RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Imagine being 79 years old, still working in a nice job at IBM and being told you’re as expendable as the old paper shredder.

Yes, the executive suite at IBM didn’t escape the ax last week when nearly 1,500 members of the U.S. Sales and Distribution team were designated for the Big Blue scrap heap. But before you cry “Vive le revolution!” consider some cold, hard numbers.

Seven IBMers in their magnificent 70s made the hit list.The ages seem hard to believe. But they are shown in the “resource action” document provided by an Alliance@IBM union source.

Age, longevity and loyalty didn’t save vets, even though seniority is supposed to be a “tie-breaker” in layoff decisions, according to IBM’s own verbiage.

Two consulting sales operation specialists aged 72 and 79 are leaving. A 73-year-old consulting IT specialist is no longer needed. Neither is a 73-year-old client executive. A 71-year-old senior marketing manager made the dump list. A 70-year-old program manager could be on the street. So, too, could be a 72-year-old technical resolution manager.

The young are going as well – down to age 23. (What an even sadder story it would be if one of the youngsters was a grandchild of one of the IBM seasoned citizens.) Perhaps such a mix of ages will help IBM fend off any age-discrimination suits, but one group has already told Alliance@IBM – the union seeking to represent IBM workers – that they plan to pursue redress through the courts.

Among top executives, nine vice presidents ranging in age from 48 to 61 were “selected to participate” (IBM’s terminology, not The Skinny’s) in the “resource action” (read: layoffs). They have 30 days to find another job within IBM or hit the street, having been “RA’d.”

However, the resource action document acquired by The Skinny shows that 147 vice presidents were NOT selected to participate.

The document is the latest The Skinny has been given by IBM sources and makes for spellbinding reading. In this one, which runs 45 pages, every worker that is being cut loose is identified by age and by title or position.

“Employees were designated as selected for the USSD [U.S. Sales and Distribution group] on one or more of the following criteria (based on the particular situations involved),” the “notice to employees” reads.

“Work elimination: Employees performing work that has been eliminated.

“Staff reduction and Restructuring: Total Assessment of an employee’s relevant skills and performance within a job group, with seniority used as a tie-breaker;

“Staff Reduction/Job Elimination: Certain job responsibilities currently performed by employees will be absorbed into other roles.”

The vice president spots cut include: global Web marketing; business development; corporate affairs for Europe, Middle East Africa; something called CP distribution; marketing; marketing and infrastructure initiatives; PLM sales west; pubic sector; plus strategy and marketing.

The Skinny fully understands companies must make adjustments in their work forces. But for a big, profitable giant like IBM that seems to be weathering the global economic storm and hiring people in some places to be cutting U.S. workers in times like these …

And laying off someone who is 79 years old? Surely “retire” could be said in a kinder way.

IBM caps severance pay at 26 weeks, regardless of years served, according to the resource action document. Let’s say this 79-year-old had worked at IBM since graduating from college at age 21. That’s 58 years of service. We’re talking about someone who was toiling at Big Blue before Sputnik, for crying out loud.

For that tenure, the man or woman gets “RA’d,” 26 weeks of pay and one other benefit – the possibility of $2,500 in reimbursement for new-career training.

The Skinny would laugh if this wasn’t so sad.