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Computer Programmer's Union

For a thought experiment today I was wondering what it would be like if we had a Union for Computer Programmers. I can't help wondering if we are missing some basic rights that most workers take for granted.

On the plus side we would be able to bargain for things like fair salaries, 40 hour weeks, and overtime payment.

I guess a negative side would be possible corruption of unions, and the treatment of programmers who didn't join the union.

I'm not decided on where I stand on the issue but I think a union would also be able to have some say on overseas outsourcing.

Matthew Lock
Sunday, February 16, 2003

Correct me if I am wrong, but these 2 issues come to mind:

1.) No other field has more consultants than IT, and there is no advantage for most of these people to join/ be a part of a union.

2.) Unlike the other industries, airlines for example we do not have have people who are specialists in a particular engine, etc..

Our industry has not matured enough. And I am not so sure that people in this industry are the kind of people to join an union (we are not the greatest social animals)

Prakash S
Sunday, February 16, 2003

All other professions have some sort of professional body or union that fights for their rights, and programmers certainly should. Have a quick look at these:

http://www.washtech.org
http://www.programmersguild.org
http://www.ieeeusa.org

There are good - and different - groups in the UK too.


Sunday, February 16, 2003

This occupation could use some protection as well as some standards enforcement. The ego of most programmers is the only thing that stands in the way.

For one big thing, the problem with younger programmers that are into the "extreme" lifestyle mentality is that it gets employers used to hiring people with no lives willing to donate countless hours of their lives to someone else's profit-making enterprise with no strings. For the rest of us with outside commitments and who desire normal and balanced lives, the flooding of the market with cheap, sub-par quality workhours is a detriment not only to earning higher wages but to even getting a degree of grudging respect from employers, clients or managers. People in business look upon *everything* as a transaction and I can assure you that they don't respect or even appreciate someone that is willing to give away anything of value.


The thread about work hours hit a nerve with me and it has implications re: the idea of a programmer's professional trade group. The problem of programmers who impose no standards on their work life is a much more important and deeper issue than  the outsourcing trend, IMO, and it's been going on for years.


As far as the Programmer's Guild goes, they have private Yahoo mailing lists that seem to be filled with nothing but repostings of news articles to each other. I've followed their progress for a couple of years and they are going no-where pretty fast, with no apparent leadership and no stated unifying goals, and the founder of the Programmer's Guild announced last summer that he was leaving the industry to go to law school. Bully for him, but it does not speak well of any movement as such...

Bored Bystander
Sunday, February 16, 2003

Don't forget that a union and association are two different things, think AMA or ABA vs. AFL/CIO. AMA/ABA is more of a lobbyinh group that promotes the general interests of lawyers/ doctors but does not involve itself in the setting of working conditions/wages for individual members/call for strikes (collective bargaining), though it does things like collect data on wages working conditions etc... to help individual members bargain for themselves.

I've always thought that the first model (AMA,ABA)would work well for prgrammers.

Daniel Shchyokin
Sunday, February 16, 2003

Bored Bystander,

I agree that many programmers (especially young technologists) are easily manipulated.  Many seem to be very naive about the world of business and do not realize that they are being taken advantage of.

One programmer's Opinion
Sunday, February 16, 2003

Bored bystander, I think you bring up some good points, but about young programmers willin gto work extreme hours, I will say that happens in any high paying industry.  Look at "young" doctors or lawyers.  When they get into their industry, they're asked to work way more then 40 hours a week.  I would guess that at competative engineering firms it is like that also.  I don't think IT/software is any different.

Vincent Marquez
Sunday, February 16, 2003

Vincent:

>> Look at "young" doctors or lawyers.  When they get into their industry, they're asked to work way more then 40 hours a week.  I would guess that at competative engineering firms it is like that also.  I don't think IT/software is any different.


The difference is that our field has little financial upside, majorly compressed salary distributions, and a firm and clear boundary defined by most companies that separates IT people from candidacy for "real" management.


