IBM’s decision to shift 401(k) matching payments to just once a year to employees who remain EMPLOYED as of Dec. 15 starting has reignited an old but fierce debate.

Will IBM workers ever unionize? There have been and continue to be attempts, such as the Global Union Alliance. In the U.S., Alliance@IBM has tried for years to recruit workers but really hasn’t had much success.

A look at comments made at WRAL Tech Wire about the 401(k) story reflect the debate – from both sides:

  • “As much as I don’t like what happened, I like even less Lee Conrad, who is not an IBMer, with his union that doesn’t represent IBM or most IBMers, calling on IBM to change. We don’t need Lee Conrad to do that, we are perfectly capable of expressing our opinions ourselves, to the right person, which is one of the many reasons why we don’t need a union. As for the comment about the Holocaust, as an orthodox Jewish IBMer I don’t believe that one book and many commentaries on this theory about IBM makes it true. These are my own views.”

(Note: Lee Conrad is a retired IBMer who worked at the company for more than 20 years.)

  • “I always appreciate the comment that indicate employees should be appreciative of any benefits an employee deigns to grant them. Increase health insurance, co-pays, deductibles? Be glad you have a job. Change the 401K so they pay nothing if you are terminated before 12/15? Be glad you have a job. No raises in years? Be glad you have a job. Cut wages because “times are tight”? Be glad you have a job. Huge CEO Bonus – Great Work cutting personnel expenses – you deserve it. Used to be that when a corporation benefited, workers did also. That started changing in the 1970’s and has been snowballing since.”
  • “IBM has the same mentally it did back when it started to grow. … Just layoffs to offshore. Seven years ago over 120,000 + in the USA and 400,000 strong. Today look what you have.”
  • “They should pro-rate their contribution if folks are laid off-that would be fair. I also agree, they should be glad they are still GETTING it at all. Many do not.”
  • “I’m impressed that a company is still making 401(k) contributions. I think the employees should be happy they still get the benefit. It could be worse. IBM would be well within their rights to discontinue that practice.”

Meanwhile, at The Alliance website, the comments are scathing – as you would expect.

“I hate to sound like a broken record, but if IBM Workers had a Labor Contract that was negotiated through Collective Bargaining, timely payment of 401(k) matching could be clearly articulated and mandated …” reads one post.

“They’re messing with our retirement savings. Gone too far. Let’s class action these bums,” says another.

“OK, that’s it. I’m joining the Union, this is the last straw and I’ve had enough,” writes an IBMer. “I don’t have much left to lose.”

“Thank you ALLIANCE,” writes an Alliance member. ” Please do all you can to stop this THEFT. It is just so WRONG! How can this happen? We have to do something. I am a member. All of the people reading this board and complaining, please join! Ten dollars a month is worth the price to go out fighting at least. Would you just stand there while someone kicks you in the [xxx]? Well that’s what they are doing to US!!! Join!”

Will many IBMers respond?

Probably not.

IBM employs some 92,000 people across the U.S., a number that keeps falling, according to estimates by Alliance.

Locally, the numbers are grim with under 10,000 workers across the state and just 5,500 in RTP with another 1,800 in Durham, the Alliance says.

[IBM ARCHIVE: Check out 10 years of IBM stories as reported in WRAL Tech Wire.]