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View Diary: Wage theft hits software engineers as well as fast food workers (70 comments)

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  •  I say this from experience (6+ / 0-)

    I was working at UCSF about 10 years ago when the SEIU tried to organize the IT workers.
       The IT workers voted against unionizing by an overwhelming percentage. It wasn't even remotely close.
       It was very discouraging to listen to my fellow IT workers bad-mouth unions.

    "The oppressors most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed." - Stephen Biko

    by gjohnsit on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 09:51:12 AM PDT

    [ Parent ]

    •  Unions don't stop outsourcing (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      alypse1, Calamity Jean

      What good is a union when entire departments are closed down and shipped to India, or Malaysia.

      I will tell you with 100% certainty that if my department voted to unionize, 90% of the jobs would be in Malaysia in 6 months.  Probably 100% by the end of the year.  Unions give zero protection against outsourcing and "free" trade.

      End NAFTA, CAFTA, stop the TPP dead, enact real tariffs, end all "free" trade.  Then we'll talk unions.

      I'm not going to commit an act that just gives my CEO one more reason to outsource us.

      •  Who do you think is going to push (0+ / 0-)

        to stop outsourcing if not unions?

        "The oppressors most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed." - Stephen Biko

        by gjohnsit on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 10:03:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Bang up job they've done so far (4+ / 0-)

          Give me a break.  If unions were a force to stop outsourcing, then Al Gore would have never made it through the Dem primary in 2000.  No one from Clinton's NAFTA pushing admin would have been.  The unions would have backed a Dem who would have promised to repeal NAFTA.

          I've only seen one thing stop outsourcing - wage equality.  Our CEO wanted to send every engineering job to Malaysia.  But most Malaysian engineers are incompetent and only follow direct orders, then stop and do nothing.  That's not to be cruel, it's the truth.  Plus, so many companies were setting up shop in Malaysia, even the incompetent could demand huge raises year after year.

          Management saw the rapidly rising wages and the poor work ethic and quality, and stopped outsourcing cold.

          That's it.  Not unions, not politics, not anything but cold hard budgeting stopped outsourcing.  They outsourced until it didn't make sense anymore.  But if we all demand unions and huge raises, the see-saw teeters back and poof go the jobs.

          •  Then lets put money into EDUCATION and insure (0+ / 0-)

            that the 'seesaw' stays here.

            Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
            I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
            —Spike Milligan

            by polecat on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 10:12:47 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Education is not the answer (5+ / 0-)

              Not that I oppose education in the slightest. I'm a big believer in educating people en mass.

               But not everyone can be a high-tech worker. Not even close.
                We need some people to work in the factories and do low-skilled work. Plus, many people will simply not want to do that sort of work. And we can't doom them to poverty and misery simply because there aren't enough opportunities (and never will be enough) at the top-end.

              Norm is right. We need to look at those free trade agreements, but we also need to organize.
                Anything else is a half-measure.

              "The oppressors most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed." - Stephen Biko

              by gjohnsit on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 10:20:00 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  Education isn't the problem (5+ / 0-)

              None of the American engineers who were outsourced were undereducated.  They were all very smart. And if you noticed, I directly pointed out that the Malaysian engineers hired in their stead were not smarter.  They were noticeably less experienced and motivated.

              You can call for more education all you like, but a more educated worker demands a higher wage, and when CEOs are happy hiring 2 less educated overseas workers to replace one American, you're not fighting the right battle.

              •  There are tens of thousands (4+ / 0-)

                of people with PHD's and Master degrees working minimum wage jobs right now.

                  That's all you need to know.

                "The oppressors most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed." - Stephen Biko

                by gjohnsit on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 10:28:21 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  A PhD or Master's degree... (2+ / 0-)

                  ...indicates relatively little about the value of one's labor in the market.

                  Obviously this is true of degrees in areas that have few jobs - there are only so many employers who need another expert in Greek history and there are probably many more people with PhD or Masters degrees in those fields than there are jobs that truly require that degree of education.

                  But it's very true in technology such as software development as well. I've worked with plenty of PhDs who couldn't understand practical software development problems or form practical solutions to said problems (I've also worked with many who could). I've seen them jump to the most bizarre and unsupportable conclusions time after time because they lacked real world experience (and were not open to gaining it). Most of these people probably should have been working minimum wage jobs (actually, I would be happy if they had any job - as long as it wasn't at the company I worked at).

