The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Sunday, October 23, 2005

How Unions Are Really Like Consultants 

This really struck me yesterday as I was leaving Starbucks. I was reminded of Office Space, and remembered this scene:

Tom Smykowski: They're bringing in a consultant - that's how I know. That's what this staff meeting is all about! That's what happened at Initrode last year. You have an interview with a consultant and they bring in efficiency experts. You're interviewing for your own job!
Michael Bolton: Tom, every week you say you're losing your job and you're still here.
Tom Smykowski: I'm going to be the first one they're gonna lay off. Just the thought of having to go to the State Unemployment Office and having to stand in line with those scumbags!!!

That's a very particular type of consultant... the efficiency consultant, and they're the most feared. To a certain extent, all consultants that come into a business are looking to make changes. Even software consultants will come in and tell you how you're doing things wrong, and the changes that you need to make to your process. When a consultant is brought in, most people expect changes to be made. It's really a foregone conclusion... even if things don't really need to change. On a side note, I have to laugh at the Michael Bolton character in Office Space even more now, because there is someone at my current client named Dave Matthews. And I do celebrate his entire collection.

The reasons are really two fold. The first is that when a company brings in a consultant, they already have made the decision that change is needed (even if only at a subconscious level). They didn't bring in the consultant to see if the change is needed. They brought him in to find out exactly what change they're going to make.

The second reason is that a consultant, once hired, has to justify his bill to that company. If a consultant finishes his analysis and says to the person who hired him, "I wouldn't change a thing"... they will look at him, and his ensuing bill and say "Then why the hell did I bring you in?" Granted, it may be nice to hear that your company is operating at top efficiency... but really... what are the odds? The company will think that they just hired a crappy consultant. So changes will be suggested... whether they're really needed or not.

So how is this like a union you may ask? Unions are fed through the exact same two thoughts. The first is among the members. I've had the opportunity to chat with a few diehard union folks over the past year, and they all believe the same thing. The union is what keeps my job, and gave me my benefits. They also have the belief that they are still getting a raw deal. It's not all that dissimilar to the CEO who brings in a consultant because he already knows he wants some sort of change. The union will fight for better pay, or better benefits because they've convinced to the employees that they can do better.

The second reason is that the union has to justify its existence, especially since their dues aren't cheap. They'll force a renegotiation of a contract, not because its needed, but because they have to remind their members that they "need the union". And if that means that they need to go on strike... costing the members more than they'll get in return, then so be it.

But as my Uncle Tom found out years ago... when your plant closes down because the union drained it dry and made it impossible for the company to make money... don't expect the union to be there helping you get a new job somewhere else. Of course, if your next job happens to have a union there as well... they'll still be happy to take your money. In fact, you'll pretty much have to.

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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.


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