You may have heard someone over the past few years talk about web developers like they're the new blue collar worker. There is some truth in that statement, seeing as it can take a salary from a job in the technology sector to live comfortably in America. There's at least one thing missing from this analogy. Blue collar workers have labor unions, we don’t.
The economy in 50s America enabled a sole breadwinner in the family to provide enough to pay the bills, put food on the table and even take the family on a vacation. The uneven distribution of wealth today in America prevents blue collar workers from having the same level of freedom. This is not necessarily true of technology jobs, where the median salary for some positions can be well over $100,000 annually.
There are some of us in the technology sector who still have a difficult time making ends meet when housing prices are high, employer provided insurance refuses to cover medical bills, student loans prohibit some of us from obtaining credit. Sometimes we are forced to trade salary for benefits and job security when converting from contract to full-time.
When web engineers are laid off they often have to rely on a disconnected network of recruiters to acquire a new job. The recruiters are often not very concerned about your well-being and solely interested in the money they make off the transaction of finding you a job. It sounds good on paper. The recruiter has an incentive to get you a higher salary. But often that can be at the expense of good benefits or even full-time status. The recruiter will also not be there for you when things go wrong. It's in their best interest for you to keep the job.
There is hardly ever any accountability or incentive for the employer to change corporate culture. Maybe you are lucky enough to work in a decent environment with coworkers who also have a healthy work-life balance. That is not the case for so many people who work at corporations with a toxic environment. It is hard to change corporate culture. Sometimes it can take drastic measures like a work stoppage or a strike. But who is brave enough to orchestrate such an ordeal? It takes a lot of organization and energy to rally everyone behind the cause.
We've all taken the unbearable tests. If someone came in and offered proper certifications, some of that could go away. When a candidate is certifiable they have already proven their expertise. Some of us have employers who will pay for continuing education, while others do not. It can be hard to stay relevant with the changing landscape of technology especially when someone is comfortable at a job. What if there was a highly visible organization that provided continuing education and industry-wide recognized certification for a reasonable fee?
Contract jobs are challenging for most. If you have to operate as a sole proprietorship now you have the added responsibility of maintaining a business mostly for tax purposes. You may also need to track down affordable insurance and other benefits if the company you contract with doesn't offer these perks or has really horrible options. You'll be day dreaming nine months in at your job, thinking wouldn't it be nice when vacation rolls around. But it won't, unless you figure out how to save and be able to take a hit from not getting paid while on vacay. What if someone had your back and made sure with every contract position you also got at least three weeks vacation?
The employer or recruiter will always justify it with your slightly higher salary than if you were hired full-time, but that's a bunch of baloney. There are people working full-time that make more than you do in your contract. Someone negotiated a better rate and received it. Then there's the problem where women are often paid less than men in the same position. Then there's the issue of locality. We allow corporations to pay someone in another country far less for the same job. We need an organization who can stop this inequality in its tracks and provide a fair and balanced approach.
Have you ever had a client stiff you for thousands of dollars and then claim you didn’t finish the work even though you did meet the requirements? It can be a struggle to get paid. The amount your former client owes you can be over the limit for small claims court and well below the amount that would make a lawyer interested in representing you. It can be even harder to bring a wrongful termination suit against a corporation. It also means you don’t have a reference from your last job. What if you had access to a resource that would provide legal representation in situations you are clearly owed money?
Why should we have put put up with clients not paying us for our services? Why should we have to depend on a disparate network of recruiters? Why do we put up with the state of job interviews in technology? How does meaningful change happen for women in tech when the government fails to mandate fair income laws?
It takes an organization of dedicated people to fix these kinds problems. This is where a labor union can help.
Labor unions use collective bargaining to secure better working conditions for its members. Being part of a labor union gives you negotiating power.
- Collective bargaining
- Better working conditions
- Provides training for new skills
- Standardized wages
- Negotiating power for better benefits / pay
- Pension benefits
If people working in technology were to form a union, I'm sure they could overcome some of the bury
There will be resistance to the idea of a labor union in technology at first. Change is difficult, especially for the conservatives who usually end up running major corporations. Greed is a powerful drug. There would have to be a huge incentive for corporations to abandon the status quo.
The labor union would have to provide a superior, well-educated and experienced workforce. The union would have to simply the process of finding and hiring talent for HR at corporations.
There are probably more incentives for corporations, but the point of a labor union would largely be to protect people working in tech. Labor unions won't solve all of our problems, however I believe a labor union could make life better for those of us working in technology.