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IBM Employees and CWA Launch Alliance@IBM

October 1, 1999
IBM activists are forming a national -affiliated organization - Alliance@IBM - to address workplace concerns at IBM and to organize for eventual union recognition and bargaining rights at the technology giant.

Some 40 IBM workers from several locations came to Washington, D.C., for a Senate hearing on pension abuses and to join CWA President Morton Bahr in announcing formation of the new organization at a news conference on Sept. 21. Bahr earlier testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee about CWA's experience in negotiating cash balance account pension plans that improve workers' retirement income, as opposed to unilateral employer changes, such as those made by IBM, that cut benefits for long-term workers.

This new Alliance has grown out of meetings this summer involving IBM employees at locations all over the country who sought CWA's help after IBM imposed drastic pension changes in July that threatened the retirement security of thousands of workers. Employees won a major victory when the company backpedaled in mid-September and restored some pension options to more workers, though many thousands remain the victims of IBM's unilateral pension changes.

"We're convinced that the protests, the meetings, the increased communications among IBM employees nationwide, and the growing talk of a need for a union at IBM are exactly what caused the company to announce it was reversing course," Bahr told the news conference.

Bahr pledged "all our resources, effort and manpower" to help IBM workers build their organization.

Many employees still face reduced pension benefits and even those who have had their pension restored are wondering what IBM will do next. Linda Croft, an IBM employee from Endicott, N.Y., said the lesson for employees now is that "you don't trust management for anything."

Her comment was echoed by Peter Plavchan, an IBM worker from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., who noted that it was employees who have made IBM such a successful company who now have been betrayed by IBM's actions. "We can't ever trust them again," he said.Variety of Issues

Croft pointed out that there are many other issues besides the pension change that concern IBM workers, including increased health care cost shifting to employees and retirees, and job security. IBM "will lay people off, then rehire them as contract or temporary workers - at much lower salaries and no benefits - for the same positions," she said.

Alliance and CWA activists will conduct a recruitment drive to build a national network to begin immediately addressing these issues, and to work toward organizing for union recognition and collective bargaining rights as membership strength grows among the various employee units and work sites. Out of 140,000 IBM employees in the United States, more than 100,000 in professional, administrative, sales and manufacturing positions are eligible for union representation.

"It's obvious that the only way to get IBM executives to truly listen to employees is through a legally-binding contract that is negotiated through collective bargaining. It's clearer than ever that a union is the only way to attain this goal," said Garrett Lanzy, who also came from Endicott to Washington to show support for the Alliance.

In North Carolina's Research Triangle Park, where 14,000 IBMers work, union supporters have been leafleting and reaching out to employees at all locations. Bob Lynch, one of eight Raleigh IBM employees who traveled to Washington, pointed out that "the company's doing great. Upper-level management is getting bonuses and stock options, but nobody's there to look out for the employees but themselves."

Alliance members will elect a slate of officers and develop a formal organization structure over the next few months and already have developed an Internet site,

CWA also is working with other groups, including the IBM Employee Benefits Action Coalition, an organization of both union-eligible and management employees that has been mobilizing around workers' pension concerns, as well as with the Pension Rights Center and members of Congress who are proposing legislation to prevent companies from using cash balance accounts to raid workers' pension plans.