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

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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  • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:01PM (#44182557) Homepage Journal

    Unions seem to be blamed for everything wrong in the world of work on Slashdot but, even though I'm not a member because there isn't one at my company, I really appreciate the rights they have got for workers over the decades.

  • Past their time (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jay Maynard ( 54798 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:05PM (#44182617) Homepage

    Unions were good in the 1920s and 1930s. Now, they've priced the American worker out of the global labor market.

    There's a reason that union membership is down to historic lows: all they do is take money out of workers' pockets to line the bosses' nests and send money to Democrat politicians.

  • by adturner ( 6453 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:06PM (#44182631) Homepage

    You want to destroy innovation in the tech sector? I guarantee you the fastest way to do that is unionize the tech field.

  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:12PM (#44182705)
    The problem with unions is they view a worker as a clone of every other worker.

    For example, a young worker is unlikely to really need lots of health insurance when compared to an aging worker. Similarly an unmarried man most likely couldn't care less about maternity leave. But yet with collective bargaining, that young worker could get useless (for him) insurance in exchange for something that would be useful for him (vacation days, higher pay, etc.) and that unmarried man might get great maternity leave but at the expense of something that could be useful for him.

    Instead, contracts should be dealt with at the individual level, allowing for the best for both the employer and the individual employee.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:13PM (#44182735)

    The state of CA has a debt of what? $127,000,000,000 was the last I heard. Much of the tax base is leaving the state. Govt. employee unions are largely responsible for the utterly unsustainable financial situation of the U.S. state which has the most natural economic advantages.

    BART workers don't work in sweat shops and never have. They are overpaid and underworked like most govt. workers. Govt. employee unions should be illegal since they screw the taxpayer, the people who actually pay the bills.

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

    by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:15PM (#44182745)

    "Now, they've priced the American worker out of the global labor market."

    The American worker isn't priced out of the market. For example, we export BMWs to mainland China. We don't need many meat puppets and nut turners to do that.

    The American worker is less NECESSARY because efficient businesses need fewer workers. Workers are an expensive burden, which is why even Foxconn is turning to robotics.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:15PM (#44182759)

    The grad student union at my university is responsible for me having health insurance. That was a while back, but not in the grand scheme of things. (I've actually never been able to find a date, but I get the sense it was a couple of decades ago.)

    That's not a minor benefit even remotely.

  • by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:19PM (#44182797)

    Govt. employee unions should be illegal since they screw the taxpayer, the people who actually pay the bills.

    The worst of it is that when the screwing happens, those tax payers that get screwed werent even old enough to pay taxes (and many not even born yet.)

    "Sure, we'll give you union guys a great pension 30 years from now when you retire -- no problem! hell, my constituents wont even feel it"

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <.moc.cam. .ta. .rcj.> on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:23PM (#44182837) Journal

    The grad student union at my university is responsible for me having health insurance.

    More like, they took credit for it. The people actually responsible for it are those who paid for it, which is some combination of yourself, your employer, and the students who pay tuition to the school.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:28PM (#44182889)

    Unless you happen to work in one of the 95% of all jobs where the described situation ends up with the employee becoming unemployed.

  • Re:Past their time (Score:1, Insightful)

    by roarkarchitect ( 2540406 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:34PM (#44182959)
    The worker who made the BMW works in South Carolina and isn't unionized. He/She makes a very good wage and doesn't have to put up with all of the union garbage.
  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:38PM (#44183003) Homepage Journal

    So, any ideas other than do nothing? While do nothing is easy and doesn't suffer a lot of corruption, it doesn't have nearly as many accomplishments (such as workplace safety, 8 hour days and 40 hour weeks, etc) to it's name.

    Wanna learn a bit about unions? Go lurk on message boards for people in various union jobs. You might learn something. For example, I have seen that more linemen die in non-union jobs than in union jobs because in non-union places they'll send under-qualified people up the pole where the distribution voltage is.

