Union: IBM layoffs now 4,200 -- may go higher

IBM won't disclose plan, but union fears as many as 16,000 may lose their jobs

IBM's not-so-secret layoffs may have reached 4,200 today, according to Alliance@IBM, which believes that thousands of other employees will be losing their jobs as well before the cuts end.

IBM isn't discussing its job actions and that has made the union the primary source of information about the layoffs. The union's Web site has been so busy with traffic that its server was knocked offline this afternoon from the load, according to Lee Conrad, a former IBM employee who is now the national coordinator of Alliance@IBM.

Conrad said that about 1,200 employees who work in IBM's systems technology group at sites around the country have been laid off, and about 200 in the research division were let go as well. These reports bring the total layoff count at IBM to about 4,200.

Last week, the union said that about 2,800 employees were laid off in two IBM units: its software group, and sales and distribution operations.

Conrad said IBM's level of secrecy was mystifying.

"IBM should be as forthcoming as all the other companies," said Conrad. "We just simply don't understand why they are keeping it a secret and neither do the employees."

IBM will confirm that more employees were notified today of cuts, but IBM spokesman Doug Shelton said that the firm will not provide specific numbers or locations for the job cuts.

"This is an ongoing process that we do throughout the year to match skills and resources with our client needs," said Shelton. "We don't think it's necessary every time we do that to make an announcement about it."

The number of job cuts may change as well because employees have the opportunity to try to find a job elsewhere in the company, he said.

The layoffs are occurring in a number of locations, according to Conrad and local news reports. Fox News 44 in Colchester, Vt., reported layoffs in Essex Junction.

In East Fishkill, N.Y., The Times Herald-Record reported that layoffs there may be close to 700.

In Rochester, Minn., there was a report of layoffs, as well as reports of layoffs at the company's operations at Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Conrad said Alliance@IBM has heard reports that as many as 16,000 employees may lose their jobs. He said some of the employees who are getting cut have been training workers from IBM facilities in Brazil, India and other places to take over their jobs.

Others have been cut on the basis of performance reviews, and some because of a general job action. The Alliance@IBM is a Communications Workers of America local that doesn't have enough members to gain official recognition as a bargaining unit.

It's hard to know how many of the job cuts occurring at IBM, or at any of the other firms that have announced cutbacks, are because of the economy or part of the gradual shift of some types of work to overseas locations.

Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, or WashTech, a labor group in Seattle, said Monday that Microsoft's India operations were not being reduced in size as part of its plan to cut 5,000 jobs, something Microsoft confirms.

But the vendors have also been hit by the general economic downturn as business customers delay equipment purchases and other upgrades.

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