Labor Conflict in the Land of IT

Michael Vizard

As we approach Labor Day, it seems appropriate to take a look at the state of labor relations between IT and the rest of the business.

Clearly, the issue that gets most of the attention these days is the uproar over H-B1 visa program. While much of this discussion is wrapped up in xenophobia, the root cause of all the outrage really goes to the heart of who is responsible for IT training. Older workers are outraged when companies hire younger workers from overseas at a lower cost. Business executives justify such action because they need people with new IT skills who are not readily available in the existing talent pool. What business executives are really saying is they don't see it as their responsibility to keep the IT staff's skills current. Instead, they are saying that IT workers participate in a free market system where it is their responsibility to invest in keeping their IT skills current so they can compete more effectively with workers from around the globe. This issue is hardly limited to people seeking visas to enter this country, because now it's relatively simple to hire someone for just about any IT position anywhere in the globe.

The real issue is what is to what degree is the U.S. willing to invest to make sure its citizens are competitive in a global IT marketplace. A business is under no legal or moral imperative to train its workers. It may make good business sense to do so. But if the U.S. wants to keep high-salary IT jobs here as part of national economic policy, then it has any number of tax incentive options available to provide businesses with right kind of incentives to train U.S. citizens. It can also try to mitigate how many people compete for those jobs by limiting visas, but the economic impact might only be to push more jobs overseas and in so doing lower the tax base. Unfortunately, in an economy where hundreds of thousands of people are already out of work, the plight of comparatively high-skilled and well-paid IT people is hard to get on the current Washington agenda.

While the visa issue dominates the IT labor discussion, there are other issues that the business needs to deal with. Specifically, the relationship between IT people and the folks that work in facilities needs to improve. It's been getting better thanks to Green IT initiatives, but the business needs to make sure that IT people get the proper amount of credit for these efforts. The facilities people obviously benefit from the lower amount of power being consumed, but it's the IT people that assume all the risk in terms of putting in new systems that consume less power. If anything goes wrong, they take the blame. And all too often, they don't get any of the budgetary credit for saving costs on power.

This is only the beginning of the convergence of IT and the facilities department. Physical and IT security is starting to come together so, for instance, if we know an employee is in the building, chances are that's not them trying to remotely access a server from outside the building.

We're also going to need a lot more cooperation between these two departments as the national effort to create a Smart Grid goes online. Each company location is likely to have a power controller developed by companies such as Teletrol Systems , a unit of Philips, that will need to be integrated across network bandwidth usually managed by the IT department.

All in all, this means that one of the biggest priorities for the coming year should be to get two departments that have been historically at odds with each other to work better together.


Finally, the other big issue of the day that nobody really wants to talk about is IT automation. The simple fact is that as IT becomes more automated, a lot of existing IT jobs as we know them are going to disappear. The potential impact of this trend could easily dwarf any existing IT labor issues.


There will always be a lot of labor conflict surrounding IT. The very reason we have IT is to drive change, and with change come conflict. Today that conflict takes place on a global scale. Those changes are never going to stop coming, so what then needs to change is how we handle it.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Sep 7, 2009 8:31 AM Ganesh Ganesh  says:

I wonder how only American Companies generate millions of high paying jobs, relatively speaking, when compared to European Companies.

American Companies in Banking and Financial Services Sector, Retail Sector, Telecom Sector, Automobile, etc., generate hundreds of thousands of jobs. And many of these low end jobs gets shipped to India or China or other third world countries. Whereas European behemoths do not generate such massive numbers of IT jobs - and for sure, they too have computerized systems in place. Where is the disconnect?

The other point is why IT jobs alone are high paying? If American IT workers draw a salary levels that are equal to their counterparts in other industries, then the question of "cheap-labor" would not arise.

Mike, Can you post your thoughts on these?

Sep 7, 2009 9:59 AM Carol Fletez Carol Fletez  says: in response to Ganesh

IT jobs are not the only ones that are high paying in the US. There used to be very well paid manufacturing jobs here in many sectors including steel, machines of all types, including automotive workers and large appliances:

these have all gone outside the US. Many to India, China, Mexico and elsewhere.

I do not think US IT workers salaries are out of proportion to their knowledge or experience. They are comparable in Europe as well. The reason European countries companies do not generate large quantities of jobs for foreigners is that they have laws that prohibit giving jobs to people outside their countries FIRST.

Lowering US IT workers salaries is not the answer. The answer is for US companies and our government to support US workers FIRST.

Please comment on this Mr. Vizard equally which I think you did by pointing out that the US needs to stop giving precedence to cost alone.


Sep 7, 2009 6:21 PM Carol Fletez Carol Fletez  says:

Although there is a willingness to outsource work to extremely different time zones outside the continental US, there is a wealth of resources in potential teleworkers in IT here in the US and companies have been less than willing to do this...Why?

Why trust someone in another country to do your work and potentially cross a business functionality boundary that may lead to extensive rework when there are workers here willing to work from their physical locations in the US? This effort alone can save on many budgets and permit out of work IT professionals to fill the void?

Companies might find people with excellent skills willing to take less compensation if they can work from the convenience of their own space. Many of us are already anxious to do this and are learning new skills via remote education anyway!Automation can mean many things and one I see is a proliferation of new 'tools' to accommodate tasks many of us already know how to do well.

What is a tool to 'write' COBOL, Java or other programs doing any better than those who write these natively? Aren't some of these tools just excuses to cover the failure of newbies to know the way the underlying code functions? Or companies to sell yet another software add-on?

We automate conversions from one environment (usually mainframes) to other faster server environments. Those automated tools are necessary but why rewrite in some other language that is the newbie tool favorite taught elsewhere at lower cost? Why not re-tool the US IT professional with some automated funds sharing for education? And why not put us to work as we learn?

C W Fletez, Columbia MD


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