A small thought on library and tech unions in light of a lockout

I’ve never been a member of a union. Computer programmers — and IT workers in general — in the U.S. are mostly unorganized. Not only that, they tend to resist unions, even though banding together would be a good idea.

It’s not necessarily a matter of pay, at least not at the moment: many IT workers have decent to excellent salaries. Of course not all do, and there are an increasing number of IT job categories that are becoming commoditized. Working conditions at a lot of IT shops are another matter: the very long hours that many programmers and sysadmins work are not healthy, but it can be very hard to be first person in the office to leave at a reasonable quitting time day.

There are other reasons to be part of a union as an IT worker. Consider one of the points in the ACM code of ethics: “Respect the privacy of others.” Do you have a qualm about writing a web tracker? It can be hard to push back all by yourself against a management imperative to do so. A union can provide power and cover: what you can’t resist singly, a union might help forestall.

The various library software firms I’ve worked for have not been exceptions: no unions. At the moment, I’m also distinctly on the management side of the table.

Assuming good health, I can reasonably expect to spend another few decades working, and may well switch from management to labor and back again — IT work is squishy like that. Either way, I’ll benefit from the work — and blood, and lives — of union workers and organizers past and future. (Hello, upcoming weekend! You are literally the least of the good things that unions have given me!)

I may well find myself (or more likely, people representing me) bargaining hard with or against a union. And that’s fine.

However, if I find myself sitting, figuratively or literally, on the management side of a negotiation table, I hope that I never lose sight of this: the union has a right to exist.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has a long history of management and owners rejecting that premise, and doing their level best to break unions or prevent them from forming.

The Long Island University Faculty Federation, which represents the full time and adjunct faculty at the Brooklyn campus of LIU, holds a distinction: it was the first union to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement for faculty at a private university in the U.S.

Forty-four years later, the administration of LIU Brooklyn seems determined to break LIUFF, and have locked out the faculty. Worse, LIU has elected not to continue the health insurance of the LIUFF members. I have only one word for that tactic: it is an obscenity.

As an aside, this came to my attention last week largely because I follow LIU librarian and LIUFF secretary Emily Drabinski on Twitter. If you want to know what’s going on with the lockout, follow her blog and Twitter account as well as the #LIUlockout hashtag.

I don’t pretend that I have a full command of all of the issues under discussion between the university and the union, but I’ve read enough to be rather dubious that the university is presently acting in good faith. There’s plenty of precedent for university faculty unions to work without contracts while negotiations continue; LIU could do the same.

Remember, the union has a right to exist. Applies to LIUFF, to libraries, and hopefully in time, to more IT shops.

If you agree with me that lockouts are wrong, please consider joining me in donating to the solidarity fund for the benefit of LIUFF members run the by American Federation of Teachers.

CC BY-SA 4.0 A small thought on library and tech unions in light of a lockout by Galen Charlton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.