IBM’s employee headcount in North Carolina is now under 10,000 and soon will be just 6,000 in Research Triangle Park, says the Alliance@IBM union official who traveled to RTP on Tuesday to protest job cuts.

The picket in RTP and at several other IBM sites around the country coincided with IBM’s annual shareholders meeting in North Charleston, S.C.

Lee Conrad struck a lonely but defiant pose, dressed in a white knit shirt adorned with an Alliance@IBM logo, at the intersection of Davis Drive and Cornwallis Road where for years the world’s largest technology company boasted publicly to having well over 12,000 workers.

IBM won’t comment now about how many employees it has at any particular campus, state or country. Asked to comment about Tuesday’s protest, the company declined to respond.

Conrad says that sources within the company whom he won’t identify told him IBM now has some 6,700 RTP “regular IBMers,” or full-time employees, not contractors.

That number will drop to about 6,000 when IBM completes the recently announced sale of its “Point of Sale” business unit that employs several hundred people in the Triangle area.

In 2006, IBM sold its PC division, which was primarily based in Raleigh, to Lenovo. That decision was among the biggest in reducing IBM’s local work force. In 2007, IBM had some 11,000 employees in RTP and the site was widely acknowledged as Big Blue’s largest campus.

In October 2007, Bob Greenberg, IBM’s senior state executive, noted in a speech: “Today, we have 13,000 statewide IBMers, nearly 10,000 retirees and an overall economic impact of $3.4 billion in North Carolina.”

Asked why sources were providing Alliance with employee numbers, Conrad cited anger and frustration.

“They are tired of seeing what is happening at IBM in the United States,” said Conrad, who worked at IBM for 26 years before quitting to organize Alliance as an affiliate of the Communication Workers of America. “They are not happy.”

In Vermont, Earl Mongeon, a 34-year IBM employee, protested at an IBM chip manufacturing plant.

“That’s where high tech is moving because of cheaper labor,” Mongeon said of IBM’s off-shoring, according to the Burlington Free Press. “Of course, many of them are trained by U.S. workers.”

IBM has been slashing the size of its U.S. work force over the past several years from 160,000 in 2002 to some 95,000 now, based on estimates from Alliance. IBM ceased disclosing its U.S. work force total several years ago.

Work force numbers from IBM and as estimated by Alliance (*) note the decline:

  • 2012: *95,000
  • 2011: *98,000
  • 2010:*101,000
  • 2009: 105,000
  • 2008: 115,000
  • 2007: 121,000
  • 2006: 127,000
  • 2005: 133,789

Alliance draws its information from IBM workers and from people who have been laid off that chose to send “resource action” – IBM speak for layoffs – documentation to the union.

While no one joined Conrad on the “picket line,” he considered the visit a success. Not only did several drivers of cars leaving the IBM main campus honk car horns, but others waved and several slowed down to read the sign Conrad held aloft. The Alliance has 400 paying members, some 20 who work in RTP, and another 4,500 supporters, according to Conrad.

“I am a lonely voice,” he acknowledged at one point, but he also said he understood why IBMers are reluctant to join the union or to speak out. IBM employees who speak without company authorization can be terminated, he noted. “There’s a lot of fear.” Conrad also said he would keep up his organizing efforts. “I know I’ve got a lot of support,” he said. “These are good information technology jobs that are being lost. The truth must be told.”

Other Alliance members put on pickets at several other U.S. sites Tuesday.

The signs protested job cuts and off-shoring of IBM work to other countries.

“I just came to raise the level of awareness here and elsewhere about IBM’s shrinking population,” Conrad said. Looking at drivers streaking by en route to I-40 just down the road, he said: “They have to be wondering if they are next. They are seeing more and more of their co-workers leave.”

Conrad also said he hoped that the shrinking employment numbers would grab the attention of “community, state and local leaders who need to know what really is going on when it comes to jobs.”

The latest round of layoffs at IBM totals nearly 1,900, according to documents provided to the union, but insiders have told Conrad that the actual count is around 2,500. Based on workers’ comments posted at the Alliance website and on emails sent to WRAL, some layoffs have occurred in RTP.

Conrad’s action was the first by an Alliance member in RTP, he noted. Conrad and his wife drove from New York. He had hoped to be joined by other members and supporters.

But paying the most rapt attention to Conrad other than some media members were IBM security men who drove past him and several other IBMers who watched from across the intersection on IBM property.

To avoid any possible complaint by IBM, Conrad said he made sure to picket across the street and went so far as to park his car in the lot of the First Flight Venture Center.