September 21, 2019

Should/Can Big 4 Employees Unionize?

Though the following inquiry from what we assume to be a Going Concern reader was addressed to my dearest, most lovely editor, I’m hijacking it because I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time. While the idea of CPAs unionizing seems ridiculous to some, I’m sure more than a few of you have dreamily drooled at the prospect of collective bargaining power while two months in to the most horrendous busy season ever. Is it that silly of an idea?

Hi Caleb,

I am a Big4 Tax Senior and had a question regarding the possibility/benefit of having a union. To my knowledge, one currently does not exist, but why? Entertain me for a second.

If every staff through manager (there ing managers in, so maybe just staff and seniors) were to band together and create a union across all service lines and all of the four firms, what would stop us from getting fair compensation and slightly better hours? If the threat of a strike of 70% of each of the firm’s workforce (who probably actually do 90% of the work on any given engagement) could happen at any time, would the partners really treat their subordinates the way they currently do? Maybe there’s something written somewhere that CPAs can’t join a union?

Imagine if this raise/bonus season were to go poorly, and the union decided that on March 1, 2012…every staff, senior and manager FROM ALL FIRMS would stage a walk out and go on strike until our compensation demands were met. What could the partners do? Could they realistically try to do all the work themselves? Could they really try and replace 60,000 employees (I am guessing on that figure)? Could they try and get all the work done out of India? I HIGHLY DOUBT ANY OF THESE WOULD BE REALISTIC OPTIONS. I can’t imagine the possibility of replacing a dozen auditors overnight with Accountemps personnel in the middle of an audit for a fortune 100 client.

I understand that the possibility of being able to coordinate such a union across all the firms would be next to impossible, but can someone tell me why/how it wouldn’t work assuming it was legal for us to do? Could you post up a poll of those who would be interested?

Wait a second, are you trying to tell us that you don’t feel you are fairly compensated? Are you prepared for the burden of union fees and the inconvenience of having to picket your downtown Big 4 office chanting “Hell no we won’t go!” in business casual should it come down to that?

Why stop at the Big 4? Second-tier capital market servants are just as mistreated as you are (or at least feel that way, and who are we to tell them they don’t get enough engagements to feel burned out?). Think of the collective bargaining power then.

I think part of the reason why anyone you suggest this to might think you’re one tax season away from the funny farm is that CPAs already have a large, powerful trade association which allegedly exists to serve its interests. Granted, the AICPA does more lobbying in Washington than it does to accounting firm partners about easing up on you poor shlubs who have to do all the work, but it’s still a trade association.

In an article about the recent showdown in Wisconsin between teacher unions and Governor Scott Walker, Ann Coulter wrote “the need for a union comes down to this question: Do you have a boss who wants you to work harder for less money? In the private sector, the answer is yes. In the public sector, the answer is a big, fat NO.” Well shit, there’s your answer. We already know how most of you in public accounting feel, no need to elaborate.

Former Congressional candidate and CPA Krystal Ball is all for unions, especially when it comes to balancing the gender inequality that still exists in this country. If criminals in Canada can unionize, why not CPAs? Well for starters, though it may not feel like it, most of you are paid pretty fairly compared to, say, McDonald’s cashiers, Starbucks baristas and Walmart greeters. It may not feel fair based on the service you provide (understandably) but in the big picture, making $50,000 a year fresh out of school in middle America ain’t too bad of a gig. You get vacations, safe work conditions, bonuses, insurance and even free CPA review materials if you’re lucky. I bet OSHA has never seen the inside of a Big 4 office to investigate a fatal Excel accident or random intern decapitation at the coffee machine.

Let’s keep in mind that, if necessary, the Big 4 probably could scrape up a motley crew of Indian and Sri Lankan accountants and reluctant partners to do the work while you’re out front calling Raj a scab. Is what you do all that difficult? Look at the moronic intern in your office… a little training and that guy is going to be doing your job in a few years.

Lastly, there’s the legal issue. With all the money the Big 4 throw at lobbying and keeping some of the country’s best lawyers on payroll, do you really think you stand a chance? Someone has to give you the OK to unionize and I just don’t see the Big 4 lawyer machine slipping up and letting that one through. You really are one busy season away from the funny farm if you believe otherwise.

But I’m 100% behind you guys if you try to go for it anyway. Si se puede!

