm not a professional actor, but I have done some apprenticeships with professional theaters as a hobby, and I've learned a few things about these organizations. Three good things about these unions:
      1) They don't let just anyone in, you have to show that you're a Professional, just as you have to have some qualifications to enter the IEEE or get a license to call yourself a Professional Engineer. They also provide training opportunities, similar to IEEE etc. In this, I consider them to be more Professional Trade Organizations than Organized Labor.
      2) They provide members with benefits that non-actors might get through their employers (credit unions, health insurance, etc.) that actors have a tough time with due to the irregular nature of their employment, potentially having a different boss in a different city every performance season and so on.
      3) The Law stays pretty much out of the employee/employer relationship.

      This third point is important. There are certain signs, I think, of when a union goes bad. One is when you can't get a job in a certain field without being part of the union. When I worked at Kroger, I was told that I had the option to join the Local Grocery Workers' Union, but I decided not to, and all was fine. State law says the union can't stop the employer from hiring me. It's not so for all industries and all states.

      Bad Thing #2 is when the unions go political. Combine this with mandated union membership, and if I want a job, then a portion of my money will be donated to whatever party the Union likes, whether I like that party or not. As you say, the unions are democratic in nature, but so is a lynch mob. Democracy alone does not guarantee individual rights.

      Political power can lead straight into Bad Thing #3, when politicians and laws take away an employer's right to decide whether or not he will deal with a union. For example, out on the West Coast, it may be at some point cheaper for the shipping companies to hire and train a completely new workforce rather than give the union what they want. But the Federal Government has a law against this. Through the power of government, they have their employer and the economy of the nation at their mercy, and they know it. With this kind of power, they've got no reason to come to an agreement that's fair on both sides.

      You talked of the problem of management squeezing the employers of all their worth. Well, that's because management has the power. Give the unions the power to squeeze beyond reason, and odds are they'll use it, too. And someone undeserving is likely to get hurt either way.

      The best 'union gone bad' quote I've read is from Atlas Shrugged. I lent my copy to someone else, so I may not get it right, but it's from when Dagny Taggert tells the would-be union bosses, "You want to hold me hostage by my employees, and you want to hold my employees hostage by the jobs I give them."

      Thomas Paine said that, if the dictates of conscience were strong enough, there would be no need for government, and government would not exist. Similarly, if all employers treated their employees fairly for fair work, as I have been treated at some but not all of the jobs I have held, there would be no need for unions. The fact that there is a shortage of unions in the IT field just indicates to me that the demand is not very great.

      Incidentally, I am working in one of those 'regular overtime' places right now. It's a small company, though, and small companies generally don't unionize. Less of a distance between the top of the totem pole and the bottom, and fewer seats for the to fill should we all spontaneously decide to walk off. And according to the statistics, most of America's economic growth comes from small businesses. I think most unions are in long-established, labor-oriented industries, such as shipping, construction, and factory-working. If IT can still be considered a 'young' sector of the economy, I'm not all that surprised that things are the way they are.

      Whew... didn't mean for this post to go that long. I'd better hit submit before I think of something else!
    • - At the dotcom, I worked 50-70 hours a week. Refusing the work was not an option. Even though I made 20% more money at the dotcom job, I made LESS PER HOUR then at the Union.

      Horseshit. Refusing is always an option. If the boss wants to fire you for having a life, you're a moron to continue working for them. Sounds like you were in a losing job (as were most dotcom jobs) and just didn't want to leave because of the big stock carrot dangled in front of you.

      - You can still get bonuses based on merit and goals.

      Depends on your union. My partner's union just disallowed this. Can you believe that?
      • Refusing is always an option. If the boss wants to fire you for having a life, you're a moron to continue working for them. Sounds like you were in a losing job (as were most dotcom jobs) and just didn't want to leave because of the big stock carrot dangled in front of you.

        The carrot was part of it. But mostly I didn't want to be looking for a new job in today's crappy economy, so I stayed with it. After a while, I started refusing new projects and requested that they hire more help, or at least reorganize the priorities to something sane. A few months later my complaints, I was part of the staff that got laid off, probably in (small?) part to me refusing the new work...

