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Tech Unions Speed Up as Economy Slows Down

Some IT workers looking for job security are turning to unions as employers trim payroll. Will this trend affect the insurance industry?

Like weather, many trends start on the West Coast and travel east. One of the latest fads is the unionization of IT workers. And the trend is gaining steam as a number of corporations tighten their belts in response to the sagging economy.

But will this movement of organized labor in IT reach financial services? At first glance, financial services companies would seem to be good spots for unions. IS support staffers, such as network support and call center reps, work in what are commonly the first areas to be hit with job cuts, and thus are the first to seek the job security many union contracts provide.

In fact at, call center reps began to organize with complaints such as "last-minute mandatory overtime" and concerns about job security as the Seattle-based dot-com began to outsource some call center operations to India.

However, the state of the economy may not drive mass unionization in financial services, says Chuck Johnston, vice president and director, insurance information strategies, at Stamford, CT-based META Group. "I have not seen any concern from insurance management about organized labor," he says. "Microsoft had predatory policies for temp workers. I have not seen anything like that in insurance because the culture is different. Salaries in insurance do not tend to be as high as financial services or technology companies, but the benefits are good." It is a classic case of "high risk, high reward" that separates insurance from some other markets, adds Johnston.

The high-risk culture in technology is what attracts many workers, says Erin Tyson Poh, local representative of the San Francisco-based Northern California Media Workers' Guild. "The culture and the risk, that is how many people perceive themselves in IT," Poh says. "The last two years have been a honeymoon for tech workers. But IT is becoming a more bottom line-oriented business."

Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio

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