Also, doctors and lawyers have 'practices' and defined professional reputations, and there is the concept in medicine and law that experience equates to delivery, which seems to be solidly refuted by the marketplace for our services. If you're a contractor in IT and you talk about having a 'practice' and deep experience, most clients and borks laugh at you and seem to smirk "yeah, right, as though you were a professional". Nope, in our field you're just a damned body no matter what you've done, and if you have experience you're assumed too old and/or overpriced....


I agree that a professional association would be a much more constructive model for programmers than a union. But I honestly don't think that most programmers are sophisticated enough to "get it" and associate themselves with something of this calibre.

Bored Bystander
Sunday, February 16, 2003

Programmers are not created equal.


Sunday, February 16, 2003

"Programmers are not created equal. "

What a profound statement -- NOT! 

In many instances, the following people don't seem to know (or they won't acknowledge) this fact:

*  Technical recruiters
*  HR employees
*  Small business owners
*  Hiring managers
*  Others (Analysts, management in general, etc.)

Big business has been trying to eliminate "the programmer" from the software development equation for quite some time.  Anyone remember the CASE tool craze of the early 1990s? Also, in most organizations programmers are at the bottom (or close to it) of the food chain.

One Programmer's Opinion
Monday, February 17, 2003

U.S. Continues to Grant H-1B Visas
Despite Record Unemployment


http://www.ieeeusa.org/releases/2003/020603pr.html

sjsc
Monday, February 17, 2003

Ooo, all those nasty dirty foreigners, 'ow 'orrible. What's up, you don't believe in the free market?


Monday, February 17, 2003

What's up?  You're retarded.  Go get economics for dummies, because you don't know what a free market is.
Hint:  H1Bs != free market.

sjsc
Monday, February 17, 2003

Continue to complain about H-1B, while entire projects get sent overseas to offshore outsourcers.  When H-1B usage was much higher in the late 90's, unemployment for programmers was very low and it was very easy to get multiple job offers, even without experience.  Now the new H-1B visas are down more than 50% from their peak usage, and nearly half of those visas are not in information technology. Many if not most jobs advertised say flat out "US Citizens and green card holders only".

High H-1B usage was a symptom of good economic times and low unemployment.  The real threat is offshore outsourcing, not H-1B.  Unlike H-1B, with offshore developers there is no annual cap and no US wage and labor laws apply to them, and they are specifically being used as a way to save money rather than to augment staff.

T. Norman
Monday, February 17, 2003

The only right we have is the right to offer our services to someone else.

Everything we do in life is a transaction. As long as your value proposition is not in tune with your customers, you won't get a sale(job)

The same folk that complain about young turks muscling in on their turf, will gladly hire a teenager, and pay them peanuts to babysit. Why not get a professional care worker?

Because they are not worth it! Bill and Melinda might think otherwise though, and pay for a qualified nurse/babyminder etc instead of getting the girl next door.

tapiwa
Monday, February 17, 2003

Here is a great petition http://bastiat.org/en/petition.html from the "Manufacturers of Candles, Tapers, Lanterns, sticks, Street Lamps, Snuffers, and Extinguishers, and from Producers of Tallow, Oil, Resin, Alcohol, and Generally of Everything Connected with Lighting."

Maybe we should mould our organisation, whatever form it may take, on the same lines!

tapiwa
Monday, February 17, 2003

I'm going to keep complaining about H1Bs.  Nice of you to ASSume what my argument was.  We need open borders.  Don't restrict the H1Bs.  Let them come here and do as they please. 

Same goes for common laborers from Mexico. 

sjsc
Monday, February 17, 2003

Heh. Programmer's Union.

This would, of course, be accompanied by a DBA's Union and a Sysadmin Union.

Do you guys really want to live in a world of "best not write any SQL, or you'll get fired" or "No, I can't let you touch any server, including IIS and SQL"?

