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BART Strike Provides Stark Contrast To Tech's Non-Union World 467

Posted by Soulskill
from the bofh-union-is-terrible-to-contemplate dept.
dcblogs writes "The strike by San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers this week is a clear and naked display of union power, something that's probably completely alien to tech professionals. Tech workers aren't organized in any significant way except through professional associations. They don't strike. But the tech industry is highly organized, and getting more so. Industry lobbying spending has been steadily rising, reaching $135 million last year, almost as much as the oil and gas industry. But in just one day of striking, BART workers have cost the local economy about $73 million in lost productivity due to delays in traffic and commuting. Software developers aren't likely to unionize. As with a lot of professionals, they view themselves as people with special skills, capable of individually bargaining for themselves, and believe they have enough power in the industry to get what they want, said Victor Devinatz, a professor of management and quantitative methods at Illinois State University College of Business. For unions to get off the ground with software workers, Devinatz said, 'They have to believe that collective action would be possible vehicle to get the kinds of things that they want and that they deserve.'"
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BART Strike Provides Stark Contrast To Tech's Non-Union World

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  • US vs World (Score:5, Informative)

    by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:07PM (#44182641)

    You know that this is pretty much US only? In Germany where I worked all of the engineers were unionized.

    Granted the unions seem to be quite a bit different. The UAW is quite a bit different than most of the German unions I worked with.

  • by Midnight_Falcon (2432802) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:15PM (#44182751)
    First, let me say I don't take BART (I drive, living and working within San Francisco) and am not really affected by the strike. However, I do believe in unions and their ability, in certain industries, to force employers to maintain standards of living wages and decent working conditions. We'd all hate to return to the days of the Robber Barons and the photos of Jacob Riis -- an era that unions helped bring an end to.

    However, in California tech jobs are not regulated very well by the state. Since salaries are so high, most tech workers are exempt from overtime -- and companies like Google, Zynga, Netflix etc are well-known to demand long hours from their employees without paying overtime (albeit paying decent salaries instead). One of the main reasons California and Silicon Valley is appealing to them is this, and also, at-will employment. Meaning, if an employee doesn't work out, it is very easy to fire them and replace them with someone else.

    The talent you have at a start-up is critical -- when your core team is ten people, having one or two free-riders or non-stellar characters in the mix can be a big drain on productivity. So, California makes it relatively easy for these companies to replace their staff, and both hire and fire new workers.

    If this wasn't the case, very likely the startup I work for wouldn't exist here, and would be located somewhere else. Dealing with union workers is the last thing a busy CEO wants for his start-up, they're busy drumming up business, promoting the product, getting funding, etc etc. My company rarely fires anyone -- but the talent is very good and stays motivated with little management. But if we do hire someone who needs to be managed all day, we do want to get rid of them without having to go through a union and a few HR lawyers. Startups simply don't have the resources for that, nor to spend money on someone's salary who is not ideal.

    In conclusion, there's a reason why things are the way they are.

  • Bad P/R (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:15PM (#44182755) Homepage Journal

    Unions simply have a poor reputation and haven't worked very hard on improving it.

    For one, they've failed the address the perception that unions protect lazy workers at the expense of the productive ones. They should actively encourage bonuses, for example, and allow some degree of "demerit" pay cuts. (They don't have to be biting cuts such that a worker has to suddenly sell their house, but allow small gradual demerits.)

    Second, they've often negotiated contracts with local governments that end up appearing one-sided during downturns, making the unions look unwilling to scale back in hard times. The problem is that local governments often think short-term because of election cycles, and unions take advantage of this stance in negotiations. While not directly the union's "fault", it does damage their reputation. Unions should ensure they scale back a bit more during down-times to match everybody else's experience. Sharing the pain makes you more popular.

    Third, they need to make their case in the media. Corporations trash unions left and right in the media, and unions have done a poor job of putting out their side of the story.

  • Re:Past their time (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jay Maynard (54798) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:18PM (#44182783) Homepage

    Not hard to find. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2012 that private sector union membership was down to 6.6%, and overall membership was 11.3%, compared to 20.1% as recently as 1983. The 6.6% was the lowest since 1932.

    There are plenty of sources cited all over the net. A good place to start is this Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org].

