Technologists Starting to Unionize (Sort of)

Late last year, we asked you if technologists should unionize. Your ‘yes’ vote was clear, and now it’s starting to happen. Well, kinda.

In Pittsburgh, employees of IT firm HCL Technologies have chosen to unionize, and have joined the United Steelworkers union. Only about 80 technologists took part in the effort, but Wired reports United Steelworkers says this group is one of the first in tech to actually unionize.

The twist? Many of these folks work at Google offices in Pittsburgh as analysts for Google Shopping. Google spokesperson Jenn Kaiser told Wired: “We work with lots of partners, many of which have unionized workforces, and many of which don’t. As with all our partners, whether HCL’s employees unionize or not is between them and their employer.”

HCL reportedly launched a heavy anti-unionization campaign leading up to its employees voting to join, with Googlers allegedly asking their company to denounce those efforts by HCL.

The fear among workers, of course, is Google may choose to end its HCL contract. We can’t say what their contract entails, but if measurables aren’t hit because union negotiations stall work, it’s possible that may constitute a breach of contract argument. HCL employees apparently decided to unionize because they “deserve more respect, dignity and democracy in our relationship with our employer,” said HCL staffer Joshua Borden. “We look forward to bargaining a contract that reflects our important contributions to HCL’s continuing success.”

Around 66 percent of respondents to an anonymous Dice Insights survey said they want a tech pro union. This is in direct juxtaposition to a Blind survey of tech professionals at large tech firms such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple, which found 66 percent (overall) do not want to unionize. “Amazon had the highest percentage (39.1 percent) of tech employees who believe they need a union,” Blind said of its findings. “Rounding out the three companies with the highest percentage of tech employees indicating that they need unions are Oracle and Microsoft, with 38.5 percent and 36.5 percent respectively.”

We’ve seen what a grassroots tech pro union looks like; the first pass was clumsy. It was also limited to iOS developers in an effort to encourage Apple to do things like allow free trials for apps, and provide a revenue split that was more beneficial to folks actually building apps. Some of the wish-list items this “union” laid out happened, but not because of its efforts.

It’s also worth pointing out that iOS consortium has since dissolved, showing that banding together doesn’t always deliver on the idealism that brought people into a group in the first place. It all illuminates how tech is probably not ready to unionize in broad strokes, but there are enclaves within the industry willing to join existing unions (or form their own, as Kickstarter staffers did) when conditions just aren’t right.

Companies are still in control, and it’s clear most technologists are happy with conditions… for now.

2 Responses to “Technologists Starting to Unionize (Sort of)”

  1. Unions are the only defense Americans have to stand up “against” management. Unions fight to ensure workers are represented fairly as it comes to pay, health care, benefits and more. Otherwise, management can walk all over their employees! Unions level the playing field by smacking management down when they get too far out of line.

    Managements view of unions really takes a big chunk of control away from them. So, unions can become a major pain in the buttocks. Unions make demands forcing management to the bargaining table. Unions can strike and close down business.

    I can see it from both sides, but if I’m an employee, I want a union. It really comes down to keeping management in check!!

  2. LongTimeTech

    THIS needs to happen. I’m close to retirement and I’ve watched this industry continually get beat down in wages and due to “off shoring”. I just left a company that is doing both. Management yells and screams work isn’t getting done yet provides staffing levels at 50% of what is required. And as far as off shoring, I’ve met some very capable individuals. However, just to get 1 server patched takes days and sometimes 25, or more, emails to and from the various teams.