Unions are always started with the best intentions, but generally become jobs protection programs for the union leadership. You'll find yourself ordered to go on strike the day before a major deployment that will kill the company you're working for.

You might also go read the thread about firing incompetent programmers to discover the types of individuals that will be protected by said unions.

Philo

Philip Janus
Monday, February 17, 2003

A programmers union does not need to have the same problems that other unions have had.  Not all unions right now have those problems.  Hollywood actors have a union, yet actors are still allowed to have salaries based on demand and talent instead of years of experience. NBA players have a union, but nonperforming players can still be cut from the team.

A good programmers union, being started in the 21st century, should have its laws written to guard against the problems that other unions have had historically, including term limits on the leadership. It should also aim to weed out incompetence, rather than protect it. Remember, this would be *our* union, we are the ones who have the opportunity to establish it in the way we see fit. The unions that originated in the 1940s didn't have the benefit of many other unions to learn from.

Unfortunately, the widespread incompetence is one of the reasons that will stop a union form forming in the first place.  A large percentage of programmers are afraid of being exposed as not being up to standard, and will fight against establishing the type of professional certification that other real professions have.

T. Norman
Monday, February 17, 2003

"The only right we have is the right to offer our services to someone else.

Everything we do in life is a transaction. As long as your value proposition is not in tune with your customers, you won't get a sale(job)

The same folk that complain about young turks muscling in on their turf, will gladly hire a teenager, and pay them peanuts to babysit. Why not get a professional care worker?

Because they are not worth it! Bill and Melinda might think otherwise though, and pay for a qualified nurse/babyminder etc instead of getting the girl next door"

Tapiwa

You remind me of me only two years ago- you are naive. Stop reading literature and look at reality, when corporations talk about outsourcing and H1's and at will labor etc... it is not because reading Bentham, Mill, Smith has suddenly caused them to support free trade,it is because this one narrow aspect of free trade happens to be to their advantage. Need proof? When was the last time youve seen corporations fight to remove import tariffs so we pay for shoes what shoes actually cost (for instance) or look at the lengths the US biotech industry is going through to keep Americans from paying the world's going rates for Drugs. Free trade is a good philosophy, but it is currently being very cynically exploited by some very clever people.

Daniel Shchyokin
Monday, February 17, 2003

<<<I agree that a professional association would be a much more constructive model for programmers than a union. But I honestly don't think that most programmers are sophisticated enough to "get it" and associate themselves with something of this calibre. >>>


Sadly, I agree.

Daniel Shchyokin
Monday, February 17, 2003

>> A large percentage of programmers are afraid of being exposed as not being up to standard, and will fight against establishing the type of professional certification that other real professions have.


Yes. But I actually don't think that this is a fatal death blow to the notion of a professional association with teeth.


Some much more discouraging points - all of which make me totally "into" self preservation and disregard for the body politic:


Naivete and "cult of personal uniqueness": Younger and relatively successful developers tend to see themselves as too elite and completely wonderful to ever need or desire representation. I've gotten in completely unproductive, insulting and futile arguments with this type,  who have never personally experienced age discrimination and who therefore see anyone who experiences trouble finding a job, or who has been set up or otherwise unfairly terminated,  as a loser. It's "funny" how the young and 'strong', or rather those currently cheap and therefore desirable to employers, view the world and the free market as eminently fair.

Cowardice and gutlessness: In a corporate setting, when someone is getting set up politically or is being harrassed by management, watch the geeks around them - even those who know better - flee and otherwise avoid association. The cowardice and lack of personal character of the average programmer in a corporate setting is truly a thing to behold.


"Thing" orientation and cluelessness about power politics: I've worked around people in this field who got no respect nor recognition, and who didn't think that it mattered whether they did or not.


Lack of respect for experience and lack of positive mentorship - this industry insists on defining certain groups of workers (mainframe developers, for one example) as losers with no capacity for abstraction. When you're on top in this industry, it's expected that you will blow razzberries at everyone else.

