• IBM relents on layoff numbers: 419
     | July 19,2013

    IBM laid off 419 workers at its Essex Junction facility last month, the Department of Labor announced Thursday.

    IBM, which had objected to the department releasing the number of laid-off employees, relented and told the state it would not object to the disclosure.

    IBM previously provided the department with the number of workers laid off but it considered the information confidential, citing trade secret and related concerns.

    However, the department informed IBM this week that unless it could legally justify withholding the number of layoffs, the department would release the information.

    According to the department, IBM senior counsel at its headquarters in Armonk, N.Y., advised the department Thursday that because the state had agreed employee-identifying information remained exempt from public disclosure, IBM “will not object, under these circumstances, to DOL’s disclosure of the total number of impacted employees.”

    Since assuming the position of labor commissioner in the Shumlin administration two years ago, Annie Noonan said it is the first time that an employer had refused to publicly disclose basic layoff numbers.

    “We haven’t had a situation where an employer has asked, said to us, don’t discuss a total number, and request that under the Public Records Act,” Noonan said in a telephone interview Thursday. “We were pleased that IBM decided to allow us to give the number and I think that was in large measure to the governor’s call for transparency yesterday (Wednesday).”

    Noonan said despite the recent round of layoffs, which were nationwide, IBM remains committed to Vermont.

    “At the point IBM first announced layoffs were going to occur, they were very clear to the governor that this was part of … a global event of them having to respond to some of their economic issues but that they were fully committed to Vermont,” she said.

    Last month’s layoffs were in response to IBM’s disappointing first quarter earnings report.

    An IBM union advocacy group in Endicott, N.Y., said the company’s reluctance to disclose basic layoff and employment numbers follows a pattern by the company of keeping host communities in the dark.

    “They’ve been doing this in just about every state that they’re located,” said Lee Conrad, national coordinator with the IBM Global Union Alliance, an advocacy group of the Communication Workers of America Local 1701. “They’ve been stonewalling on job cut numbers for quite some time.”

    Conrad, a former IBM employee, said the CWA was able to validate at least 3,300 layoffs last month in the U.S. and Canada with additional job cuts overseas. He said total IBM employment in the U.S. is now under 90,000.

    He added that the some IBM workers nationwide are union members but that the CWA has no collective bargaining agreement with the company.

    Messages left for IBM seeking comment were not immediately returned Thursday.

    Noonan said the department will continue to hold job fairs to help laid-off workers. She said a job fair held Monday with 85 employers was “hugely” successful.

    She said the feedback she received was that employers “were thrilled with the resumes that they saw, so I think the prospects are very good.”

    IBM was once the state’s largest private employer but with another round of layoffs, the company has fallen to second place behind Fletcher Allen Health Care.

    Citing confidentiality, Noonan declined to disclose the exact number of IBM employees but did say even after the 419 layoffs the number was more than 4,000.

    @Tagline:bruce.edwards @rutlandherald.com

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