The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration determined that programmers like Fusco do not qualify, because of the nature of what they’d produced on their old jobs: software. The government cited commerce and trade rules that classify software as a “service” and “not a tangible commodity,” rather than an “article” as the trade act stipulates.
In other words, code doesn’t count.
Fusco’s lawyer doesn’t buy it. “When stuff is offshored, it’s done over there, and then it’s imported through the communication lines back to America,” says attorney Michael G. Smith, who is now bringing a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Labor and the Department of Justice, on behalf of Fusco and other tech workers like him. “When the work is offshored, we think that all programmers should be eligible for benefits.”
With the growing trend towards off-shoring software development, the fact that the DOL isn’t qualifying programmers for federal aid is worrisome if you’re a developer. What it really indicates is that the brick and mortar industries are better represented by labor unions, who’ve been more successful at lobbying Congress for protection.
I doubt we’ll see union organizing in the software world — but this begs the question how we’re going to address this issue. Off-shoring isn’t going away. And the tech world is showing signs of organizing politically. Unlike in “traditional” manufacturing, management is much more politically active than the workers. Until that changes, I doubt we’ll see a sea change in actions like this one.