Editor’s note: On Dec. 31, The New York Times featured IBM (NYSE: IBM) Chairman Sam Palmisano in a story headlined “UNBOXED: Even a Giant Can Learn to Run.” The story ran on the last day of Palmisano’s reign as chief executive officer. He turned over CEO duties to hand-picked successor Virginia Rometty. Palmisano’s remarks about hw he revitalized the company triggered a response from a long-time IBM employee who criticized Palmisano for off-shoring many jobs.
The following article from the unnamed laid-off employee was posted by Alliance@IBM, the union seeking to represent IBM workers. The response is especially timely now given the current round of layoffs affecting nearly 1,500 North American workers, including some in the Research Triangle Park area. Over the past five years, IBM has slashed its U.S. work force by about a third to fewer than 100,000.
WRAL Tech Wire asked the union’s Lee Conrad, who knows the author, to arrange an interview with the person. The requested was declined.
IBM employees – even former ones – are reluctant to speak with the press about what is happening at the company as it goes through another “resource action” and ‘rebalancing” – two IBM terms for layoffs.
So in the interest of sharing with WRAL Tech Wire and WRAL.com readers how one veteran really feels about Palmisano and his changes, here is the full text of that letter with the permission of Alliance@IBM:.
The article is credited to “An IBM employee:”
This is in response to the January 1st “Unboxed” articles on IBM and Chairman Sam Palmisano.
IBM’s shift in workers is not about skill or job rebalancing. Sam is replacing older American workers with low wage college hires, as well as contractors and foreign workers who are typically young, male, and without benefits. The global employee count is almost 500,000, but the decimated American count of 105,000 in 2009 is now estimated to be about 98,000.
Sam is not retraining Americans. He says IBM spent $600 million training and retraining “and people can’t move up the skill ladder. So we have to replace them. I think it appropriate and fair. You give them the opportunity to reboot and help them transition. But if they don’t do it, then they don’t do it.” This rationalization is disturbing and untrue. It shifts responsibility for being fired to employees saying many tens of thousands of Americans are not able to learn.
Instead, while the HR team and written performance objectives require employees to create skill plans, which are used as a determinant as to who is fired, the business end for years has told us there is no longer a training budget. Skill plans and mandatory conference calls that detail improved, sophisticated career path programs are ignored and replaced by the rare approval for a class or conference for a few employees. Paranoia to cut costs is so strong my manager repeatedly chastised me for spending $30 on a company course I had thought was free. The truth is, IBM would not train Americans already targeted for replacement because they are considered expensive – the reason for offshoring so many positions they want filled by low wage workers. The flood of layoffs attests to this. Many laid off employees are required to train their foreigner replacements to do their job. This demonstrates they have the skills.
Then, it does not matter what skills an American has.
IBM employees typically find their next project by applying to internal job posts. “Americans need not apply” seems apt. An email reply to an application for a job in my neighborhood stated that the first group considered is foreigners. It reads, “The cost difference is too great. IBM India may not have visa ready resources with the specific skills, so many times U.S. resources do fill seats”.
I rebooted, Sam, and spent my money and time aggressively building skills. I was ambitious enough to be certified in two IBM professions. I became an IBM Advisory Project Manager and was PMP certified, one step from being a Sr. Project Manager. I became a Master IT Specialist. My performance reviews were consistently above expectations. I graduated summa cum laude. But no executive mentored me and provided opportunities for advancement or transition in career path. Nor was I offered a demotion to stay employed. I was in the wave of mass layoffs in 2009. It was especially nonsensical when a colleague, who was recently promoted and had the highest performance rating, got the call saying he was in the layoff. He had just received a contract extension on a customer account and was making money for IBM. Neither the IBM account executive nor client knew this would happen. This is not unusual.
I was one of the few who found a posted position that could keep me employed. I saved the chat script with the IBM manager saying she wanted me for this internal job under the IBM CIO office. Headquarters denied me this position saying it was marked to be offshored. An American expert in a twin job for years lost his job for the same reason.
Sam, your layoffs are mean-spirited robbery. The last work day is 4 days or so before month’s end so we lose a week of earned vacation pay. IBM’s “stealth” layoffs skirt the Warn Act with small numbers at many locations on different dates. Instead of 60 days notice and pay, we get 30. This unfairly gives IBM a massive cost savings as we are kicked rudely to the curb.
Perhaps IBM will slow down throwing away American employees like yesterday’s news with the new generation of college hires. They will not saddle IBM with costly benefits because employees now largely shoulder the funding and risk. Or will cheaper foreign and contract workers replace them after a few years of salary increases and aging skills? As a nation, the least we can do is stop subsidizing companies with tax break rewards for offshoring our good jobs.
– An IBM employee –