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Comment: IBM should come clean on layoffs, offshoring

Posted: 08 May 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:offshoring? IBM layoff? engineering?

Perhaps more than any other U.S. high-technology company, IBM Corp. has been subjected to intense media scrutiny following a string of recent under-the-radar layoffs. Much of that unwanted attention is a direct result of union activism that has taken on a decidedly "we're mad as hell and we're-not going to take it anymore" tone. Following an IBM shareholder meeting, fighting words like "greed" were being lobbed like hand grenades.

For its own reasons, IBM executives continue to say little about company layoffs. That policy has backfired, attracting still more scrutiny and criticism.

Instead, IBM has launched what appears to be a counteroffensive intended to defuse union criticism of its estimated 10,000 layoffs (a union estimate) and the offshoring of U.S. engineering jobs. For example, the company announced last week that it would create a network of "analytic centers" that would employ up to 4,000 analytics consultants. Good news, unless you're a laid-off engineer.

IBM is hardly alone in seeking to cut labor costs by shipping jobs overseas, but the timing and handling of its personnel moves have been seized upon by its critics as engineering unemployment has soared.

We have asked IBM about its recent layoffs, but the company has declined to comment. For the record, J. Randall MacDonald, IBM's senior VP for human resources, told The New York Times in March that it is routine for the company to lay off some employees while hiring elsewhere. "This business is in a constant state of transformation," MacDonald said. "I think of this as business as usual for us."

The Times article also chronicled how IBM and other companies have scattered their layoffs, presumably to remain under the radar as worker rage intensifies.

Former IBM workers provide a different perspective from MacDonald's, noting that the company reported strong quarterly results in January. One engineer recently laid off by IBM told the Times that the company is using the downturn "as an excuse to lay people off."

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