  • by Eristone (146133) * <slashdot@casaichiban.com> on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:38PM (#44182997) Homepage

    My fellow slashdotters keep forgetting that Doctors, Lawyers, Writers (in Hollywood) and Actors are all members of unions as well. The Bar, the Medical Association, the Screen Actor's Guild - all are unions no matter the name given. There is a way to make it work so that it benefits all involved - but then again we as techies have no problems when the networks are good enough to where once something is plugged in an engineer in the Philippines can take care of the rest of it...

  • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:38PM (#44183011)

    Sure, me too. My question is, what have they done for us lately? Answer, fuck-all. Let's see them, for example, push to increase the minimum wage, so that people can even afford their union goods and services. What, they don't want to do that, because they don't have to worry about the minimum wage?

    Actually, unions have been among the strongest advocates of raising the minimum wage. Here [aflcio.org], for example, is the AFL-CIO's position on this subject.

  • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:48PM (#44183119)

    The problem with unions is they view a worker as a clone of every other worker.

    Well, obviously no one told the Major League Baseball Player's Association, or the Screen Actor's Guild.

    Unions do not necessarily mean strict seniority pay or rigid and inflexible job descriptions. Many workers in manufacturing industries choose to push for these kind of terms in their contracts, because productivity from worker to worker isn't that different, and because having someone do a task they're not familiar with in an industrial setting can be very dangerous. But this isn't how things work in MLB or Hollywood; they certainly don't pay baseball stars or actors on strict seniority, and they don't have to get into a fight every time they want to shift someone from shortstop to third base or whatever.

    Remember, union leaders are elected by the workers, and are supposed to represent what the workers want. Since IT workers generally don't like rigid job descriptions or inflexible pay scales, IT unions would not advocate for such things. Instead, as in the MLBPA and SAG, they would probably focus on setting minimum standards, to prevent people with less individual negotiating leverage from being exploited.

  • by interval1066 (668936) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @07:29PM (#44183549) Homepage Journal
    A lot of people here (I live in the south bay) are sympathetic until they find out the average pay for a BART worker. One thing they are protesting is that the BART Board wants the workers to start contributing to their retirement funds. Been in IT for 25 years and I've never been offered a completely free retriement fund.
  • Re:Past their time (Score:3, Informative)

    by nbauman (624611) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @09:08PM (#44184399) Homepage Journal

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/frederickallen/2011/12/21/germany-builds-twice-as-many-cars-as-the-u-s-while-paying-its-auto-workers-twice-as-much/ [forbes.com]
    Frederick E. Allen
    12/21/2011 @ 5:42PM |60,178 views

    How Germany Builds Twice as Many Cars as the U.S. While Paying Its Workers Twice as Much

    In 2010, Germany produced more than 5.5 million automobiles; the U.S produced 2.7 million. At the same time, the average auto worker in Germany made $67.14 per hour in salary in benefits; the average one in the U.S. made $33.77 per hour. Yet Germany’s big three car companies—BMW, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz), and Volkswagen—are very profitable.
    How can that be? The question is explored in a new article from Remapping Debate, a public policy e-journal. Its author, Kevin C. Brown, writes that “the salient difference is that, in Germany, the automakers operate within an environment that precludes a race to the bottom; in the U.S., they operate within an environment that encourages such a race.”
    There are “two overlapping sets of institutions” in Germany that guarantee high wages and good working conditions for autoworkers. The first is IG Metall, the country’s equivalent of the United Automobile Workers. Virtually all Germany’s car workers are members, and though they have the right to strike, they “hardly use it, because there is an elaborate system of conflict resolution that regularly is used to come to some sort of compromise that is acceptable to all parties,” according to Horst Mund, an IG Metall executive. The second institution is the German constitution, which allows for “works councils” in every factory, where management and employees work together on matters like shop floor conditions and work life. Mund says this guarantees cooperation, “where you don’t always wear your management pin or your union pin.”
    Mund points out that this goes against all mainstream wisdom of the neo-liberals. We have strong unions, we have strong social security systems, we have high wages. So, if I believed what the neo-liberals are arguing, we would have to be bankrupt, but apparently this is not the case. Despite high wages . . . despite our possibility to influence companies, the economy is working well in Germany.
    At Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant, the nonunionized new employees get $14.50 an hour, which rises to $19.50 after three years.

