Programmers Guild: The American Worker Needs Protection

With the debate over H-1B workers reaching a fevered pitch – both in Congress and across the IT landscape — one voice often missing is that of the Programmers Guild. A national volunteer-based organization that represents over 1,000 programmers, most of them over 40, the Guild has made little progress in pushing its H-1B reform proposals forward in Congress.

We spoke with Kim Berry, the Guild’s president, regarding his organization’s views on today’s policies, reforms it favors and where the employment of H-1B workers may be headed in the future.

Programmers Guild Logo

Over 50 percent of H-1B workers are listed as “entry level.” Do you believe the U.S. doesn’t have enough IT workers who are just starting out?

Predominately, H-1Bs are used at the entry level, Level 1. And that’s only people with basic skills and who need direct supervision. We have many people coming out of the best colleges who can’t find jobs. They can apply at Microsoft, Google and all of the best companies, but they don’t get replies back. If anything, the jobs that Microsoft and other tech companies are hiring for are for three to five years of specific experience. So, these H-1Bs are directly competing against our college graduates, many of whom have run up huge student loans and sacrificed a lot to get their STEM degrees.

What do you think of the way the government handles the prevailing wage policy?

The prevailing wage is really interesting. The government first takes a normal curve of what average Americans might earn, then divides it into four levels. So, the first level is the 17th percentile. This means that 17 percent of Americans earn less than this. That’s what they set for Level 1 for the H-1Bs. That could be $20,000 less than what an average American earns. What we’re saying is that we are bringing in H-1Bs that have more skill than the average American, but we’re going to pay them at the bottom end of the normal prevailing wage. As American workers, we look at that and that is in no way protecting the interests of the average American tech worker.

One of the reform measures being proposed is that jobs should first be filled with U.S. citizens, and that the process be transparent. But isn’t that what’s being done now?

Currently, H-1B employers don’t have any requirement in 99 percent of the cases to recruit and fill the job with a U.S. worker. An employer can go to the [Department of Labor] website and say, “I want this H-1B worker and am willing to pay the technical prevailing wage.” The Department of Labor approves that, almost immediately, and they staple that to a visa. That’s the process for getting an H-1B worker in here. Employers never have to claim that they tried to recruit Americans. That is a reform that we feel is long overdue.

One measure that tech companies are discussing would streamline the process of turning an H-1B holder into a green card holder. Is that a better solution?

There’s a proposal out there called “Staple a Green Card,” which means anyone from anywhere in the world who can get a STEM degree in the U.S., they don’t have to have a high GPA, they don’t have to have a job, we’re going to staple a green card to their visa. The trouble is that Microsoft and Google aren’t looking for entry-level workers. They’re looking for people with three to five years of experience. We have people coming out of our colleges who can’t find work, so stapling green cards has two problems. One is that it further displaces the recent American graduates and, second, it can turn our American universities into green card mills.

Where are your reform proposals going? Who have you approached and what response have you gotten?

We’re a small group of volunteers. We did send one of our board members to D.C. to meet with the new Congress. But in general, we’re just not making the same headway. Congress is not listening to the interests of U.S. workers. They are meeting with the leaders of multinational corporations, they are meeting with immigration rights proponents and others who have a stake in keeping wages low and bringing in more immigrants. We have a few Congressmen on our side, but it doesn’t look good. The majority are buying into the idea that there is a shortage of tech workers.

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21 Responses to “Programmers Guild: The American Worker Needs Protection”

  1. Concerned IT Professional

    As someone who is trying to propel myself into my IT career (I graduated from college in 2010), this is highly disturbing. I see a great many requirements for IT jobs that read “must have 3-5 years of experience and strong knowledge of x and x”. This would be ok if the jobs weren’t labeled “entry level _____”. These companies are putting up soft barriers to artificially create their own shortages so they can cheap out their workforce. These companies say that they want stellar STEM students, but they won’t hire them. They also say that they want STEM students/graduates with higher level degrees. Higher level degrees cost a great deal of money. So if a company won’t hire me after I get my undergrad, who’s to say that they will hire me while I’m pursuing my graduate degree/Ph.D or when I’m done getting my “higher level degree”? Student loans are not getting any easier to pay off (quite the opposite actually), yet all these companies want people to tack on enormous amounts of debt with no certainty that they will be able to get a job.

    • SouthRoad

      All this cheap low skilled labor has been the cause of our skills shortage and increasing the number will only make the problem worse.

      I’ve been programming for 35 years non-stop and I can tell you first hand that the success rate of projects has never been lower. In a world where machines are about a million times faster and a thousand times cheaper this shouldn’t be happening!

