From the Pioneer Prees come this:
In a Hopkins coffee shop, five angry technology workers vent their frustration about the growing practice of “offshoring” tech and service sector work to low-cost spots like India and China.
They want to do something, they say, instead of sitting still as jobs like theirs are shipped overseas. The Tuesday night meeting at the Depot Coffee House was organized by Georgia Barach, president of the Talus Group Inc., a Web development company in western-suburban Shorewood. Barach said she was moved to action after learning that parts of two state technology contracts are being offshored to low-cost workers in India. Barach said she’s seen it happen over and over again with firms that were once clients.
“I’m concerned because the jobs are not coming to us,” Barach said. “It feels frightening.”
The group eventually adopted a resolution calling for an end to global sourcing of tech workers ? moving work overseas or bringing foreign workers in on temporary H-1B or L-1 work visas. Barach urged the group members to take the statement to Minnesota’s party caucuses on March 2.
While small, the Coffee Depot discussion is part of a national groundswell of information technology workers anxious about the “free trade” globalization of their industry. Some angry laid-off engineers have taken their cases to court.
Supporters of global sourcing, including some of the country’s premier tech companies such as Hewlett-Packard, say shareholder expectations and competitive pressures to cut operating costs make it imperative to shop the world for the best and cheapest labor.
But rank-and-file backlash against global labor sourcing is getting louder. The
phenomenon’s role in the country’s jobless recovery has emerged as a hot button this election year. As one frustrated local independent programmer put it Tuesday night: “I can compete in Minnesota. I can’t compete against the world.”
Larry Weiss, coordinator of the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition, who also attended the meeting, compared the struggle over the new globalized labor force with the Industrial Revolution. The impact on society will be just as big, Weiss told the group, “maybe bigger.” Globalization may be inevitable, he said, but the shape of it is not.
Around the country groups such as the Texas Labor Champions, Rescue American Jobs, and Save U.S. Jobs.biz have emerged. U.S. Jobs.biz, a unique Silicon Valley group, plans to fight back by acquiring corporate stock of offending companies, then filing shareholder proposals and initiating boycotts and lawsuits. Other active groups are WashTech (the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers) and TechsUnite, both affiliated with the AFL-CIO’s Communication Workers of America.
Even the Teamsters are mobilizing. The Teamsters Local 4 in Minneapolis is one of two Teamster locals (the other is in New Jersey) organizing IT workers. The union, whose traditional base has been factory workers and truck drivers, now has Techsters.org. The Minneapolis local has 25 members across the country.
It’s tough going, acknowledged 52-year-old Teamsters organizer Steve Klonowski. Klonowski, of Andover, said he’s done union organizing for 30 years ? from carpenters to meatpackers
to truckers. But the IT industry is different. Programmers, he said, tend to be more transient and individualistic.
“You get your big Teamsters hat and your Teamsters coat and you’re talking to some 20-year-old that thinks they’re going to live forever,” Klonowski said.
Still, there are victories. In what may well be a ground-breaking effort, Klonowski helped design and negotiate a new employment contract with LaborKey Corp., a small, union-friendly St. Paul startup specializing in data linkage software. Klonowski and LaborKey’s system architect Brett Gurgel are good friends who met during the Gore presidential campaign, and Klonowski is actually joining the firm in a few months.
The LaborKey contract, specifically designed for small IT companies that often hire by project, prohibits offshore outsourcing of IT work. It also allows employees who pay the $15-per-month membership fee to carry certain benefits with them from job to job. Workers still have to pay for their own benefits, such as health care, when they’re unemployed, but they don’t have to rearrange it each time. It also allows them to maintain their pension, which flows into the next job. Additional benefits include being enrolled in a union-sponsored job bank.
“It’s the future,” Klonowski said.
The time is right, said Gurgel: “People are becoming more aware that they can’t just support themselves and negotiate their own deal and expect to have security.”