IBM employees worried over layoff rumours

An independent Web site for IBM employees has been buzzing with rumours that the company will make significant layoffs this month.

One message states that IBM will announce 16,000 layoffs on Jan. 23, affecting workers worldwide. Similar predictions are made in other recent posts on the site, which is run by the Alliance@IBM/Communications Workers of America Local 1701, a union that is trying to organize IBM workers.

However, numbers suggest Big Blue is in a strong position to weather worsening economic conditions.

A number of messages state that IBM’s semiconductor plant in Burlington, Vermont, may be particularly hard hit.

IBM has more than 386,000 employees worldwide, according to its Web site. If the rumored 16,000 figure proves accurate, then, it would equal roughly a 4 percent reduction in headcount.

Company spokesman Fred McNeese said Monday that IBM “does not comment on rumors and speculation.”

The layoff rumours are swirling as IBM prepares to release its fourth-quarter 2008 earnings, which are expected later this month.

A round of layoffs at IBM would make the vendor only the latest of its peers to trim workers amid the weak global economy.

One Alliance@IBM representative said the group is bracing for the worst.

“We do not have anything substantial yet. But when we start getting a lot of these kinds of rumors from specific sources, generally they come through,” said national coordinator Lee Conrad, a former IBM employee. “We’re real concerned about that and the possibility it could be true.”

The union, while still in an organizing phase and not yet recognized by IBM, has about 6,000 members, including IBM employees and retirees, according to Conrad. But because the union has not reached an employment contract with IBM, there is “not an awful lot” it can do except raise awareness of the issue, he said.

“IBM’s been cutting people every couple of weeks, but they’re small, silent cuts. What we’re concerned about is a massive one,” Conrad added.

The group has tended to see most past job reductions hit the U.S. harder than other regions, he added.

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