IBM Jobs: 60% of STG terminations were over age 50 - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

By Crystal Oko

IBM Jobs: 60% of STG terminations were over age 50

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ROCHESTER, MN (KTTC-DT) -- Hundreds of long-time IBM employees in Rochester have been living this nightmare this past month.

Some say there is something really wrong about this last wave of layoffs at "Big Blue."

We noticed it weeks ago and began reporting on it then--a large number of those cut from the Systems and Technology Group at IBM were over age 50.

So, we have been digging a little deeper.

We know the high-paying jobs are moving offshore to places like China, India, Brazil. If older workers are being singled out, is this legal?

In the last six weeks, hundreds of IBM employees have driven off the IBM parking lot in northwest Rochester for the last time.

We aren't sure just how many jobs were cut here because IBM refuses to give numbers. Insider estimates range from 400 to 800 or more.

Rochester community leaders wanted to know why they don't have more solid information from the company. Here's the most likely answer: the Associated Press reports from Silicon Valley that IBM does not feel it needs to report job fluctuations to the Securities and Exchange Commission, because its lay-offs are not quote "material events," but are a regular part of its business model.

Another part of IBM's business model: if you have been "eliminated" here in Rochester there is a program called Project Match. A program that offers you a chance to compete for an IBM job in places like China where IT jobs are booming. A year ago, IBM admitted that it's now reaching out to IT professionals in places like China and India. Will Rochester IBMers be tempted to move to China?

Young people seem to be more open to moving overseas for a job, away from family. But if you're over 50 and have lived in Rochester almost your whole life? Would you leave your family, friends, everything you know to go to China to work for a company that has already laid you off at the wage level paid in China?

An analysis of job cuts made in IBM's Systems and Technology Group shows 60% of those laid-off this past month were over age 50. Breaking it down in a different way, when you study the top job titles affected, 90 people whose jobs were cut were "Advisory Software Engineers." Of those 90, 53 of them were 50 years or older, that's 59%. In a second group, "Advisory Engineers", 51 of the 84 laid off, or 61% were over age 50. Many of these cuts among older workers are believed to have come in Rochester.

There's a federal law that bars age discrimination for anyone over 40, and a Minnesota law that makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone over age 18. So, were the IBM cuts discriminatory, and thus, illegal?

That's the million dollar question. IBM might save more money by cutting older workers and keeping the young. Many in the laid-off group are saying that's exactly what has happened. Many are afraid to talk to reporters, afraid of retaliation, because in order to get a severance package... they have to sign a legal agreement. Some call it a "Will Not Sue" agreement.

"Many times the employee is at somewhat of a disadvantage because they're going to be losing their jobs, so they're given a choice. They can either sign this agreement and promise not to sue. Or not sign the agreement, but then they don't get the offer of money or other benefits in exchange for that. So many times the employees sign the agreement and accept what us lawyers call consideration, or money, because they really have no choice," said Greg Griffith, employment attorney at Dunlap & Seeger Law Office.

At anonymous computer stations at places like the public library, IBMers have been blogging how they feel about being deleted from the IBM work force. Here's what some of them had to say:

"2010: it's coming faster than you think IBM USA folks. IBM will do anything to make their $9.20 per share target and they can't do it without tons of further cost cutting measures."

"I asked about a bridge to retirement and was told I was 12 weeks short of being able to bridge so I loose my Health account money and my retirement benefits. I was sent the flyer to apply for "project match" as my manager thinks it could be my best option right now... wonderful company..."

"If you're over 50, you have a greatly increased risk of being laid off, no matter how safe you may think your position is. Prepare yourself as if you are on the list of those next to be laid off."

Here's the bottom line from one who lost his job here: he says if you are working for IBM and you are over 50, you should begin to plan an exit strategy or backup career plan. An updated resume, a solid retirement savings plan, little debt, and an idea of what you want to do with the rest of your working life.

That's advice may be words of wisdom for a lot of people in a lot of career fields.

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