Am I Next? IBM, Layoffs, Age Discrimination? 

My career in computing started in the early 60's when I believed that IBM was the be-all and end-all in professional computing. Having hands-on experience with everything from IBM's Electronic Accounting Machines, through the big 360/370 mainframes, mid-range 34/38/AS400, and onto the personal computer, my respect for IBM knew no bounds. Until it all fell apart with my access to better personal, mid-range, and internet- capable computers.  

Therefore, it is with some degree of sadness, I pass along the work of ProPublica, "an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force." Two stories that seem to sum up age discrimination and highlight the question, "Am I Next?"




As it scrambled to compete in the internet world, the once-dominant tech company cut tens of thousands of U.S. workers, hitting its most senior employees hardest and flouting rules against age bias.

"For nearly a half a century, IBM came as close as any company to bearing the torch for the American Dream.  

As the world’s dominant technology firm, payrolls at International Business Machines Corp. swelled to nearly a quarter-million U.S. white-collar workers in the 1980s. Its profits helped underwrite a broad agenda of racial equality, equal pay for women and an unbeatable offer of great wages and something close to lifetime employment, all in return for unswerving loyalty.

But when high tech suddenly started shifting and companies went global, IBM faced the changing landscape with a distinction most of its fiercest competitors didn’t have: a large number of experienced and aging U.S. employees.

The company reacted with a strategy that, in the words of one confidential planning document, would “correct seniority mix.” It slashed IBM’s U.S. workforce by as much as three-quarters from its 1980s peak, replacing a substantial share with younger, less-experienced and lower-paid workers and sending many positions overseas. ProPublica estimates that in the past five years alone, IBM has eliminated more than 20,000 American employees ages 40 and over, about 60 percent of its estimated total U.S. job cuts during those years.

In making these cuts, IBM has flouted or outflanked U.S. laws and regulations intended to protect later-career workers from age discrimination, according to a ProPublica review of internal company documents, legal filings and public records, as well as information provided via interviews and questionnaires filled out by more than 1,000 former IBM employees."

Among ProPublica’s findings, IBM:

  • Denied older workers information the law says they need in order to decide whether they’ve been victims of age bias, and required them to sign away the right to go to court or join with others to seek redress.
  • Targeted people for layoffs and firings with techniques that tilted against older workers, even when the company rated them high performers. In some instances, the money saved from the departures went toward hiring young replacements.
  • Converted job cuts into retirements and took steps to boost resignations and firings. The moves reduced the number of employees counted as layoffs, where high numbers can trigger public disclosure requirements. 
  • Encouraged employees targeted for layoff to apply for other IBM positions, while quietly advising managers not to hire them and requiring many of the workers to train their replacements. 
  • Told some older employees being laid off that their skills were out of date, but then brought them back as contract workers, often for the same work at lower pay and fewer benefits.  

Read more ... and be sure to check ProPublica's  companion piece

How the Crowd Led Us to Investigate IBM

Our project started with a digital community of ex-employees.

"Today, we are reporting that over the past five years IBM has been removing older U.S. employees from their jobs, replacing some with younger, less experienced, lower-paid American workers and moving many other jobs overseas.

We’ve got documentation and details — most of which are the direct result of a questionnaire filled out by over 1,100 former IBMers.

We’ve gone to the company with our findings. IBM did not answer the specific questions we sent. Spokesman Edward Barbini said: “We are proud of our company and our employees’ ability to reinvent themselves era after era, while always complying with the law. Our ability to do this is why we are the only tech company that has not only survived but thrived for more than 100 years.”

We don’t know the exact size of the problem. Our questionnaire isn’t a scientific sample, nor did all the participants tell us they experienced age discrimination. But the hundreds of similar stories show a pattern of older employees being pushed out even when the company itself says they were doing a good job."

Read more

Once again, economics and newer skillsets trump loyalty and experience. 


 Am I Next? California's Right to Repair Law: Forced Technology Transfer

The upside of the proposed California Right to Repair Act for consumers is obvious: faster, cheaper repairs that will extend the life of their electronic devices and postpone the replacement cost for a new device. 

According to the author of the Act, Assembly-member Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), “The Right to Repair Act will provide consumers with the freedom to have their electronic products and appliances fixed by a repair shop or service provider of their choice, a practice that was taken for granted a generation ago but is now becoming increasingly rare in a world of planned obsolescence,”

Consumerism meets environmentalism

People who can’t afford the high price of manufacturer-based repair services are increasingly forced to prematurely replace durable goods, such as phones, TVs, and appliances. Repairing and reusing electronics is not only a more efficient use of the scarce materials that go into manufacturing the products, but it can also stimulate local economies instead of unsustainable overseas factories. “People shouldn’t be forced to ‘upgrade’ to the newest model every time a replaceable part on their smartphone or home appliance breaks,” said Mark Murray, Executive Director of Californians Against Waste. “These companies are profiting at the expense of our environment and our pocketbooks as we become a throw-away society that discards over 6 million tons of electronics every year.” 

However, for manufacturers, it may be a costly burden and result in a tradeoff between higher initial device costs versus lower repair costs.

The legislation would require manufacturers of electronics to make diagnostic and repair information, as well as equipment or service parts, available to product owners and to independent repair shops.

Costly considerations.

  • It definitely reduces repair profits and the pricy nature of repair parts and labor which may necessitate price increases of initial devices.
  • Costs will increase as manufacturers need to anticipate repair needs and stock versioned repair parts for a number of years. 
  • There will be an unwelcome demand for forced technology transfer where the details of certain internal proprietary circuitry, diagnostic equipment, and design information must be made public in order to effect the repair. 
  • Vendors may pushback by demanding costly certification courses to work on their products. 
  • Warranty reimbursements may be an issue as an unauthorized repair may void any device or component warranties. 
  • There may be unwelcome reputational damage to the brand if independent repair stations use non-vendor parts and/or the device fails after repair.

California joins 17 other states who have introduced similar legislation, which includes: Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia.

Let us forget that any program requires an additional bureaucracy to enforce standards and to ensure compliance with the law. A cost that will be born by California taxpayers -- either directly or indirectly. 

ASSEMBLY BILL A.B. 2110:  Electronics: Right to Repair Act

Existing law, the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003, enacts a comprehensive and innovative system for the reuse, recycling, and proper and legal disposal of covered electronic devices, as defined, and provides incentives to design electronic devices that are less toxic, more recyclable, and that use recycled materials. 

Existing law establishes the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings, and Thermal Insulation under the supervision and control of the Director of Consumer Affairs. Existing law requires the director to administer and enforce provisions relating to the licensure and regulation of, among others, electronic and appliance repair dealers. 

  • This bill would enact the Right to Repair Act.
  • The bill would require the original equipment manufacturer of electronic equipment or parts sold and used in the state to, among other things, provide to independent repair providers and owners of the equipment certain parts, tools, and information, including diagnostic and repair information, as specified, for the purpose of providing a fair marketplace for the repair of that equipment.
  • The bill would require compliance with these provisions for equipment or parts that are no longer manufactured for 5 years after the date the original equipment manufacturer ceases to manufacture the equipment or parts. 
  • The bill would authorize a city, county, city, and county, or the state to impose civil penalties for a violation of these provisions.

And because this is California, I can anticipate a time when there will be an additional state or local fee tacked on to each and every repair bill to ensure that the homeless, the poor, minorities, and women have access to low-cost subsidized repair. Much like the program that provides cellphones to disadvantaged populations.