Should Tech’s Developers Unionize?

If you’ve spent any time at all on tech-centric forums and subreddits, you’ve no doubt read more than a few calls to unionize developers. Advocates of unionization argue that collective bargaining will allow developers to counteract—or at least negotiate over—some of the tech industry’s biggest issues, including stagnant wages, contractor benefits (or lack thereof), and working hours.

The rumblings about unionization are particularly loud in certain sub-industries. For example, the working conditions at some of the largest video-game companies—featuring frequent layoffs and punishing “crunch time”—have led some to call for unions. “I’ve been in the industry for 26 years, and the union discussion has always been in the background,” said Kate Edwards, who works as an advocate for diversity and fairness initiatives in gaming, told the Los Angeles Times in April. “There’s been a massive shift.”

Meanwhile, tech professionals within other industries have been exhibiting union-like behavior in order to convince management to change course, even if they haven’t yet bound into formal unions. In November 2018, for instance, Google employees staged a massive walkout in order to protest what they viewed as the company’s lax response to inequality and sexual harassment. “A company is nothing without its workers. From the moment we start at Google we’re told that we aren’t just employees; we’re owners,” the walkout’s organizers wrote in an essay about their motivations. “Every person who walked out today is an owner, and the owners say: Time’s up.”

In response, Google executives apologized to employees during internal meetings, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai vowed to enact changes. In theory, that showed tech professionals have enough collective power to convince even the largest companies to adjust course. 

At other tech giants, including Amazon and Microsoft, employees have joined together to protest everything from treatment of womento military and government contracts, with varying degrees of success. Of course, it’s a big leap from “spot protests” over a particular issue to full-on unionization; but in the face of some big, messy, seemingly intractable issues, it’s easy to see a more aggressive push for unions developing at certain firms.

How do you feel about it? Let us know if you think developers who want to unionize have a case. We’ll publish the results in a future article!

7 Responses to “Should Tech’s Developers Unionize?”

  1. Ron S

    If it would stop the reduction of hourly rates due to the H1b and L1 incursion, then yes, I would definitely join a union!

    The attack on American IT pros by allowing offshores into US companies because they’re cheap has been the beating down of their own countrymen.

    We’ve allowed foreign lobbies and US businesses to finance a resistance to anyone that opposes offshore labor and along with US immigration law firms to make tons of money from US and foreign companies to keep it quiet for many years.

    Time to stop the abuse of American tech pros!!

  2. S_Jacks

    After years of H1B abuse (and favorable treatment of Indian recruiting firms: Wipro, Mindtree, Microland, et al), Tech companies and US government are top heavy with Indian management (like Satya Nadella of Microsoft or Sundar Pichai of Google) which prefers hiring Indian H1B talent rather than hiring preexisting American talent.

  3. S_Jacks

    For you anti-union types: Unions only take hold in companies with grossly incompetent lower management. The Union takes over the role of lower management. One would think that company stockholders are remiss in rewarding inept (money losing) managers with “Golden Parachutes”.

  4. A lot depends on what you expect from a union. Traditionally, unions took an abused class that was needed by the abuser, and tried to balance things. Developers are kind of a dime a dozen. If we all join a union, we need management to agree to our terms. If they dont, and we walk out, they’ll simply solicit more h1b visas or recruit younger people out of school. Unionization only works if management has no choice but to accept the union, on the threat of losing its business.

  5. No, we should have an association like nurses, doctors and lawyer. You could just join if you pass the board exam or a set of board exams. You could just work as software developer if you pass the board.