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From unionized sign-holder to software developer September 13, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Uncategorized.

I’ve had a soft place in my heart for labor unions ever since my freshman American History professor hijacked our entire semester at Rice to talk about the influence of unions on our history.  This was, of course, infinitely more important for all of us to learn than subjects such as, say, the Revolutionary War, the Monroe Doctrine, or the presidency of Lincoln.

Yesterday,  a friend – and very talented software developer – told an interesting story.  His first job was a “sign holder” for a steel company in Indiana.  It was a union job, and his job was to stand in a certain place, hold a sign on a pole, and rotate the sign to instruct the passing steel trucks whether they should “Slow” or “Stop”.

(I asked him how performance reviews went.  Example:  “You know, we’re really looking for something more in a perpendicular.” or “More angular momentum!”)

In this job, he made $16.50/hour.  He said he had to pay union dues but they were small enough that he didn’t remember it making a material impact on his paycheck.  Thus, he was making about $33,000 / year (now close to $48,000 / year adjusted for inflation) doing nothing but holding this sign.

He left his job as a sign holder and started writing software…for $10 / hour.  That’s close to a 40% pay cut, for migrating from unionized sign holder to software developer.

I am thankful that he shared this story, because it has completely changed everything I previously thought about unionized labor.



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