RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Has last month’s “virtual strike” by IBM workers in Italy claimed a big victim – as in the CEO of IBM Italia?

No, says Big Blue.

Yes, says the union that organized the protest by avatars representing IBM employees in the 3D online virtual world of Second Life.

“I can confirm that Andrea Pontremoli has left to pursue other interests,” said Joe Hanley, director of IBM Media Relations for Europe in an e-mail to The Skinny. But Pontremoli, the chief executive officer for IBM in Italy, did not leave due to the strike, according to Hanley.

“There is no link between his decision and the matters you outline below,” Hanley said in reference to questions from The Skinny about a possible link to the Second Life action.

Alessandro Ferrari, media relations manager for IBM Italia, echoed Hanley’s statement.

“Mr. Andrea Pontremoli has left IBM Italy to pursue other interests,” Ferrari wrote.

However, Union International (UNI), which represents the Italian workers who are disgruntled about a possible pay cut, took a much different stance.

“Following the historical protest against IBM Italy in Second Life, on 27th September, some important developments have taken place,” UNI said on its Web site and in a statement forwarded to The Skinny.

“Mr Andrea Pontremoli, IBM Italy’s CEO (who personally received all of your petitions by email) has resigned.

“It seems our Virtual action had an impact on his role at IBM.

“IBM Corporation made a complaint to IBM Italy for the way they’ve managed the negotiations with the thousands of employees and how they’ve let it lead to such a harmful image for the company.

“The works council hopes to return to the negotiations’ table: we’ll hear more at the beginning of next week.

“A big thank you goes to all people who supported IBM Italy workers in their struggle over the last 6 weeks. From protesters who came to Second Life and joined the action, to the petitioners who wrote letters to IBM Europe management, to those who took the time to give their ideas on how to proceed when there were no visible results to our protest and to the press who covered the event in more than 30 countries which helped put pressure on IBM as well.”

Contacted by The Skinny, a UNI spokesperson wrote that the union declined further comment.

“There is no formal statement from UNI yet, we expect to have more next week,” the spokesperson wrote.

Meanwhile, folks at alliance@IBM, the fledging union seeking to represent IBM workers in the U.S., is watching the “virtual fallout” closely. But don’t look for an avatar action just yet.

“No immediate plans here in the U.S.,” wrote Lee Conrad from alliance@IBM when asked if there might be a similar action in the states.

An estimated 1,500 avatars protested at a variety of IBM Second Life properties. Believed to be the first such organized virtual strike, the action received a good deal of international media attention. Whether it leads to others remains to be seen, but the strike certainly has set an interesting precedent.