        Sucks, but it's probably better to be out here. I feel even more sorry for the people who kept their jobs, and now have quite a heavy workload. Or maybe I'm just in denial...

        - You can still get bonuses based on merit and goals.
        Depends on your union. My partner's union just disallowed this. Can you believe that?


        Yeah, that sucks. We had a similar proposal in our group, but it didn't pass. It's a common contraversy in unions...
  • I've seen the acronym "TA" appear in a few articles recently - could someone please explain it for me. Ty.
    • I've seen the acronym "TA" appear in a few articles recently - could someone please explain it for me. Ty

      Teaching Assistant. It's common for tenured academic faculty to get their grad students to do the bread-and-butter teaching work, like marking exam papers. TAs are the bottom of the academic pile. It's little better than indentured servitude, but they have to suck it up or get on the bad side of the prof who holds their fate in his hands. TAs are miserable, but everyone's gotta pay their dues.
  • by BitGeek (19506) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @02:16PM (#4566620) Homepage

    I swear by my job, and my pride in it, that I will never join any union, brotherhood, or "workers association", nor will I allow, tolerate or associate with any such entity in any job I ever work at.

    My skills are my own soverign property-- no union, guido, flim-flam man, or other parasite will ever profit from them, nor will they be allowed to undermine my value by negotiating in my behalf.

    As a FREE MAN, I know my value, and will never submit to the tyranny of others.

    I will never allow myself to be in a position where someone can extort money from me under penalty of losing my job if I don't pay it.

    I am a free man. I will not give that up.

    No unions.
    • Do you work for yourself, or do you work for "the man"? I'm not a big union fan, but your employer is already profiting from your skills, that's why they hired you.

      Whether or not the union takes a cut of your salary is irrelevant - you would end up working for (say) 50,000 - 2,000 = 48,000 dollars either way, as your employer would most likely keep the extra in profit. I think some of the possible advantages (health insurance, life insurance, and defined benefits for members) should be discussed.
  • You want unions? Do a little field trip. Visit a union office and talk to the president. Now try to decide if you want this guy to A) take a manditory deduction from your paycheck every month B) negotiate your pay raise C)tell you when you have to take breaks D) tell you what you can and cannot do at your job. I'd rather keep my money and negotiate myself.
  • and there is no place for a union in IT. We are professionals, as were public school teachers, before they were unionized.
    Unions can be beneficial in jobs that can be filled by just anybody. If you can be replaced by somebody who can be fully trained to take over from you and produce just as well as you, the next day, your employer is unlikely to restrain himself from abusing his position of power. In cases like that, the only way for the workers to have sufficient influence over the job is to pool their influence.
    It's unfortunate when they must do so, both for the employer, AND the employees. If management could have made work tolerable for the employees to where they didn't need to unionize, and management failed to take that action, they've just inserted massive inefficiencies and rigidity into their operation for no good reason. If management was unable to accomodate the employees demands because the business would not support it, there is now no way to save the business.
    For the employees (as a whole, not the first ones in), they are now stuck in a situation where the only way to advance is to wait their turn in the rigid union heirarchy, or move into management.
    Once you give up your right to negotiate for yourself, you are no longer a professional. It reminds me of the quote from Benjamin Franklin (often seen in .sigs), "Those who give up liberty for security deserve neither"(go ahead and correct me, I know I don't have it verbatim). However tempting it is, seeing the layoff axe swing closer and closer, minds strong and flexible enough to do what we do can't submit to chains.
  • One little (Score:2, Insightful)

    by iago (4917)
    Rather than reiterate what others have mentioned already, I'd like to add one little benefit about unions. Most, if not all, unions have lobbyists. A percentage of the money you spend to the union would go to having our own folks in Washington fighting to have politicians pass laws that are sane and beneficial to us. Having powerful people in politicking for us would do a lot more than sitting here on slashdot and whining about the abuses of the DMCA, the Patriot Act, etc.

    Of course, this would mean that in elections, we would all have to vote the same way, and most "geeks" (I hate that word) are too damn stubburn, independent, and argumentative to vote a certain way because our union endorses a certain candidate.

