by Meridith Levinson

Should IT Workers Unionize?

Sep 04, 20083 mins
IT Leadership

InfoWorld published an article today about IT labor unions, and it got me thinking–once again–about the place of organized labor in IT.

I first wrote about the possibility of a labor movement among IT workers in CIO magazine seven years ago, when the technology industry was reeling from the bursting of the dot com bubble and American IT workers were beginning to feel threatened by foreign workers with H-1B visas.

Two years later, in 2003, when the U.S. economy was bordering on recession and CIOs were moving aggressively to outsource IT in an effort to cut costs, CIO’s Publisher Emeritus Gary Beach penned a column on the specter of IT unions.

So it seems the subject of IT labor unions comes up every time the economy goes south.

What differentiates today’s discussion about IT labor unions from previous ones is that the conditions under which IT professionals work are arguably worse now than they were in the past. Constant layoffs, reckless cost-cutting, ruthless outsourcing and incompetent managers have pushed IT workers over the edge. They’re tired of being steam-rolled and exploited by corporate America (and they *are* being exploited), and they’re increasingly fighting back. Just last month current and former Apple employees sued the iPhone-maker for violating labor laws. IT workers at Wells Fargo and J.P. Morgan have filed similar claims. Such lawsuits were unheard of seven years ago. If this isn’t a sign of a maturing workforce, I don’t know what is.

Back to the InfoWorld article. InfoWorld acknowledges that life for IT workers is harsher than ever, so the article poses the question, “Is it finally time for technology workers to form a union and demand better working conditions?”

I definitely think it’s time for IT workers to organize and to stand up for themselves and their profession. I’m tired of the excuse I heard seven years ago when I was reporting my story on IT labor unions and that I read in today’s InfoWorld article that IT workers are too independent and too content with their work to possibly unionize. That is such a load of crap. Frankly, IT workers don’t have much of a choice. If they want any hope of better treatment from the business world, they have to organize. And if the past is any indication of the future, life for IT workers is not going to improve. Each economic downturn makes things worse for them. Think the work environment was bad in 2001? Well look where you are now. Companies are cutting IT spending yet again. Unemployment rates are rising for certain tech workers. And the outlook for IT jobs in 2009 is pretty gloomy.

Corporate America has been unfairly profiting off tech workers’ passion for technology and innovation–a passion that drives them to work 60 hours a week–and IT workers are fed up with it. They need to stop it, whether that’s by joining a union, organizing a guild or forming a professional association similar to the American Bar Association.

IT workers know the score. They’re tired of the layoffs, and they’re tired of being taken advantage of. If you want evidence, just look at their responses to Stephanie Overby’s blog entry, HP and EDS: Let the Layoffs Begin, and to another InfoWorld article, Tech Workers’ Smoldering Discontent.

IT workers of the world, it’s time to unite.