                  As a hiring manager, I generally have "minimum educational requirements" for a position -- but that's mostly as a shortcut to me having to screen 10x as many applicants and rely on the educational system to screen out some. Maybe it doesn't sound fair, but I can't call every applicant or read every resume that the world would send me if I didn't have such requirements. I'm sure I miss out on a few good people (and, I happily hire those who don't have the requisite degrees if I get personal referrals or run across them some other way) but it doesn't make sense to look for gold in a coal mine even if there are sometimes a few flecks in coal mines (well, not being a geologist, I'm not sure that analogy fits).

                  Any more than a High School degree should insure that one can get a job better than minimum wage, a BA, BS, MS, PhD shouldn't either unless that degree also actually translates into increased productivity (in a broad sense).

                  (This is independent of if the minimum wage is updated to at least keep pace with inflation or better - there will always be those who make less than others no matter how high minimum wage is increased.)

          •  I'm not going to argue (3+ / 0-)

            that unions have been unable to stop the outsourcing/offshoring. That's self-evident.

              That doesn't mean that they haven't opposed it.

            But let me put something out there that is also self-evident:
            Without supporting the groups that oppose those free trade agreements and outsourcing/offshoring then there will never be enough push against them, and we will always live with them.

            "The oppressors most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed." - Stephen Biko

            by gjohnsit on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 10:15:27 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  But who do I support politically? (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              gjohnsit, ssgbryan, wilderness voice

              I thought supporting Obama would be pushback, given how he spoke in 2006.  But he hasn't shut down the TPP.  He hasn't done anything to reverse NAFTA.  Empty speeches mostly.

              So which politician are the unions going to support that will push back against free trade?  Hillary?  The wife of the NAFTA architect?  Don't make me laugh.  Hillary's a globalist.  If Obama doesn't get TPP done, Hillary will.  

              Now don't get me wrong, I do support unions for union trades.  Work on an assembly line, or construction.  Work that isn't creative, where the workers just follow orders and there's little to differentiate workers.

              But engineering isn't work on an assembly line.  I don't spend all day doing the exact same task over and over again, or the exact same tasks as the man to the right and left of me.

              •  The Dems have mostly abandoned unions (4+ / 0-)

                They only give the unions lip-service anymore.
                You have no arguments with me on that point.

                 But that makes supporting unions, as opposed to supporting a political party proxy, all the more important.

                  As for your point about unions being inappropriate for some trades, I strongly disagree.
                   If you work for a paycheck, then you need a union. One working class slob looks like the next to the bosses.

                "The oppressors most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed." - Stephen Biko

                by gjohnsit on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 10:26:26 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  But how would unions address this wage theft? (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  This is an honest question.  Laura's diary is about an anti-competition scheme:

                  The engineers say they lost up to $3 billion in wages from 2005-9, when the companies colluded in a scheme not to solicit one another’s employees. The collusion, according to the engineers, kept their pay lower than it would have been had the companies actually competed for talent
                  But one could think of that scheme exactly the same as a union contract.  Say a software engineers union negotiated a contract with Apple, Intel, Adobe, and set the prevailing wage for the engineers.

                  Now one of the top talent engineers at Adobe thinks he should be paid more.  He wants to go work for Apple for more money, but they're bound by the same contract.  Apple isn't allowed to pay more for top talent.  The whole point of a union is to treat the workers all pretty much the same.

                  So how is that functionally different from the wage theft that happened?  The companies simply agreed to a wage cap on their own, instead of negotiating a contract with a union.  Would a union contract really allow Apple to poach top talent union engineers from Adobe for more money?  What would the other union workers say about that?

                  •  Think of it this way (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Norm in Chicago

                    In which situation do you have more leverage: by yourself, or as a group?
                       When you go bargain with your boss, would you rather sit alone in a room with 4 bosses around you telling you what they are going to pay? Or would you rather sit in a room with 20 of your coworkers telling your bosses what the minimum it is that you will settle for?
                       Which situation do you feel has more power?

                      As for the companies, that's called theft for a reason.
                    They are organizing against you, and it was effective. So how is you and your coworkers organizing not to your benefit?