    • Thats another detriment-- you're having your salary forcibly extracted from you to pay for lobbying for things you don't believe in, and you call that a benefit?

      Union lobbying is solidly against human rights-- remember they make their money by having government protect their extortion racket so they can force employees to "join" in order to keep their jobs.

  • The harm of Unions (Score:4, Interesting)

    by f97tosc (578893) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @03:26PM (#4567424)
    In an free market, wages and working conditions are set by supply and demand.

    The main objective of Unions is to force through salaries higher than the market rate. If they are successful, they will get these improvements at the expense of:

    - Other employees (unionized or not) - Company profitability

    In other words, at their best, unions are successful zero sum game players. Typically they do much more harm than this: - Cause unemployment, as few employees want to pay above market rate - Attract employees to old-fashioned parts of the economy. For example, people want to become port workers instead of IT nerds because the former pays better (which of course would not be the case if wages were set by the market) - Cause strikes and other obviously economcially harmful activities - Fight technological innovation (i.e., stop bar code technology in the port).

    It is a fallacy to say that the long work of unions have caused today's high standard of living. It is not like Rockefeller et al sat with enough modern cars, computers and TV shows to supply the entire nation, and that the Unions managed to take these luxuries and distribute them. Rather, it is the fantastic improvements in productivity in all sectors that have given the masses a descent living.

    One can also observe the development of real wages in industrial countries. It turns out that these have grown more in countries with weak unions (US, Switzerland) than in countries with strong ones (France, Sweden).

    Vote NO for an IT union.

    Tor
  • by fooguy (237418) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @03:32PM (#4567496) Homepage
    It's ironic to me that the same people who hate unions are the people who miss "the old legal system". Our legal system is supposed to be adversarial because both sides are supposed to get a fair shake at making their point, these days it's more about technicalities and theatrics. Unions are adversarial in the same way: since labor is just as important as management, both should get a say in what decisions are made. Some people's selective memory only grab on to Hoffa, and forget about all the good unions have done since the Knight's of Labor formed in 1869.

    Why did unions come into being? To protect the droves of workers who were just a number from their employer.

    People argue that unions are outdated, that they're vestages of a time when employers did unspeakable things to their employees in the name of a few bucks. Can you really tell me it's any different now? How many employers are there that would work you 100+ hours a week in the name of a couple cent stock divided because they don't want to put a new piece of hardware on the balance sheet.

    Once upon a time, I was a card carrying member of CWA (that's the Communication Workers of America) Local 1112 when I worked for the former Bell Atlantic (in the piece that was the former NYNEX, which was the piece that was the former New York telephone). I was hired right before the strike of 1998, so you could say my time there was interesting.

    I've heard the argument that unions breed mediocrity, and to some extent it's true, but certainly no more than the military. Unions force the employer to create job descriptions, and they insure the employee meets the minimum qualifications for that job. That does not mean that you can't excel, that you can't live above the bar, but you don't put the guy who falls behind on every run on the front line next week.

    The also prevent "crossing of trade". If you're a seasoned network admin, and your CCIE number is under 500, and you built the company's network from nothing (and *for* nothing), the Union is going to stop them from eliminating your job because "the DBA knows how networks work". Does that mean they have to keep redundant people on staff at the risk of the whole company? Certainly not, but the union gets a say in how positions get eliminated.

    A union is also another set of eyes watching the books. I wonder if Worldcom would be in the position it's in if the had been a large union shop. Not that the union aspect would slow the mergers down, but they would have seen that Ebbers was pulling a "merge and hide" with their debt, making them look good on paper.

    I can give you one real good example of a union-driven shop (though bloated) that has been infinately more successful that a comparably management-driven shop.

    In 1984, the federal government ordered AT&T to divest itself of the Baby Bells, creating Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs). Fifteen minutes after the divestiture, AT&T began it's persuit to automate people out of jobs. Once the Telecommunication Act of 1996 passed, made their move to get into local telephone markets again, and eventually they were successful.