Basically, I sometimes wonder if programmers as a whole don't get so little respect because the occupation as a whole simply doesn't *deserve* any respect. IE, they don't act in a way that appears to merit respect. They appear to show no solidarity, no core values, no strength of character.


And I sometimes wonder - if I were an executive in a capital goods or financial environment, instead of being a techie - whether I would or would not regard anyone who developed code as a s**t eating lowlife deserving no dignity.

Curmudgeon
Monday, February 17, 2003

I will never give up the right to negotiate as an INDIVIDUAL with another entity for terms that we find mutually agreeable.

fool for python
Tuesday, February 18, 2003

A union is not required to establish and promote professional standards. It is only required for collectvie bargaining which I don't need.

fool for python
Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Not all lawyers, accountants, journalists or managers are good. Yet they have professional protections that maintain their incomes above market rates. Just about everyone does.

Bozo managers get massive payouts.


Tuesday, February 18, 2003

<<Tapiwa ....  you are naive.>>

Daniel, let us keep away from the personal attacks. Let us debate ideas.

I do not for one minute think that companies are doing anyone a favour, or suddenly supporting free trade.

To the contrary, I am saying the same complaints we have about protectionism re:Big Business are the same that we ourselves seem to be arguing for.

I do not want a union to prescribe whom I should employ for how much.

In the same vein, I do not want a trade body (via tarriffs, quotas etc) prescribing what I should buy and for how much.

Having said that, I cannot then turn around and wish to prevent anyone offering their services in a particular field, or prescribing what someone else doing a job similar to mine  (both via the power of effective unions).

tapiwa
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Sounds a lot like a club for people that do not want to belong to a club.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

But Tapiwa,

the trade, tariff,tax, subsidy laws already exist, they are part of a system of rules we already have- for whatever reason. You wish to exist in a pure capitalst society. I am saying that pure capitalist society doesn't exists America and every other country has socialistic laws.

I am not debating whether those laws are good in and of themselves or not, but what companies, and individuals are constantly trying to do is eliminate or create laws for their benefit (see global wages w.o. global prices), and thinking up the excuses (free trade, anti discrimination blah blah blah second) as an afterthought. In fact I didn't post it, but I believe the article you linked to on eliminating products from outside paris was a perfect example not of the, stupidity of opposing free trade, but of companies/individuals subverting all logic to prove a point

You on the other hand are constantly talking as if we do live in a pure capitalist society and that does irk me.

Let me offer you an alternate view, laws are not the "rules" as to how the game of society works, but just another aspect of the game, that is, if a law is good for you you should support it. If a law is bad for you you should be against it. After you have decided to be for it or against it, decide on a rationalization. This is how politicians, and large corporations, and many citizens groups behave today, and probably (though to a lesser extent throughout history). If you want example's look at Bush's state of the union address, I never thought, in my wildest dreams I would see a republican announce publicly that we need to spend federal dollars to fight aids, yet ....(Biotech must be urting I gues:-))

Now I called you naive, but that is not entierly accurate another part of what I meant is you have the capacity/willingness to think about the effect of a law on society in general not just yourself.

Daniel Shchyokin
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Seem to have forgotten about this thread .. :(

Yo Daniel, while I agree with you on a number of points we seem to disagree on the solution.

My argument is that instead of fighting for protectionism ourselves, we should be fighting to get rid of it in all sectors of society and the economy.

Me: The pills we are taking are hurting us, and making us worse
Me: We need to stop taking these pills, and not give them to our kids
You: The pills are already in the system. What we need are more pills to fight the effects of the other pills.

The question that arises then is, did we need pills at all from the word go, or are we just led to believe this by the pill makers (read politicians) who benefit the most from big pill industries (read big govt).

tapiwa
Thursday, February 27, 2003


  It is wrong to say that computer programmers do not need a trade or professional union. Like any one who works
for hire computer programmers can protect their interests
better when united.  Programmers might make more then
workers of blue collar jobs but still they sell their labor
like everyone else.