      I have also worked at companies where it is obvious that no new projects can be developed with ANY measure of success and I mean NONE. I am watching this unfold right before my eyes. The incompetence is alarming. What’s worse is our new students are being dropped into dumbed down corporations and are learning bad practices promoted as good, and there are no true senior “adults” left who can set the organization on the right path and mentor these new students.

      It is difficult to predict how this will play out, but it is likely that Corporations will get what they want, and this dramatic increase in H1-B’s will be the end of them.

      I see an industry collapse coming on the horizon in only a few more years.

      History will remember the bust, the great Mortgage bust, and then the great IT bust where many Corporations will shut their doors because they will lose all their data due to negligence and incompetence–and the only people who have the skills to repair the damage would have been replaced by H1-B freshers.

      • Southroad, I’m not sure that the h1b’s are entirely to blame for this. After 34 years myself, I’ve noticed that there’s a different way of thinking about computer technology. Back in the day, we thought about quality and durability. Then the next generation the “Me Generation” took over and (through mind-washing) were convinced that the bottom line and the quick-buck are the only way to go (why wait 20 years for success when you can get it now if you just keep throwing ideas out there until they stick.)
        So as the next generation started making decisions about what to do, making things last was never a thought (except maybe with the Steve Jobs group, because he “unreasonably” demanded it.) So the march to quick bucks began and new ideas replaced old, even if they weren’t as sound.
        Part of that was finding cheaper ways to do things to help the bottom line even more, hence the push for h1b imports to help with the once well-organized, solid foundation of computer technology.

  2. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Americans could get the same benefits as foreigners. If you’re an illegal immigrant, you get your healthcare for free. If you’re an H-1B foreigner, you get jobs without much hesitation from businesses.

    • bluemountain184

      You may want to cite your source for how illegal immigrants can obtain health care for free.
      Even the most conservative Republican politicians seem to “acknowledge” that people have the right to obtain health care via the emergency room as the last resort.
      Of course, that is the most financially inefficient way to gain access to health care, but they don’t seem to mind this.

  3. After the past 20 years of Corporate America(tm) doing their best to run IT organizations like gulags the collective wisdom from “management” has done the most damage to business in general. We can safely and easily blame management culture of “human capital management” as the primary driver of this kind of mentality of people as cost, and liability rather than as assets that strengthen a business, and should participate in the company’s success financially. After all it is the hard work of IT professionals that build the financial success of the business and they should be rewarded financially as much as management.

    By constantly undermining the “American Dream” with outsourcing, and insourcing of guest workers, Corporate America is to blame for the problem.

    If there ever was a time for guilds in general, especially in IT, this is the time.

    Guilds are not new to the planet, they have been around as long as there as been humanity being used and exploited for labor. The idea that the rich and powerful have a deaf ear to the needs of workers is not new, and as long as there will be people who need laborers there will be a need for fairness.

    Unions in the USA got a black mark in the 1970’s and early 1980’s mostly due to the media, at a time when limited reporting was the norm. Most people got their news from 3 channels on TV, or newspapers, with extremely limited information about how either management or unions were behaving. A 30-minute national newscast might show one or two minutes of information at the most, building the perception in most cases that somehow “the union” on strike was damaging the company or the enterprise, with almost no mention of how profitable the company was, and how much the worker was getting screwed. The only real unions back then were in skilled and unskilled trades, with a rich history of a “management vs labor” paradigm. Even worse, if you wanted to join one of those unions you had to be friends of somebody already in that union, or you didn’t get in, and you didn’t get the job. The other problem about unions and their perception to the public was the “corruption” of a lot of union officials branded as gangsters and thugs. So unions in the USA have had a historical perspective of being bad for business.

    Unions need to rebrand themselves as a positive force in business before they will get more bargaining power, and they need to expand themselves beyond hourly wages. When the IT community starts to evolve as well by making unions important, US labor in IT will improve for the better. Guilds bring in the concepts of training, levels of experience, and other values that are not readily represented by individual workers. Trying to lobby for your training by yourself isn’t as easy as if you had collective bargaining to push that.

    • Unions were a wonderful thing for laborers…back in the 20s. But as with any other organized group, cliques form and some people who want power find that this is a great place to get it.
      The side-effect of this power-grab is that the unions (like corporations and politics) start to become corrupt and the people that they were designed to help end up getting the short end of the stick anyway.
      The main side-effect we are getting from the unions now is the retirement problems. By pushing and pushing for more and more, they helped to create this mess.

      If I were to work with a guild, I’d have to know that anything I pay into it is going to work toward helping the people like myself now and in the future, and not going into messy spiral that sucks out more money to get nothing useful done.

