Union urges IBM workers to fight plan to move jobs offshore

The labour union representing a small but growing number of IBM Corp. employees is considering taking action against the company’s reported plan to move nearly 5,000 jobs offshore, including asking employees to refuse to train their replacement workers.

“We are working with our members to organize to fight this any way we can,” said Linda Guyer, president of Alliance@IBM, an Endicott, N.Y.-based union of roughly 6,000 IBM workers (up by more than 1,000 members since this past spring). “We think it’s not only unfair to the employees; it’s unfair to the U.S. economy.”

IBM plans to move up to 4,730 programming jobs from the U.S. to India, China and other countries, according to a report recently published in the online edition of The Wall Street Journal.

IBM officials aren’t commenting on that report, but in a prepared statement, the company said that “the vast majority of the growth in application services that will occur in markets like India, China and Latin America will result from winning new contracts, especially in high-growth areas like business transformation outsourcing.”

IBM also said, “We expect our hiring next year in the U.S. to equal or increase over 2003 levels. In fact, on a percentage basis, our forecast is for hiring across the Americas to outpace the hiring in the rest of the world.” Guyer said the union has heard from its own sources that as many as 30,000 U.S. jobs may move offshore over the next two years. IBM officials weren’t immediately available to comment on this report.

IBM employs some 150,000 people in the U.S. and more than 315,000 worldwide.

Guyer said the union may recommend that affected employees not train their replacement workers. Such a move could put any severance the employee receives at risk. Severance is “usually what the employer holds over your head,” she said.

But Guyer said, “People have to decide what’s important to them. Are they going to let themselves be walked all over for a few thousand dollars, or are they going to fight this? If we start all fighting it, IBM’s got to sit up and take notice.”

The union is also working with other high-tech labour groups for federal legislation that would slow the pace of offshore outsourcing, Guyer said. The plans will affect programmers in IBM’s Global Services division, according to internal company documents cited by the Journal. The affected employees work at sites around the U.S., including Southbury, Conn., Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Raleigh, N.C., Boulder, Colo., and Dallas, according to the report.

During the first half of next year, IBM plans to inform 947 U.S. employees that their work will be moving overseas, according to the report, again citing internal company documents. An additional 3,700 U.S. jobs have been identified as having the “potential to move offshore,” the report said.

The 947 workers will be informed of the changes in the first half of next year, some by as early as the end of January, and will be asked to train their replacements, who will be workers from overseas. They will have 60 days to find another job within IBM, the report said.

(Peter Sayer of the IDG News Service contributed to this report. )

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