  • by MAXOMENOS ( 9802 ) <maxomai&gmail,com> on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:38PM (#44183007) Homepage
    So, I'm a sysadmin in a union shop. The upside to being in a union is that it's harder to get fired for speaking out when management is doing something stupid. The downside is that people get complacent about their jobs. For example, when management wanted our VB programmers to learn VB.NET because we're phasing out VB6, they all said "no." In practical terms, that means that management is either going to have to find something else for them to do (such as application administration) or figure out how to let them go (which is going to be very painful indeed, for everyone).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:45PM (#44183091)

    No, smartass, how about the 40-hour work week? Holiday pay? Vacations? Overtime pay? Unemployment insurance? Compensation for injuries sustained while on the job? And all of the other benefits that we have that we take for granted that exist because working people organized into unions, fought for those rights, were beaten, murdered, threatened and coerced, and still managed to pry those rights from the cancerous, blood-soaked claw of the wealthy and privileged.

    Corruption can exist in _any_ organized group of human beings. With unions, at least their is some semblance of democracy. You vote for leadership, you vote on bargaining, you vote on dues. A union is democracy in the workplace.

    The American dream is dead, long live the European dream.

  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:48PM (#44183117)

    Sort of, but ultimately overall you have to look at the big picture. Compare what things were like before and after unions and what things were like now as opposed to when unions were at their peak in the 60s and 70s.

    You can always find individual anecdotes and examples, but the questions should be whether we're better off with or without unions and why is that the case.

  • by JDG1980 ( 2438906 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:51PM (#44183147)

    You denied that unions favored increasing the minimum wage. I pointed out that you were wrong. Incidentally, a quick Google search shows 2,140 documents containing the phrase "minimum wage" on aflcio.org – that hardly speaks to an issue of peripheral concern.

    Unions take public positions in favor of a higher minimum wage, and support elected officials who want to increase it. What else, exactly, do you propose they should be doing?

  • by bmarkovic ( 2676593 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:55PM (#44183197)
    I know it's unpopular to say that, but if there weren't global-level pressures from socialist organizations you'd get fsckall of those 40-hour weeks and work safety. Unions solved (and still do) issues on trade by trade basis. Overall conditions of workers improved only when powers that were felt grass roots pressure from protesting and increasing number of people going the red route everywhere. The whole red scare thing was more-less designed to create a stigma over a whole concept of labour rights in the West, leaving trade Unions to become charades quite often. Tho, charming personalities like Stalin and Mao helped a lot. Nothing says an idea is broken better than pointing at a perverted, evil implementation of it.
  • by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @07:18PM (#44183431) Homepage Journal

    Well, yes and no. It's not like the various people who pay tuition would find it dropping by the same amount if health insurance were suspended.

    The fundamental theory of unions is that the price paid for an item is a function of both supply and demand. When demand is high, the seller can charge a price higher than the cost. The question then becomes, who receives the profits?

    That's not a simple question to answer, as there are a lot of inputs, but in the case of low- to moderate-skill workers, the answer is generally that the employer gets 100% of the profits. The workers are easily replaced by ones who will demand less. (In the limit case, MUCH less, and the workers are reduced to subsistence wages.) A union is a way for the workers to demand a share of the profits, by agreeing among each other not to work for the lowest offered wage.

    In those circumstances, the increased wages aren't coming out of the pockets of the customers. They're coming out of the pockets of the employers. That's the point.

    There are even more complex economics going on with grad students, whose "job" is being subsidized by a variety of sources, for work that is well removed from market forces. Student tuitions have been going up faster than inflation, and the grad students are competing for that extra money with a variety of campus functions (everything from fat football coach paychecks to new buildings). A grad student union is really more a representation than a true union, but it serves one of the same functions: to represent the group in the negotiation for how much they will receive of the difference between costs and monies received.

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <.moc.cam. .ta. .rcj.> on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @07:23PM (#44183479) Journal

    how about the 40-hour work week? Holiday pay? Vacations?

    All made possible by the increase in the productivity of labor due to capital investment, and the need for employers to compete to obtain labor. Unions are nothing but rent-seeking parasites.


