Tech workers, beware: IBM cuts retirement, Microsoft wants more H-1Bs

IT wages are flat, and employers are still trying to slash costs, push down salaries, and raise the cap H-1B visas

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Alliance@IBM has a petition on its website asking that the company reverse the policy. It says about 500 people have signed the petition, an admittedly small percentage of the IBM workforce. "There is a fear that signing it could get your name on the layoff list," Conrad told me.

Here's a link to the petition and the full text of the letter announcing the benefit change. (Disclosure: I'm a member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, which is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America, the sponsor of the organizing effort.)

IBM reiterates the quality of its benefits
"This change reflects our continuing commitment to invest in our employee 401(k) plans while maintaining business competitiveness in a challenging economic environment. IBM's 401(k) plans remain among the best in the industry -- and the country -- including our dollar-for-dollar match at 5 and 6 percent and automatic contributions of 1, 2, and 4 percent depending on the employee's start date and years of service," IBM spokesman Doug Shelton told me.

To be fair, I should note that IBM, unlike many other companies, is not reducing the size of its 401(k) contributions. In 2011, those contributions totaled $875 million to employees in the United States and abroad, according to the company's annual report. It's also worth noting that IBM's stock has been essentially flat over the last 12 months, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq index increased about 17 percent, numbers that investors don't like and that give management an incentive to cut costs.

Labor shortage, what labor shortage?
Anecdotally, it appears that companies can't find the skilled IT employees they need, which is why Microsoft and other companies are pushing to raise caps on H-1B visas and import more foreign workers to the States.

But not so fast, says the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute (EPI), which has accused Microsoft of fudging the labor numbers to create the illusion of a science, technology, engineering, and math skills shortage. EPI says that, contrary to Microsoft's view, the numbers of computer science graduates is not a good measure of the size of the workforce. "Less than one-fourth to less than one-half of workers in computing occupations have a computer science degree," EPI argues, citing data from sources such as the National Science Foundation.

EPI also argues that high-tech employment is still above historical averages. My colleague Ted Samson did a good job presenting the arguments on this issue, and rather than repeating them, I suggest you read his piece.

Sure, things are much better in IT land than they have been in some time. But the pressures of an incomplete economic recovery and the continuing push by employers to cut costs through offshoring and other means make this a good time for a reality check.

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