Angry IBM workers may unionise

Some North Carolina-based IBM employees are so fed up with a recently instituted change in pension programs that they're considering taking on the company by unionising. Information technology workers are ripe for unionisation, labour experts said. Because it could result in a more stable workforce, they said, that might not be bad news.

"Unions could bring about lower turnover rates and more company loyalty since people would be more satisfied with their jobs," said Joe Wilson, professor and director at the Brooklyn College Graduate Center for Worker Education in New York.

Not surprisingly, IBM said it isn't pleased with the prospect of a union.

"Our industry competitors are mostly non-union, and we don't believe a union would do anything to help us be competitive," said Jana Weatherbee, an IBM spokeswoman.

John Miano, chairman of The Programmers Guild -- a 300-member, Summit, New Jersey-based programmers group -- said unions could help the company with recruitment and training. But there could be downsides as well, Miano said. "They could also lead to restricted functions for employees and even limit wages for some work categories," he said.

James Smith, a vice president of the North Carolina district at the Communications Workers of America (CWA), confirmed that IBM workers had contacted the CWA.

Those employees were stirred up by a change in IBM pension accounts that took effect July 1, in which IBM changed the type of national pension plan it offered. The new plan offers more monetary benefits earlier, but features a fixed growth rate for all employees except grandfathered, longtime workers.

The previous plan was slower to accrue, but potentially delivered a bigger payout at retirement. However, under the revised plan, workers who leave the company can take their pension dollars with them. "Most of our competitors don't offer a pension plan, so we decided we needed to shift some of those [pension benefits] to other benefit programs, like salary increases and stock options, so that we could keep and bring in the best talent," Weatherbee said.

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