    Along the way, AT&T changed market direction a little, bought TCI Cable (I might have screwed the name there) so they could provide broadband with AT&T Worldlink (their ISP), built AT&T Wireless, continued to automate, continuted to cut their bottom line, etc. At their peak, AT&T had their own security force (the Bell Boys), their own Navy (AT&T Longlines Fleet with 5 ships and 3 subs), and their own currency. Today, they're a shell of the former company they were.

    At the same time, New York Telephone (one of the more...aggressively union RBOCS) merged with New England Telephone to form NYNEX. They later merged with the former Bell Atlantic to create the new Bell Atlantic, then merged with GTE to form Verizon. They also branched into wireless and Internet with DSL. They've been working on getting tariffs through to offer long distance in their region since the mid-1990s, and have been successful in several states.

    Verizon is still a very union place to work, and has grown to be one of the largest telecom companies in the world. AT&T in the mean time is trying to scrape together cash to buy a piece of Bell Canada next year.

    Having been inside before the long distance tariffs passed, I can tell you that the unions were all too happy to help management reach its goals for growth with training, overtime, etc. Yes, they got paid for it, but they didn't hold it back, and it's a second set of eyes looking at every merger.

    Now, both AT&T and Verizon are souless vultures, but they practice the same tactics. The one that worked with their union has grown 10 times over, the one that worked against the union is on pretty shaky ground. It could be a coincidence, but almost 20 years of pattern makes me think otherwise.

    So what about us? I would love a union. I would love someone to stand up to management with one voice and say "you're not downgrading our insurance because you can't meet your numbers", or to enforce work hours and pay equity. Unions and IT (in my opinion) would be a fantastic match. You don't want the bar lowered? I want people who can't meet the bar kicked out, and unions are all for that. They don't want unskilled labor sucking down a paycheck and giving them a bad name. I want minimum standards for what is a programmer, what is a dba, what is a network admin.

    Some unions now have high tech training programs and cert programs they sponsor for their employees.

    Don't you think the people who work at places like HP would like one voice to limit the number of layoffs they do in a merger? Would AOL-Timewaner exist as one unit without a union? I doubt it.

    You get a lot for $6 a pay day in dues.

    If your history is rough (or purposely forgotten), it might be worth a refresher to see what Americans went through to get the right to collective bargaining and representation:

    http://www.wld.com/conbus/weal/wlaborun.htm

  • Let's take a little mental trip to everyone's favourite un-Unionized workplaces - the EPZs of the Phillipines (or various other countries in that reigion)! There we have workers in factory, doing unsafe jobs, being underpaid, and getting no respect from their superiors. Comparing that to the Tech sector, I can hear all our local /. Liberatarians screaming "that could never happen to us, they're unskilled and we're not, we can just walk if we're unhappy" and other fun things like that. But I encourage you to think with a bit of a more global perspective.

    You think you're safe because you're skilled? What about all the people coming out of schools in India and the Far East, who are just as skilled and hardworking as you are. And they're willing to work for a third of the price you are, because cost-of-living is so low there. Or they'll work for an equally low wage here if you dangle the magic letters "H1-B" in front of their faces.

    So why don't we all just walk if we're not happy with our situation? Well, for the obvious, where are we gonna walk to, and what will we do when we get there? Sure, you can say you'll walk to Fry's, but in this discussion, that's not what anyone means. Walking is both bad for you (you've gotta find a new job) and bad for teh Company (they've gotta get all the new workers integrated with the project).

    On a more general note, is their any other industry where it's considered acceptable for the workers to have to work 16-hour days and weekends, carry pagers 24/7, kill holidays at the last minute, and spend their lives in dark cramped rooms in front of a monitor? No other industry would stand for this - it'd be illegal. If we want any power of negotiation, we need to Unionize.

