• United States

Mailbag: IT unions

Sep 04, 20034 mins
Data Center

* Many readers say union membership is something they would consider

As noted in a previous newsletter, some IT unions are trying to prevent U.S. jobs from being outsourced. I asked readers if they belong to a union or think it could help. Judging from the many responses I received, most said union membership is now something they would consider.

A few readers were reluctant to even let me use their comments anonymously, but of those who were willing to share their feedback, here’s what they said:

An unidentified IT pro from a Fortune 500 company says, “Though I am not part of a union, I would welcome the opportunity!” The reason, he says, is that he’s forced to do more with less, working late into the night with no overtime compensation. He notes that he likes the company but managers make it difficult to transfer internally, and that a union could make it might easier to pursue other opportunities with the same employer.

Chuck Abernathy is an IT pro who is not in the postal industry, but belongs to a postal workers union solely for affordable health insurance. He has mixed feelings about unions and is concerned that he’d encounter the same issues his son did in a temporary job. His son wanted to move a desktop but couldn’t touch the wire connecting it because that job belonged to a union worker.

 “If an IT union goes the way that I have observed other unions go in the past, what I do by myself would be done by 7 or 8 people – taking three times as long and costing five times as much and then I’d be out of a job!  And when seniority kicks in, you find out that the people that least deserve an opportunity are the ones that get them solely because they’ve been there longer,” Abernathy says.

LAN administrator Michael Brooks, a member of IFPTE local 17 in Washington, says unions are pervasive in his state due to its labor laws. In the first 15 years of his career, he had only heard of major unions for automotive, aircraft, longshoremen and communications workers. “After I moved to Washington state, I see unions for janitors and everything on up to software developers and executive types that make over $100,000 per year. The only union I have not seen here is a Microsoft Millionaires union, and who knows, there might actually be one,” he says. Brooks adds that local companies that treat their workers right don’t really have union workers, nor grumblings from workers to join them.

Web applications programmer Shane Heasley writes, “I do not yet belong to a union, and a year ago would have objected to the idea due to the negative aspects of many unions, i.e. rewarding seniority rather than performance. However, due specifically to the trend toward offshore outsourcing, I am ready to join even if there is no direct benefit to myself.”

 Likewise, Ken says, “I used to think that unionizing IT was a bad thing, but after seeing so many people unemployed, for so long, maybe a union is not such a bad thing after all.” However, he adds that unions may do little to keep jobs from leaving the country.

That’s echoed by Ralph, a senior network engineer who says that unions in other industries couldn’t stop offshore outsourcing. “Until Washington decides to penalize offshore outsourcing, it will continue at an ever-increasing rate.”

Anil adds that unionization attempts might see growth in response to offshore outsourcing, but similar to the debate over manufacturing jobs in previous decades, the fundamentals of economics will take over. “This is a train that has already left the station; the passengers left behind might try to slow it down, but they won’t succeed,” he says.