IBM will begin laying off some 12,000 employees starting at the end of this month, according to Alliance@IBM, a union that represents some 6,000 current and former IBM workers.

The layoffs are targeted at IBM’s U.S.-based workforce, and Big Blue’s contingent of 11,000 in the Triangle area “will not go unscathed,” a union executive told WRAL.com and WRAL Local Tech Wire.

However, even worse news for IBM’s workforce is on the way, according to another source.

A widely published writer on technology issues, Robert X. Cringely, reported on Friday that as many as 100,000 employees in IBM’s Global Services unit could be affected. Contacted by WRAL on Monday, Cringely stood by his figure that he said was based on a variety of sources.

The union said the coming layoffs would affect other units as well, including software development and IBM Blade Web servers. Both those units have a significant presence in RTP.

IBM stayed mum on the reports.

“We don’t comment on rumors,” said IBM spokesperson Gretchen McWhorter.

The layoffs are part of a projected called “LEAN” at IBM, Cringely said.

LEAN is a reference to “lean manufacturing” techniques where goods are delivered to customers to as close as possible to an on demand basis from customers. Cringely reported that the lean concept is being expanded at IBM to include consulting and services provided by IBM’s Global Services unit.

IBM let go some 1,300 workers in addition to an undisclosed number of contractors last week.

Lee Conrad, national coordinator for the Alliance which is based in New York, called Cringely’s figure of 100,000 “over the top.” However, Conrad stressed that major changes are in store for IBM’s workforce.

“But having said that,” Conrad said in reference to his “over the top” comment, “there will be at least 12,000 layoffs this year.”

The Alliance has branded LEAN as an acronym that it believes sums up IBM’s strategy:

Layoff Every American Now.

“A lot of this is happening now, with projects going through phases in the U.S. being moved into lean and then the projects cane be moved offshore to India, Brazil and China,” Conrad said.

“Off-shoring and lean are the big drivers,” he added. “The lean business process has gone from manufacturing into many other areas of business.”

According to Cringely, the LEAN program includes a review of projects designed to identify and remove redundancies that can be automated or moved offshore.

One source told WRAL.com that the layoffs will begin on May 29.

“We don’t want to scare people but IBM has been telegraphing these cuts for some time,” added Conrad, who worked at IBM for 26 years.

The “big hits” in terms of layoffs will come in May and June, according to Conrad.

The number of people losing their jobs is expected to be higher than 12,000 because IBM also plans to cut an unknown number of contract employees. The union is unable to track how many contractors are affected by workforce reductions because IBM uses several different contracting agencies, Conrad said.

Cringely, who has written three books about technology and was the host and writer for the PBS mini-series “Electric Money,” said that his layoff projection was based on numbers he “heard from a lot of people” inside IBM.

“The goal is to eliminate everyone in the Global Services unit in the U.S. who isn’t a sales person,” he said.

According to the Global Services Web site, the business unit employs 190,000 people in 160 countries. The group accounts for more than half of IBM’s revenues. Big Blue reported $91.4 billion in revenues for 2006 with Global Services accounting for $48.25 billion of that total.

The union is basing its layoff projections on “inside sources,” Conrad said. And the news is not just coming from workers likely to be cut.

“Off-shoring and lean are the big drivers,” Conrad explained. “The lean business process has gone from manufacturing into many other areas of business.”

Some executives “are not too pleased” with IBM’s moves, he added. “They see the job losses and how it affects them and the workforce. Frankly, the more jobs that are off-shored the worse it is for the U.S. economy.

“IBM calls this workforce rebalancing,” Conrad added. “We call it workforce abandonment.”