  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <.moc.cam. .ta. .rcj.> on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @07:24PM (#44183489) Journal

    There are countless examples of unions making the world a better place

    Yeah, like Detroit.

    Oh, wait.


  • Well, why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @07:53PM (#44183763)
    Did you notice that the corps have you fighting with the Union workers to lower your standard of living? They've got you asking: "Why do those guys get to live well?" instead of "Why am I struggling to retire?".

    That's the entire point of the anti-union narrative we see non-stop. It's what progressives mean when they say 'a race to the bottom'....

    Pay close attention to your views on workers rights and what a reasonable quality of life should be. Then ask yourself who's really shaping them and why...
  • by scot4875 ( 542869 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @07:53PM (#44183767) Homepage

    If you think you have the same bargaining power as an employer does -- particularly in a time of high unemployment -- you're delusional. You are not as special and irreplaceable as you probably think you are.


  • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @08:18PM (#44183975) Homepage Journal

    I remember about 15-20 years ago grad students and adjuncts were complaining that they weren't getting health insurance from their universities.

    The universities had a good bargaining position, the individual grad students had a bad bargaining position, and the students couldn't get health insurance.

    When the grad students organized a union, and organized together, they had a better bargaining position, and they were able to force the universities to give them health insurance.

    That sounds to me like the union being responsible for the grad students having health insurance.

    The student tuition dollar goes to pay for a lot of things. When the grad students have a union, more of that student tuition dollar goes to the grad students, including for health insurance.

  • by Dahamma ( 304068 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @08:50PM (#44184257)

    One thing that does annoy the crap out of me is when union "rules" prevent you from even perform your *own* simple tasks, requiring a union employee to do it/be present.

    For example, several times I have helped set up demos at CES booths/suites, and literally wasn't even allowed to move around furniture, unpack certain objects from boxes, or run/plug in certain kinds of cables without union workers. Sometimes we had to just sit there for an hour waiting for someone to show up to perform a 30 second task. That sort of practice not "protecting" the union employees from "management" hiring cut-rate non-union labor, it's extorting $100/hr for pointless tasks that they had no business being involved with in the first place.

    THIS sort of thing is why there has been such a backlash against unions - just like government agencies these days, they DO still perform valuable services, but the bureaucracy, politics, incompetence, and waste are giving them a really bad name. It used to be about COMPROMISE, but seems to be increasingly about ENTITLEMENT...

  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @09:08PM (#44184391)

    My boss will get a smaller slice of the pie.

    Thus giving him less money to reinvest in his business, so the non-union shop next door grows, and eventually out-competes your company and you lose your job. Or your boss replaces you with a machine that wouldn't be cost effective if you had a more reasonable wage.

    If you artificially push your wages above a fair market value, don't be surprised if the market finds a solution that doesn't involve you being employed.

  • by schnell ( 163007 ) <me.schnell@net> on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @09:57PM (#44184743) Homepage

    ignoring the boot of the upper class on your throat

    Please, PLEASE do unionize. Once that happens, I can be done once and for all with the Slashbot complaints that IT workers need to unionize... once the first downsizing comes and they realize that they're getting laid off because part of being in a union means that whoever has been there the longest will keep their jobs, regardless of whether they are any good at their jobs or not.

    Unions are for people in professions in which any worker cannot be differentiated from the next based on skill, so they have no individual bargaining power and need to band together. Then they reward seniority and loyalty to the union, since skill or job performance is unimportant. If you think you work in an industry where employees have differentiated skills and have some leverage to bargain with employers, you do NOT want a union.

  • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @10:02PM (#44184783) Homepage Journal

    If you look at a financial statement, you see that a certain amount of revenue is going to employee salaries and a certain amount of revenue is going to "non-exempt" or employer salaries. In some companies, the owner takes a draw which is like a salary.

    Then there's another part of the financial statement where they invest in the company.

    You can keep investment constant, and still change the distribution of revenue between the employee and employer.

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