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