    Having said that, I also think there should be some limits on it. In France, for example, it takes only two people to call a strike (but it has to be over an issue for the common good). The SNCF is en greve literally every week in some part of the country. That's too far. What I want is a Union that will stop my job being transfered to Bangalore (or Wisconsin) for no other reason than the bottom line of a company. I want a Union that will make sure I'm compensated if I have to spend most of my expensive holiday in Austria and my valuble vacation days on the phone because the Global Crossing pipeline went down (happened to a friend of mine). And I want a Union that will stand up for me when I say "no" to the "can you come in on Saturday and Sunday" question because my son has a school play - or because I want to sleep in and watch the Game on TV (or at least make sure I'm well-compensated for it). That's what I want, and what we need.
    • What I want is a Union that will stop my job being transfered to Bangalore (or Wisconsin) for no other reason than the bottom line of a company.

      The problem with your whole argument -- and the Union mindset -- is in the phrase "my job". Unions view jobs as semi-permanent things belonging to the worker, and that should continue to exist indefinitely, whether it makes business sense or not.

      It makes more sense to me to take an entrepreneurial approach even if you're a full-time employee, and assume your "job" is really just a project that WILL come to an end. Your strategy is to continue selling your capabilities and to look for opportunities so that when it does come to an end you're first in line for the next one.
  • It would be an awfully good antidote to Sun's N1, which aims to replace large numbers of systems administrators with a little program that Sun wrote. ;)

    At least, that's their goal, anyhow.
  • I have worked in several union shops (manufacturing companies) in the past, and currently work for a RBOC (union shop) being contracted out to a large aerospace manufacturer (union shop). Since I'm in IT, I'm not a bargained employee. Here's what I have witnessed:

    At the RBOC for whom I work, the local CWA decided to threaten to go on strike. The company was doing poorly (as every telecom was/is) and needed to cut costs to stay in business. Instead of offering all-expense-paid benefits to the employees, the company wanted to do a more traditional "we pay most, you pay some" health plan -- I think it works out to around $20-40 per bi-weekly paycheck for a family plan. The union nearly walked (and I mean it was down to the *last* minute). I do not have any desire to have co-workers that maintain that mentality.

    At one manufacturing facility, I was on the floor of the DC, hooking up some fibre. We had the union electrical workers run the cable from cabinet to cabinet, and they turned it over to me so I could actually hook it up. While plugging the fibre into the switch, it slipped out of my hand, went through the hole in the floor, and landed in the cable tray under the floor. I nearly had a greivance filed against me because I reached down and picked it up (without pulling the floor tile, no less!), instead of calling in the union electricians again to pluck the cable from the basket, about 8 inches below the floor. I do not wish to work with people that have that mentality.

    At a different manufacturer, I needed a null-modem serial cable built. I'm quite versed in cutting silver satin cable, crimping ends on to them, and assembling DB25 adapters. Instead of being able to put that together in the 10 to 15 minutes it would have taken me, I had to wait 2 weeks for the on-staff, union electricians to build the cable for me. I gave them the exact pin-outs, and yet, they managed to cross the wires. Instead of being able to open the DB hood and change the pinouts myself, I had to send it back to them and wait another 2 weeks until they could "get around" to fixing it. I do not wish to work with people with that mentality.

    At that same company, I had to wait for about 3 days after I was hired, for a union member to come and move a desk from the office next to mine, so that I'd have a place to put things, like my computer and phone and whatnot. Three days, I had no desk, even though there were three of them in the office next door. Simply because they had a guy who would file a grievance if anyone moved furniture except him. I really don't want to work with anyone with that sort of mentality.

    The long and the short of it is that I have seen first hand, in several different companies, how the unions' protection of a single employee has lowered the efficiency of the company, and of the other employees of the company. I've heard this brought up time after time, and I can't think of any way to make my day at work worse than by bringing in a union.
  • longshoremen (Score:3, Informative)

    by BigBir3d (454486) on Wednesday October 30, 2002 @08:57PM (#4570201) Journal
    Since he brought it up, I will air my grievences.

