Readers Respond: IT Workers on Way to Joining Unions?

I tend to agree that there does exist the impression that unions are loaded with blue-collar workers. However, what really has always bothered me about unions is that, based on my experience, they promote and raise based on seniority rather than merit—and that simply isnt right. Id gladly employ, and elevate, an expert right out of high school rather than some slacker who has just been riding the union gravy train for the last 10 years.

I imagine some serious reconstruction of the usual union by-laws would need to take place before a mass movement of IT workers to unions would occur. But, then again, as an expert, why would you need a union in the first place—youd probably be a self-employed consultant/contractor.

Dave Klausler
Information Systems
C.H.Robinson Worldwide

The Programmers Guild is not a Union but an association of IT professionals whove joined together for mutual support and protection. We dont strike and dont engage in collective bargaining. We could be characterized as more conservative in nature than a union, though we are sympathetic to the plight of IT professionals who feel compelled to join a union due to industry conditions.

Wed like to arrive at mutually agreed-on standards, with those who use our services, for quality software and a process for its production. Wed even like to establish different levels of programmers and certification and have an appeals process thats applied to our members when users of our services feel they have a grievance. However, we are a young not-for-profit organization that hasnt had the opportunity to make as much progress in certification, standards and appeals process as wed like.

Paul Hanrahan
Member of The Board of Directors
The Programmers Guild

I am a retired IT worker who was also a union member once upon a time (AFSCME).

I think that the most important incentives in getting workers to organize are uncertainty and bad management. Uncertainty is pretty much a given in the long term in ANY economy. It then boils down to how sensitive managers are in dealing with the concerns of their employees. The worse management behaves (e.g., golden parachutes), the more powerful the union will be.

Phil Turner

What the heck is a "mini-flood?" It sounds like someones way of aggrandizing a non-event.

The slant is so palpable in this article that I feel you must surely be on the payroll of some union or other interested party.

Jeff Jumper
Sr Programmer/Analyst

I am very much interested in the creation of a union for IT professionals. Matter of fact, I have been bouncing this idea around since July 2002 with family and friends. I have over 26 years as an IT professional, mainly designing and developing applications. Three years ago I made a big mistake by moving into management. Banks merged, I converted systems to the home office, and my job was eliminated back in February of this year. The Internet—which I call "The Black Hole"—hasnt helped. I think businesses are overwhelmed with résumés and HR staffs are not technical enough to understand the skill sets in the résumé.

My problem with setting up a union for IT professionals is, where do I start, and whom do I talk to about this? I would like to create a union and set it up with a pension program, protection for the members on the job, and a job-placement section. I would like to organize the union effort because I believe an IT professional should oversee this organizations operation to protect and service the members.

Its time for the IT professional to get back to work and off the unemployment lines. How easy would it be for the president of the United States to contact somebody like myself who is an unemployed IT professional and ask, "Would you like to head up a team of unemployed IT professionals to build the home defense alien database and tracking system?" What a great way to get qualified people back to work.

Fred J. Lustenberger

I work for King County (Seattle area) in Washington state. A good portion of our IT employees are unionized. Same goes for the city of Seattle. I dont have the numbers of union employees, but theyre well into the hundreds. I would imagine that this trend is probably true for other municipal governments as well—that they have higher union representation among IT workers than the private sector.

Jeremy Ward

I have participated in different unions and have been management. So [that] somewhat qualifies me as knowing both sides of the fence. I do not see union formation as a natural transition by a new, large labor force. IT workers are wanting guarantees of job security and pay. They have seen a big downturn in the economy and executives [are] running scared. Most have been managed by inept and inadequate managers. [They are] blindly being steered and pushed, not lead. IT people have a different twist to their approach on life, but insecurity has caused some to react as we would do. They want guarantees. There are no guarantees in life; unions take your money and represent themselves, not you. This is not a 1901 textile mill or a sweatshop industry. Stand your ground for wages and benefits or get an agent. Unions are not the answer for IT workers.

Walter L. Johnson
Perspectives Unlimited Corp.

Some of the responses that people listed to your article were fearful of unions stopping the brightest people from getting ahead and rewarding long-term employees instead of the most deserving. This is a common fear, and while it is not right, it still happens in the IT industry as well. Pass this along to them, as it wont matter about getting ahead when there arent any jobs to be had.

Greg Rosati

I find it interesting that most of the replies held an almost positive perspective of IT workers going union. I dont see that, and when I went through some postings a matter of weeks ago, the flavor was definitely against it. People who are worth their salt dont need to be in a union. The IT world would suffer dramatically if it were to become hamstrung by a union. In my experience (based on my wifes membership over the past 32 years), benefits are obtained at the expense of expertise. "Dont you dare work too much to do too good, because you will make everyone else look bad" is the train of thought for those whom my wife works with. Her company would have either fired me, or I would make my boss head explode, because I work, and work until whatever I am doing is done. ... Thats just my work ethic. That doesnt fly in a union shop.

If someone wants "protection" from the big, bad company, secure your position with your talent, not some outside guarantee. If someone cant do that, maybe they need a different line of work.

Perry P. Jurancich
Remote Access Engineer
SAIC, Campus Point, San Diego

The Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE) represents almost 11,000 professional-level state employees, with over 1,000 of them being in the IT field. Our contract with the state doesnt require that promotions be based on experience (a concern that some of your readers had) and the best people are able to move into higher classifications quite quickly. But our members do have protections against layoff, poor working conditions, pay reductions and so on.

I think the biggest advantage of union representation is that employees dont have to spend 60 hours a week on the job to keep up with the other employees who are working 60 hours a week. So many of my friends are in that situation, but they dont complain about it for fear of being singled out as a troublemaker and losing their jobs. With a union, employees get a chance to do well at their jobs and to have a life outside of work. And if they have 20 years into a company, they dont have to worry that their boss is going to replace them with his latest girlfriend, and so on. Every person for themselves is great if theres only yourself to worry about. But when you have a family and a mortgage, its helpful to have a union there to protect your interests.

I think in the next decade, well see more unionization of not only IT workers, but of all professional employees. Thanks for identifying this trend in the IT workplace and for the terrific article.

Chris Mau
President, MAPE