                    "The oppressors most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed." - Stephen Biko

                    by gjohnsit on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 10:45:30 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  But the theft was not paying above the minimum (0+ / 0-)

                      A)  The Union sets the prevailing wage.
                      B)  The "free market" sets the prevailing wage.

                      Either way, there's a fixed wage that all companies agree to abide by.

                      A)  The companies all agree to pay the prevailing union set wage and not poach each other for top talent.

                      B)  The companies collude together and agree to not pay more for top talent.

                      Either way, the top talent is not getting paid more money.  Isn't it theft either way.

                      Unions are great when they set standards for wages and working conditions.  But they're not great when they set a ceiling on wages and tell individuals that they can't work harder or innovate to get better pay as top talent, because the wages are fixed by union contract.

                      My dad did get great benefits as an IBEW electrician. But he was the best electrician in the entire damn plant, and he never got the pay he deserved until he left the union and became an electrical tech.  Only then could he demand higher raises for his talent.

                      •  There's two issues here (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        Norm in Chicago

                        1) You are admitting that companies organizing against you is very effective, but you are stuck in thinking that you and your coworkers organizing somehow won't be effective.
                          That is illogical. Organizing is effective in setting wages, not just for companies but for workers too.

                          As for the "free market" setting the prevailing wage, not if the companies are colluding.

                        2) Your opposition to unions because of "top talent" is exactly what I experienced when the SEIU tried to organize the the IT workers in the UC system.
                           You are thinking of yourself as a capitalist, not a worker. It is exactly how the companies want you to think.

                           First of all, not everyone can be "top talent". > 90% of IT workers are going to get screwed, eventhough the majority of IT workers think like capitalists.
                           Secondly, unions are democratic. You tell the union what the ceiling should be, not the other way around. And if the union doesn't listen to the workers then you find a different union.

                          Finally, my father was also an IBEW electrician. Until the day he retired he was paid far more than the average non-union electrician. Or even a very good non-union electrician. Back in the early 80's he was making $35 an hour. I don't know what they make now.

                        "The oppressors most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed." - Stephen Biko

                        by gjohnsit on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 11:17:46 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  I made them equally effective (0+ / 0-)

                          I'm assuming that a union-set prevailing wage and a collusion-set prevailing wage are both equally effective.  Stay with me here:

                          A)  The union says wages are $35/hr and get all companies to agree to that contract.
                          B)  Company collusion says they won't pay more than $35/hr.

                          Either way, the engineers say they're workers, not capitalists, and $35/hr. is just fine.  Everyone is making good money, everyone is happy for a while.

                          Then, it comes out that Apple actually was willing to pay $45/hr the whole time, but didn't.  They didn't pay more because:

                          A)  Apple agreed to a union contract to pay $35/hr and didn't want to treat workers like capitalists and poach the top talent for $45/hr, because that wouldn't be fair to the bottom 90%.

                          B)  Apple was worried that if they offered $45, Intel or Adobe would offer $50, so they colluded to keep wages at $35/hr.

                          Which one(s) are wage theft?  A?  B?  A and B?  or neither?

                          I'm sorry, but you can't ask for unions to treat everyone the same, say paying the top 10% more is capitalist, and then in the same breath complain that Apple wasn't capitalist and didn't hire away the top 10% for more money while screwing the bottom 90%.

                          You have to pick one.  Are you mad at Apple for paying everyone the same, or for not paying the top 10% more?

                  •  Why would a union set a cap on wages? (0+ / 0-)

                    Contracts usually set a floor, not a ceiling.  That's why they work, set a max wage wouldn't make sense for this kind of field at all (or any).

              •  Union aren't just for the assembly line (0+ / 0-)

                Maybe you've never heard of unionized college professors?  Surely there work is not (entirely) rote and is often creative.  The problem is that the tenure and hiring system makes it very difficult to vote with your feet.  Universities typically don't want journeyman professors and even if they hire them, they frequently require working to regain tenure.  Because of this, non-union faculties receive salary raises equal to inflation in good years and no raises in subpar years.  Benefits and working conditions also tend to get worse over time.

                And consider this, in software, once you age past 35 or so, the ability to vote with you feet decreases year by year.  Unions are about protecting workers from exploitation no matter what job they do (see also airline pilots unions, professional sports unions, etc.).  