    http://www.remappingdebate.org/article/tale-two-systems [remappingdebate.org]
    A tale of two systems
    By Kevin C. Brown
    Remapping Debate
    Dec. 21, 2011
    American autoworkers are constantly told that high-wage work is an unsustainable relic in the face of a hyper-competitive, globalized marketplace. Apostles of neo-liberal economic theory — both in the public and private sectors — have stressed the message that worker adaptation is necessary to survive....
    But the case of German automakers — BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen — tells a different story. Each company produces vehicles not only in Germany, but also in “transplant” factories in the U.S. The former are characterized by high wages and high union membership; the U.S. plants pay lower wages and are located in so-called “right-to-work” (anti-union) states. ... the UAW has made significant concessions on wages, especially through the creation of a permanent “Tier 2” level for all new employees. Whereas incumbent “Tier 1” workers earn about $28 an hour, all new UAW hires at the GM, Ford, and Chrysler earn around $15 per hour.

  • by nbauman (624611) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @11:35PM (#44185333) Homepage Journal

    Just ask all those union workers in Germany how it's worked out for them.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/frederickallen/2011/12/21/germany-builds-twice-as-many-cars-as-the-u-s-while-paying-its-auto-workers-twice-as-much/ [forbes.com]
    Frederick E. Allen
    12/21/2011 @ 5:42PM |60,178 views
    How Germany Builds Twice as Many Cars as the U.S. While Paying Its Workers Twice as Much
    In 2010, Germany produced more than 5.5 million automobiles; the U.S produced 2.7 million. At the same time, the average auto worker in Germany made $67.14 per hour in salary in benefits; the average one in the U.S. made $33.77 per hour. Yet Germany’s big three car companies—BMW, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz), and Volkswagen—are very profitable.
    How can that be? The question is explored in a new article from Remapping Debate, a public policy e-journal. Its author, Kevin C. Brown, writes that “the salient difference is that, in Germany, the automakers operate within an environment that precludes a race to the bottom; in the U.S., they operate within an environment that encourages such a race.”
    There are “two overlapping sets of institutions” in Germany that guarantee high wages and good working conditions for autoworkers. The first is IG Metall, the country’s equivalent of the United Automobile Workers. Virtually all Germany’s car workers are members, and though they have the right to strike, they “hardly use it, because there is an elaborate system of conflict resolution that regularly is used to come to some sort of compromise that is acceptable to all parties,” according to Horst Mund, an IG Metall executive. The second institution is the German constitution, which allows for “works councils” in every factory, where management and employees work together on matters like shop floor conditions and work life. Mund says this guarantees cooperation, “where you don’t always wear your management pin or your union pin.”
    Mund points out that this goes against all mainstream wisdom of the neo-liberals. We have strong unions, we have strong social security systems, we have high wages. So, if I believed what the neo-liberals are arguing, we would have to be bankrupt, but apparently this is not the case. Despite high wages . . . despite our possibility to influence companies, the economy is working well in Germany.
    At Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant, the nonunionized new employees get $14.50 an hour, which rises to $19.50 after three years.

    http://www.remappingdebate.org/article/tale-two-systems [remappingdebate.org]
    A tale of two systems
    By Kevin C. Brown
    Remapping Debate
    Dec. 21, 2011
    American autoworkers are constantly told that high-wage work is an unsustainable relic in the face of a hyper-competitive, globalized marketplace. Apostles of neo-liberal economic theory — both in the public and private sectors — have stressed the message that worker adaptation is necessary to survive....
    But the case of German automakers — BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen — tells a different story. Each company produces vehicles not only in Germany, but also in “transplant” factories in the U.S. The former are characterized by high wages and high union membership; the U.S. plants pay lower wages and are located in so-called “right-to-work” (anti-union) states. ... the UAW has made significant concessions on wages, especially through the creation of a permanent “Tier 2” level for all new employees. Whereas incumbent “Tier 1” workers earn about $28 an hour, all new UAW hires at the GM, Ford, and Chrysler earn around $15 per hour.

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