  4. The CPS data that gives us a seemingly low unemployment rate in Computer-related occupations also conclusively shows that 95% of unemployed professionals, actively seeking employment and with experience in their occupation are being rejected by the industry.

    MONDAY, APRIL 29, 2013
    IT Industry Refuses Unemployed Professionals

    * Employment levels in Computer-related occupations grew by 173,500 during 2011 and 2012.

    * Unemployment levels (comprised of exclusively of experienced professionals) only declined by 6,667.

  5. I don’t think US citizen STEM pros need “protection”, but I do think the US government should stop facilitating abuse and fraud.

    If they want to say H-1B visas are for “the best and brightest”, for the “highly-skilled”, then it is very interesting that the STEM execs so strenuously oppose any minimal standards at all. Hundreds are approved for H-1B visas who lack the equivalent of US high school diplomas, and thousands who lack the equivalent of a US bachelor’s degree, according to the USCIS reports.

  6. Techmack

    The effects of globalization are hitting IT just like they hit all other areas in US, eg. manufacturing. Seems almost impossible at this stage to stop this corrosive ideology which stands to destroy our perceptions of America. Sad to say that this globalization which we have been brainwashed to accept as the most positive way forward for the civilized world is equally embraced by all corners of congress. I guess this is what Calvin Coolidge meant by “The business of the American people is business”, except now it’s applied on a global scale at the expense of the American middle class. Nothing to be surprised about I guess. The chickens are only now coming home to roost.

  7. I am a developer and have done hiring for several companies. For some a degree of any sort is a requirement to getan interview. For most it provides up to 5% more starting salary. I have never hired anyone based on their degree. I have in fact worked places where there was no degree requirement. I do wonder what you were doing in school if you were not actively working as a technologist in the industry standard technologies for the area you wanted to be employed in. Companies hire technologists under H1B at great expense. It is only because we want people that do not need on the job training to get their work done. Some American grads are able to fulfill this requirement straight out of school. No business owes it to the candidate to comprimes delivery time and opportunity cost to help them get employed. You should be building your resume after work each night with your own projects and equipement. That is how people get ahead.

    • Unca Alby

      Companies want people with experience. Period.

      It’s a famous Catch 22, you need experience to get a job, and you need a job to get experience.

      You can know everything necessary to be known for a given job thanks to private study and certification, and if you could get an interview, you could answer every trivia question correctly, but if you don’t have the experience behind it, most companies will pass you by.

      So you can have all the equipment in the world and work on every project imaginable, at the end of the day, you’re going to be right where you started.

    • Angel


      Snob. Not everyone has their own equipment, particularly high-end servers and $5000 software packages. Lucky you.

      Companies SHOULD be obliged to provide training, particularly for cross-over skills (an analyst who knows SAP can learn JDE without much trouble; a programmer who knows any higher-level language can learn another). If an IT person can’t learn something new in a reasonable time (days or a few weeks for more complex skills), he/she is in the wrong business. The “ready-made” demands and dogma requirements by companies should be replaced by real-world strategies that account for HUMAN BEINGS not replacement cogs in some factory machine.

      I can look at any RDBMS and any CMS and be functional and productive in a matter of minutes. It’s going to take me longer to figure out what the last person did to screw it up than it will to “learn” the system.

      But instead of any company recognizing EXPERIENCE, they play numbers games and “only the latest version counts” games.

      Since you really don’t know, those H1Bs you are hiring, most are getting their training from you, and you are paying to train them — you just don’t know it. Ever wonder why it takes them 5 times as long to work through a problem? They are learning the system.

  8. Scott

    GM unions attempted to take over system support in the early 90s. They ended up with a few related jobs but could not win the entire IT support organization. Most IT people are too independent for that type of structure. I remember having 2 older union guys show up to move a single computer. LOL. They’re every bit as guilty of abuse as the corporate execs.

    Corporations used the economic excuses of 911 to drum down labor costs and keep them at the same levels for over 10 years. What we should do is stop organizations like foreign corporations and governments from lobbying our congress. It is a fiasco.
    The H1-B program is a scam…nothing more. “Tar and Feather” anyone?

  9. Joe Cusano

    I’m seriously considering the idea that programmers should become Teamsters. That would put some muscle into our agenda. I think the time has come. Americans that go to a university and get their degrees should not be excluded just because they are American. The Teamsters can win this argument for us.

  10. This is a free country, we need to run this country like a free sprite country. If we have a 10% quota for h1B, all the smaller consulting companies will make big money and all small consulting companies will be dead. We need to ensure we train local resources in this skills and resources should be willing to relocate as needed and be willing to lean new technologies with the market demands. If this happen we dont need any H1