                My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.—Carl Schurz
                "Shared sacrifice!" said the spider to the fly.—Me

                by KingBolete on Thu Apr 24, 2014 at 07:46:56 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  The alternate point of view is this... (0+ / 0-)

                  Most of us are lucky/blessed/privileged enough to make enough that we care more about the tech we're working on than the pay.  Most of us that put in the 50-60 hour weeks do so because that's OUR infrastructure or code that's going to be out there and we love what we do.  In the Bay Area, we generally do get stock/equity/some form of ownership as well.

                  And speaking for myself here...if someone's doing this for the pay rate alone and not because they love this shit, that's not the person I want working next to me, because that person isn't going to put in the extra time to solve a particularly hard problem, or take the extra time to closely review code, or want to keep up on the latest and greatest tools and technology.

                  We are lucky enough to have the privilege to be choosy about where we work and how often we do it.  And there are definitely some terrible shops to work for.

                  But at the end of the day, there's not that many of us.  Even in tech-heavy San Francisco, tech workers are just 6% of the workforce, and outside of the larger companies.  If our core skill is in a commonly used language or technology that hasn't changed in years, it's easily outsourced.  If your skill is the ability to become the instant expert on new tech, you'll always have work no matter how gray your hair gets.

                  If there was a way that unions could actually help tech workers out, I'd be all for it, but the nature of the work and the wildly varying skill sets required for the different portions of the field at the level this article is talking about isn't a fit for it.

                  Now, the men in women in the data centers and doing the physical work of IT most definitely need unions.  Tech support? Union helps.

                  Software engineering or system architecture?  Give me the use case where a union can help and I'll be happy to support it, even at the cost of my own advancement, because the better off everyone is, the better off I am as a whole, even if not financially.  But I haven't been able to find one.  I'd love to be able to defend the idea of an IT Engineering union, if only because union training and union certification ensures that there's at least a portion of a candidate's skill set that they aren't completely BSing about.

                  Everyday Magic

                  Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
                  -- Clarke's Third Law

                  by The Technomancer on Thu Apr 24, 2014 at 08:15:03 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                •  Yep. Unionizing definitely improved matters (0+ / 0-)

                  for the faculty at my university.  And the more administrations encroach on traditional faculty responsibilities, the more important it becomes.

                  You’re certainly right about voting with one’s feet.  In my experience it’s only a bit of an exaggeration to say that there are basically two ways to change schools if you already have tenure: become a department chair somewhere (if you can stand the thought), or be a star.

    •  The "I've got mine, screw you!" contingent? /nt (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gjohnsit, JBL55

      Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
      I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
      —Spike Milligan

      by polecat on Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 10:02:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Everyone wants to attack the little person who (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gjohnsit, polecat, happymisanthropy, JBL55

      goofs off a little instead of the big guy who is sucking them dry. I think part of it is that they see the little guy right in front of themselves, and they never see the big guy. They end up, unfortunately, rewarding the 1% for treating them like lepers.

    •  I can believe it. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      It's vey depressing.

    •  I'm not opposed to unions in general, (0+ / 0-)

      but I'm not sure I would want to be part of one, or whether I would be able to. Although technically I'm a programmer not a software engineer, even if neither category covers all of what I do.

      Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

      by AaronInSanDiego on Thu Apr 24, 2014 at 08:04:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  This. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Well, I'd be part of one if there was a use case for one, but depending on what day/hour it is, I'm writing code, or I'm spinning up more infrastructure, or negotiating a vendor contract, or mentoring a junior team member, or sitting in on a budget meeting...

        There's nothing routine about the work once you're off of help desk or out of the data center.  Hell, you can't even get two companies to agree on what exactly the core skillset of a DevOps Engineer should be.  Some companies mean they want a coder who isn't going to break production systems.  Other companies mean that they want an experienced systems professional that can write code in a language more complicated than BASH or PowerShell.  Others expect a DevOps  person to be a cross between your change management engineer and a systems architect.

        I want to be convinced that a union can help me out.  But I can't find a use case where it benefits us outside of the tech support and data center gigs.

        Everyday Magic

        Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
        -- Clarke's Third Law

        by The Technomancer on Thu Apr 24, 2014 at 08:21:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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