IBM's Palmisano: Tech's slumdog millionaire

IBM's cruel layoff options: Take a job in the Third World and lose your severance, move within the United States at your expense, or lose both your job and severance

Meet Sam Palmisano, bozo of the month. We diss IBM's CEO for allowing some management numbskull to suggest that the thousands of Big Blue employees who have been fired recently should consider a move to India. And work really cheaply. Always helpful, IBM is willing to pitch in with moving costs and -- in a particularly ironic twist -- visa assistance.

Yeah, it's hard to believe. But IBM put it in writing: "IBM has established Project Match to help you locate potential job opportunities in growth markets where your skills are in demand," IBM says in an internal memo first obtained by InformationWeek. "Should you accept a position in one of these countries, IBM offers financial assistance to offset moving costs, provides immigration support, such as visa assistance, and other support to help ease the transition of an international move."

[ Everyone from Bill Gates to prestigious business publications such as the Wall Street Journal and the Economist has claimed that for every H-1B visa granted, between three and five new jobs are created. Read why that's far from the truth. ]

Maybe India's not to your taste. No worries. IBM is also offering to send the newly unemployed to China, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Russia, South Africa, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates.

Pink slips at Big Blue

And in a touch that could only be called Dickensian, the IBM memo notes that Project Match, which sounds like a reality show on Bravo, is limited to "satisfactory performers who have been notified of separation from IBM U.S. or Canada and are willing to work on local terms and conditions." Right. The worthy poor who don't mind working for wages that are infinitely lower than what they've been paid in the United States.

(For those who are considering a move overseas, check out InfoWorld's guide to offshoring yourself.)

The stunningly stupid memo comes amid a wave of firings that has cost the jobs of at least 2,800 IBMers, a move the company was unwilling to acknowledge until ousted workers and their union leaked internal documents to the media, including the Associated Press, which said that workers have reported layoffs in Tucson, Ariz.; San Jose, Calif.; Rochester, Minn.; Research Triangle Park, N.C.; East Fishkill, N.Y.; Austin, Texas; and Burlington, Vt.

Did I mention this came at the same time IBM reported strong financial results?

According to the Web site of the Communications Workers of America which represents some IBMers, roughly 1,400 workers in the software group and a similar number in sales have been let go. There are unconfirmed rumors that as many as 16,000 workers could eventually be let go, surpassing even the 13,000 who were canned in 1985. I suspect that number is too high, but we'll see.

The Associated Press reported recently that in 2007, the last full year for which detailed employment numbers are available, 121,000 of IBM's 387,000 workers were in the United States, down slightly from the year before. Meanwhile, staffing in India has jumped from just 9,000 workers in 2003 to 74,000 workers in 2007.

And of course, tens of thousands of tech workers are losing their jobs at other companies, including such giants as Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Intel, and Motorola, not to mentions dozens of startups across Silicon Valley.

[ Yet, in the current tough U.S. job market, a tech career is actually one of the safest ones to have. See why tech is still a good profession with decent pay and relatively solid job security. ]

Take this job or nothing

Meanwhile, some IBM workers who still have jobs are being given a very tough choice: Move across the country at your own expense, or get fired with no severance package.

That information comes from an angry IBMer who spoke with a writer from the Silicon Alley Insider. According to the tipster, one of several who told similar stories, the workers are being placed at newly formed Global Delivery Centers in Colorado, New York, and Iowa. If they don't take the job, IBM labels them a "voluntary departure" and terminates them with no severance.

For those who are simply laid off, outplacement services aren't very good. One IBMer (I know his name but won't use it) gave this account in an e-mail to me: "The outplacement service is pretty bad, like calling the DMV. ... I called last week for a résumé review, left a message on the 800 number. 48 hours later someone calls back and leaves me a message -- they say they are returning my call, please call the 800 number if you would like to talk to someone. I call and get the same message."

Interestingly, this gentleman actually gave some thought to a potential IBM job in Malaysia, but as the pay was about one-third of his current salary, he rejected it. He also tells me that there's yet another catch in the offer to move employees to what we used to call the Third World. "The deal is that if you take the job IBM won't pay severance but will pay 'a portion' (undefined) of your relocation expenses, including tax and visa services. Not a good deal for many of my colleagues who have 20-25 weeks of severance under their agreement."

Sadly, with the economy in terrible shape, layoffs are sometimes necessary. But a company as rich as IBM should handle a downsizing better -- much better. At the moment, I'm ashamed to be an IBM shareholder. (I don't own much.)

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Reach me at bill.snyder@sbcglobal.net.

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