500 turn out for a meeting to organize at IBM

Jonathan Flanders jon_flanders at SPAMcompuserve.com
Tue Aug 24 18:37:37 MDT 1999

Just picked this up on a trip to Vt.

Jon Flanders

Union gathering attract 500 IBM employees

Workers listen as Labor officiaIs urge organization

By Aki Soga
and Sam Tranum
Press staff Wnters

-       Nearly 500 IBM employees turned Out Monday evening  to hear union
representatives exhort the workers to organze and seek a contract.
The two informational meetings at the Sheraton Burlington Hotel and
Conference Center drew workers angry about the loss of pension benefits and
worried about what IBM might do in the future to their pay and other

Mike Clapper, 50, went into the meeting with his wife, Christine, saying he
didn't "know the first thing about a union" The 18-year veteran of IBM's
manufacturing line came out of the one-hour, 15-minute presentation
convinced unions could do plenty.
"Sounds like they could do quite a bit for us,  lot more than is being done
now by the company." he said. "If a union is what it takes to stop (IBM
Chief Executive) Louis Gerstner from taking all our benefits and rights
away, I'm all for a union."

Monday's turnout provided more evidence of widespread unrest at IBM among
workers whd rarely in the past criticized their employer in public.

Aug.17, 700 IBM employees and their spouses turned out to denounce the
pension change and their employer, which they said had betrayed them

The 500 people who came to hear organizers from the International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America
was a significant turnout for IBM, who have long resisted unions. None of
the company's 140,090 workers is unionized.

But it was only a small fraction of the 7,000 people who work for IBM in
Vermont, the state's largest private employer. A union would need the
backing of at least 30 percent of workers before organized representation
could be put to a vote.

CWA organizer Jeff Lacher estimated at least 5,000 IBM employees at Essex
Junction including manufacturing workers, engineers and office personnel,
among others  were eligible to join a union.

The unions, which are seeking to organize IBM workers nationwide and have
held meetings at other IBM sites, asked for no formal endorsement from
those present. The only sign-up was for a committee to plot the organizing
Lacher said the organizing effort could take weeks or years.

Still, the turnout stunned John Mendes, an IBM engineer who has been the
force behind the push to organize at the Essex Junction plant.

The meeting room, originally set up with 200 chairs, quickly filled up for
the 5:30  meeting, prompting hotel employees to set up 50 more chairs. When
those were filled, people were left standing along the walls and spilling
into the hallways. The second meeting scheduled at 7.10 p.m. drew enough
people to fill the original 200 chairs set up for the meeting.

"This is unbelievable," Mendes said as he stood in the hallway, a broad
grin stretching his cheeks, watching fellow employees stream in.

Though most IBM workers at the meetings, many of them long-time employees,
seemed to be treading carefully into unknown territory, it. took Myra
Newson less than a day to decide IBM needed a union.

"I started today," said the rookie on IBM's manufacturing line. rtJ just
wanted to come down. I'm very excited." Newson, who had been a union member
in a past lob in Delaware, said she gave her new co-workers some advice: "t
told a lot of people that had a fear of a union that they're going to find
out there's nothing to fear."

David Griffiths, 45, has taken things a step further.
Griffiths, an electrician with a 20-year career at IBM, joined the IBEW
Local 300 when the pension switch was announced even though the union
cannot represent him in his dealing with IBM.

"I thought they'd never touch the pension, that was the last straw," he

The pension switch that took effect July 1 meant that many longtime
employees would have to work longer to earn the same retirement benefits
they were entitled to under the old pension plan.

Not everyone at the meetings was convinced a union was the only way to
address the pension issue.

"I have mixed feelings about a union," said Russ Miller, 46. of Essex who
has been with IBM for 23 years. "IBM has always been a non-union company,
and I have believed that it will work that way, but now I'm begirming to
doubt it."

That doubt led Miller to explore his options. he said. "I'm not sure it's
the right thing, but the more information I have, the better."

The desire to find out more among workers is the key to a union's sucess
Mendes said. "I want them to be informed, find out what their options are,
then act.

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