Main image of article Should Tech’s Developers Unionize?

If you’ve spent any time at all on tech-centric forums and subreddits, you’ve no doubt read more than a few calls to unionize developers. Advocates of unionization argue that collective bargaining will allow developers to counteract—or at least negotiate over—some of the tech industry’s biggest issues, including stagnant wages, contractor benefits (or lack thereof), and working hours.

The rumblings about unionization are particularly loud in certain sub-industries. For example, the working conditions at some of the largest video-game companies—featuring frequent layoffs and punishing “crunch time”—have led some to call for unions. “I’ve been in the industry for 26 years, and the union discussion has always been in the background,” said Kate Edwards, who works as an advocate for diversity and fairness initiatives in gaming, told the Los Angeles Times in April. “There’s been a massive shift.”

Meanwhile, tech professionals within other industries have been exhibiting union-like behavior in order to convince management to change course, even if they haven’t yet bound into formal unions. In November 2018, for instance, Google employees staged a massive walkout in order to protest what they viewed as the company’s lax response to inequality and sexual harassment. “A company is nothing without its workers. From the moment we start at Google we’re told that we aren’t just employees; we’re owners,” the walkout’s organizers wrote in an essay about their motivations. “Every person who walked out today is an owner, and the owners say: Time’s up.”

In response, Google executives apologized to employees during internal meetings, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai vowed to enact changes. In theory, that showed tech professionals have enough collective power to convince even the largest companies to adjust course. 

At other tech giants, including Amazon and Microsoft, employees have joined together to protest everything from treatment of womento military and government contracts, with varying degrees of success. Of course, it’s a big leap from “spot protests” over a particular issue to full-on unionization; but in the face of some big, messy, seemingly intractable issues, it’s easy to see a more aggressive push for unions developing at certain firms.

How do you feel about it? Let us know if you think developers who want to unionize have a case. We’ll publish the results in a future article!