The Non-union Union IT Might Accept

InfoWorld got the message loud and clear from readers and analysts that the IT community is opposed to unionization. And the unions we contacted had little to no interest in representing tech workers.

One conclusion: IT workers don't want help fighting for health care and retirement benefits, for overtime compensation, or for guarantees against outsourcing and downsizing

Another conclusion: IT workers view unions as entities that thwart creativity, flexibility, risk-taking, and the unique tech culture.

(Find out why tech workers oppose unions. | Discover how to beat the high stress of many IT jobs in InfoWorld's special report.)

For those IT workers feeling overpressured in their work but unwilling to contemplate the traditional union, an emerging organization -- the International IT Worker's Group (IITW) -- may just be the answer. Like unions, the IITW protects IT worker's rights while serving as a resource for information and assistance. But unlike unions, the IITW is focused on protecting individual workers more than protecting the group as a whole, say cofounders Jack Edwards and James Smith.

Former coworkers with experience in everything from small startup companies to large corporations, Edwards and Smith spent several years developing the IITW idea. The idea recently moved from concept to reality, and the group is now accepting new members at no fee. Edwards and Smith hope to hit 10,000 members by 2009; they will begin charging monthly membership fees in early 2009 to pay for the organization.

When creating the framework for the IITW, Edwards and Smith studied other organizations and unions to find a model they believed would serve IT workers' needs.

"There is no model out there that does what we want our group to do," Edwards says. "IT workers are not the same as everyone else. Unions such as the United Steelworkers have their place, but their position doesn't fit the mentality and lifestyle of an IT worker because IT workers don't like being told what to do."

Additionally, Edwards' years as a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) helped him decide how he didn't want the IITW to operate. He remembers one particular day when he was managing a crew that was performing a time-sensitive electrical job. The project was quite complicated, and his crew fell behind.

"I have never been one to sit back and watch other people work, so I jumped in and helped complete the job," Edwards said. "An IBEW union rep told me that it was against the bylaws for me to be doing the work, so I quit the union."

So Edwards and Smith turned the IITW into a working group, rather than a union. The IITW's mission is to ensure equality and representation for all information and technology workers. It strives to be a key resource for IT workers, helping them overcome the roadblocks of career advancement and the detriments of the economy. Specifically, its founders say that the IITW will help members acquire portable health care, educational services, legal direction, and financial assistance, all while providing overall protection of IT workers' rights and acting as a news and information source for members.

"Our main goal is assisting others who run into situations where they need help or information, such as easing the cost of health care or assistance with reviewing legal contracts," Edwards says. "Our large membership base will have buying power, lobbying power, and a united voice, but we are not going to go into a workplace and try to strong-arm employers."

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