Though the following inquiry from what we assume to be a Going Concern reader was addressed to my dearest, most lovely editor, I’m hijacking it because I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time. While the idea of CPAs unionizing seems ridiculous to some, I’m sure more than a few of you have dreamily drooled at the prospect of collective bargaining power while two months in to the most horrendous busy season ever. Is it that silly of an idea?

Hi Caleb,

I am a Big4 Tax Senior and had a question regarding the possibility/benefit of having a union. To my knowledge, one currently does not exist, but why? Entertain me for a second.

If every staff through manager (there may be an issue getting managers in, so maybe just staff and seniors) were to band together and create a union across all service lines and all of the four firms, what would stop us from getting fair compensation and slightly better hours? If the threat of a strike of 70% of each of the firm’s workforce (who probably actually do 90% of the work on any given engagement) could happen at any time, would the partners really treat their subordinates the way they currently do? Maybe there’s something written somewhere that CPAs can’t join a union?

Imagine if this raise/bonus season were to go poorly, and the union decided that on March 1, 2012…every staff, senior and manager FROM ALL FIRMS would stage a walk out and go on strike until our compensation demands were met. What could the partners do? Could they realistically try to do all the work themselves? Could they really try and replace 60,000 employees (I am guessing on that figure)? Could they try and get all the work done out of India? I HIGHLY DOUBT ANY OF THESE WOULD BE REALISTIC OPTIONS. I can’t imagine the possibility of replacing a dozen auditors overnight with Accountemps personnel in the middle of an audit for a fortune 100 client.

I understand that the possibility of being able to coordinate such a union across all the firms would be next to impossible, but can someone tell me why/how it wouldn’t work assuming it was legal for us to do? Could you post up a poll of those who would be interested?

Wait a second, are you trying to tell us that you don’t feel you are fairly compensated? Are you prepared for the burden of union fees and the inconvenience of having to picket your downtown Big 4 office chanting “Hell no we won’t go!” in business casual should it come down to that?

Why stop at the Big 4? Second-tier capital market servants are just as mistreated as you are (or at least feel that way, and who are we to tell them they don’t get enough engagements to feel burned out?). Think of the collective bargaining power then.

I think part of the reason why anyone you suggest this to might think you’re one tax season away from the funny farm is that CPAs already have a large, powerful trade association which allegedly exists to serve its interests. Granted, the AICPA does more lobbying in Washington than it does to accounting firm partners about easing up on you poor shlubs who have to do all the work, but it’s still a trade association.

In an article about the recent showdown in Wisconsin between teacher unions and Governor Scott Walker, Ann Coulter wrote “the need for a union comes down to this question: Do you have a boss who wants you to work harder for less money? In the private sector, the answer is yes. In the public sector, the answer is a big, fat NO.” Well shit, there’s your answer. We already know how most of you in public accounting feel, no need to elaborate.

Former Congressional candidate and CPA Krystal Ball is all for unions, especially when it comes to balancing the gender inequality that still exists in this country. If criminals in Canada can unionize, why not CPAs? Well for starters, though it may not feel like it, most of you are paid pretty fairly compared to, say, McDonald’s cashiers, Starbucks baristas and Walmart greeters. It may not feel fair based on the service you provide (understandably) but in the big picture, making $50,000 a year fresh out of school in middle America ain’t too bad of a gig. You get vacations, safe work conditions, bonuses, insurance and even free CPA review materials if you’re lucky. I bet OSHA has never seen the inside of a Big 4 office to investigate a fatal Excel accident or random intern decapitation at the coffee machine.

Let’s keep in mind that, if necessary, the Big 4 probably could scrape up a motley crew of Indian and Sri Lankan accountants and reluctant partners to do the work while you’re out front calling Raj a scab. Is what you do all that difficult? Look at the moronic intern in your office… a little training and that guy is going to be doing your job in a few years.

Lastly, there’s the legal issue. With all the money the Big 4 throw at lobbying and keeping some of the country’s best lawyers on payroll, do you really think you stand a chance? Someone has to give you the OK to unionize and I just don’t see the Big 4 lawyer machine slipping up and letting that one through. You really are one busy season away from the funny farm if you believe otherwise.

But I’m 100% behind you guys if you try to go for it anyway. Si se puede!

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