  Union of programmers can concentrate on such issues like

1)  Barring or at least restricting "outsourcing" to places like India and Eastern europe, to keep Computer programming jobs in the United States.

  2) Restricting H1B pactices and instead lobbying for
those jobs be taken by people who already in the United States.

  3)  Participation in lagal activities against monopolies
like Microsoft.

  4)  Provide input for legislation that will regulate Information Technology consulting activities,

trade Union can demand things like:
  4.1  Every computer consultant on W2 must be able to know if he wishes his total "billing rate" between his consulting company and end customer.
  4.2 Make it illegal to seat people in hollways and conference rooms - if employer can not rpovide work are
( like cubicle ) make it illegal for him hire on site people.

www.linuxcad.com
Monday, January 19, 2004

I believe there should be a Computer Workers Union, not a union alone for Computer Programmers.  It can also consist of SysAdmins, DBA's, help desk folks, and other professions that require a computer.  If a secretary does not have a computer to type a document, then she can use a typewriter, however a programmer cannot program without a computer, a Sys Admin cannot administer a server if there is not one available, and a help desk person cannot help anybody if nobody has a computer. 

Now that I have described my theme, let me get into what I believe a CWU (Computer Workers Union) can do to help computer workers:

1)  Campaign against offshoring.  Companies these days are using a pay for what you get philosophy.  Albiet companies can save a ton of $$$ using offshoring, what some of them get are poor deliverables due to communication problems because of language, distance, and a lack of a big picture from the foriegn workers.  I always believed that you can know all the Java, vb, c++, etc..  But if you do not know how a system works "outside the box" then you might as well not know any computer language at all.  A better quality product is made by somebody down the hall rather than somebody thousands of miles away because that person knows the big picture.  Stress a "Made in the USA" philosophy like they do with some home products with that tag on them.  It will give customers a sense of patriotism for buying the product.  It may sound "protectionist", but it helped US automakers like Ford sell more Taurus's that had a sticker on the side of them that it was made in Atlanta, Georgia.

2)  Stress to employers that we will not be a "typical" labor union.  Typical labor union issues like 40 hour work week, work rules (most of them ridiculous and create inefficiency), and worker arbitration need to be conceded a bit.  The union's responsibility is to protect our jobs, not create roadblocks with our jobs and cause tension between the workers and the company.

3)  Stress the importance of our jobs to the company.  IT departments at companies like banks, retail, and manufacturing are considered overhead because they do not make the $$$ directly for the company.  Perhaps some sort of labor action can occur which will attract the company's executives attention to tell them that our jobs are important.

In general, us IT workers are tired of our jobs being treated like a second thought.  We need to speak out, let our voice be known, and show companies what would happen if they did not have our expertise.

deweycoon
Saturday, January 31, 2004

If anyone's interested, I decided to put words behind my frustration with the current economic disaster that 1000's of talented, experienced IT folks are living through.

Read "Elegy for a Profession" at the following site:

  http://www.itunemployed.com


Take care,

JD

Jim Dunne
Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Regarding the H1-B and outsourcing...it is important for everyone to realize that IT "outsourcing" or "offshoring" is basically a way to end-run the H1-B visa laws. It is NOT exporting jobs, it is (indiscriminately) importing massive amounts of (cheap) labor.

This fact alone ought to give us pause.

Companies that are doing this are violating the spirit (albeit not the letter) of the work/immigration laws this country has established.I, like others here, am not opposed to a "free market" system. I, however, am not naive enough to believe that we actually HAVE one. As pointed out earlier, the system is far from "free market" and is being manipulated by the powerful and rich to their advantage.

This is plain to see for anyone that will pay attention.

Who Cares
Wednesday, March 31, 2004

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