    I work for a company that imports all manner of goods from overseas. The majority of the goods (~95%) come from China and Taiwan. Anything from that area of the world is shipped by boat directly across the Pacific Ocean to the west coast of the US, Canada, and South America. Most container ships are too big (wide) to go through a canal, be it Suez, or Panama. Unfortunately, most companies are stuck shipping the goods to the W.C. and then using ground (rail, sometimes truck) transport to a major distribution center, such as Charlotte, NY, Kansas City, Chicago etc etc. From there, containers are seperated, ie your 4 pallets are taken out of container, put onto a truck, and shipped to the city (usually) of final destination. Before the container is stripped, it is time for the goods to clear customs. This is when all duties are paid. Some things are duty free (lawn mower parts), and others have insanely high duties (int/ext tooth lockwashers are ~40%). Oh, I hope those wooden pallets (metric pallets are now being made of steel) have papers certifying that they were treated for pests (beetles, termites etc). Then the items go to the end user (retailer, factory or whatever)!

    Obviously, none of this can happen if the goods can not enter the country because they are still on a container ship in some harbor somewhere. And the time the goods spend on that ship are not free, and I am not referring to lost time to sell the item. The shipping companies have instituted extra charges, starting sometime in November, per container. Depending on the shipping line, it can be US$500 for a 20 foot container, and US$1000 for a 40 foot container! This is to make up for "lost revenue due to the longshoremen strike." The thing is, Taiwan and China never actually stopped shipping goods; it was rumored for a few days, but did not actually happen. And those empty containers that go back overseas (sometimes filled, but not usually)? The major center in the US stopped sending empties back to the W.C.

    Small truckers had nothing to haul from the ports. Consumable goods (food etc) started to spoil. Factories that rely on JIT (Just In Time) delivery of supplies (screws, nuts, bolts etc) were forced to temporarily shut down, or worse yet, lay-off workers. Importers couldn't get stuff delivered, which means no money; which makes it hard to order stuff for next March.

    Alaska imports nearly 65% of all things. They had to get an injuction stating that the ports in Alaska could not be closed, for fear of running out of supplies. After all, toilet paper isn't made up there. Hawaii, which imports over 90% (I think) did not get any such injuction, and people started hoarding things (toilet paper was ALWAYS mentioned).

    All of this, because the ILWU is protecting the rights of the their workforce, of 10,500 people. The companies that run the ports want to modernize again. Every time they try, it is resisted in some major way by the unions. The port companies want to use scanners to do the inventory, similar to any grocery store when you 'check-out.' As of today, ALL tracking is done by hand. We are talking quantities, locations, destinations, everything! Each of these operations require a specialized worker. Electronic scanning would simplify, and streamline this entire process.

    Problem? Well, it takes fewer workers to do it by electronic means, obviously. The union says, no can do. They have contracts guaranteeing jobs for all of their personnel.

    So, all of the aforementioned infrastructure, that we so proudly hold up as a benefit of modern society to be awed and copied by all others, is brought to a stop by a union with less than 11 ,000 members. And most people think, well it must be a lot of jobs at stake. They would be wrong. The estimates, by the union itself, is 200-250 jobs. 200 people cost the economy of the US something approaching US$1,000,000,000 per day! For over 10 days!

    People now think, "the strike is over," but it is not over. There is a cooling off period of 80 days, after which the union can strike again. As of the end of last week, negotiations had not started again. The workers are not working at full capacity. They are not working with the normal preicision that they are known for. They are purposefuly recording a container being placed in Lot A, when in fact it's in Lot C, for example. Workers are calling in "sick" more, taking long lunches, more breaks etc.

    Most of the longshoremen want to work. Some do not. Some think it is outrageous that this was allowed to happen, while others are glad that it did.

    In the end, the union can do whatever they want. The government is powerless to stop it, within the current legal environment. The workers make to much money (US$80,000-100,00) to go elsewhere. The management is not willing to break to the pressure of the unions this time, for fear of "next time." And we all get screwed.

    (As a side note, this is why most computers are shipped via air)

    For the IT and related industries, I think unions are a bad idea. You HAVE to go by there rules, otherwise, "see ya, wouldn't wanna be ya!" Not to mention that unions are run by normally by grumpy old men who would not understand the geek culture, and be all to willing to 'black list' any and all members who were not following the ideals of the union. Which might come into play seeming as how most geeks are seen as "anti-social", or "smelly", or "weird"...

The tree of research must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of bean counters. -- Alan Kay

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