RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Alliance@IBM, the fledgling union seeking to represent workers at IBM, just may have been handed the issue that will galvanize Big Blue workers to sign up.

The international giant’s decision to cut the pay of technical support workers by 15 percent has left many workers “furious,” according to the Associated Press. The decision stems from a court case IBM lost in 2006 that ordered Big Blue to pay overtime to workers it had classified as salaried professionals.

“If you look at the raise and salary comments on our web site you will see the depth of anger among employees,” union coordinator Lee Contrad told the Skinny, referring to the Alliance@IBM site.

“Our position is absolutely no pay cuts,” he added.

In an interview with a New York newspaper, Conrad said IBM was retaliating against workers who fought for – and won – the overtime suit.

"There’s no doubt that this is a pay cut," he said. "IBM broke the law for years, got caught and had to hand money out to people and now they’re cutting pay. This is unacceptable."

IBM, which employs well over 10,000 people in the Research Triangle Park area, said many of the workers can make up the difference in base pay by working overtime. The company added that the cuts were needed to keep salaries competitive. But many of the workers, whom Conrad described as telecommuters working from home and are scattered across the U.S., say they won’t get enough hours to make up the difference.

IBM’s move triggered Alliance@IBM to launch several efforts to help those affected workers – and to encourage more employees to join their ranks.

“We have a number of action items that we are working on,” Conrad said. “We have a petition that is already on our Web site.

“We are building a tech workers organizing committee made up of the work group that is affected.

“We have contacted the law firm that initiated the overtime class action law suit. We believe the pay cuts are in part retaliation for IBM have to pay out to employees.

“Other things in the planning stages and can’t divulge at this time.”

Alliance@IBM joined workers in Italy who protested a proposed pay cut last year. European workers protested through IBM’s virtual world site at Second Life. And Alliance@IBM has been outspoken in its stand against IBM’s offshoring of jobs, especially to countries such as India where the Big Blue workforce numbers are exploding.

But for the most part IBM workers have not joined the union. And virtually all of them are extremely reluctant to speak to the press, even if granted anonymity.

Could this latest dispute lead more people to join up? We’ll soon find out.