Hundreds given pink slips at IBM

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(Host) IBM told an estimated several hundred workers today that they would be laid off at the Essex Junction plant.

The company refused to say exactly how many would lose their jobs, but state officials say the number appears to be much lower than they feared.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports:

(Sneyd) Potential layoffs have been the talk of the IBM plant for weeks.

Paul Sala says the uncertainty has created tension at work.

(Sala) "Well, there’s been a lot of unease at the plant. Unfortunately, IBM has chosen not to really share any information prior to the layoffs. So people just have to go by rumors and what you hear. So there’s been a lot of unease at the plant.”

(Sneyd) Some of that uncertainty lifted when IBM managers began letting people know whether they’d lose their job.

Sala wasn’t one of them. A 25-year veteran of the company, he says he’s glad to have his job. But he feels for his colleagues.

(Sala) "It’s hard when you see other people walking out with a box or something. It’s kind of tough there today.”

(Sneyd) Sala says employees believe between 300 and 500 people were laid off.

IBM won’t release a number and won’t say which plants were affected, other than to say the job cuts were part of a “North American action.”

Corporate spokesman Doug Shelton declined to go on tape. He says the company needs to – quote – “manage its skills and resources.” He says it’s something IBM does throughout the year.

State officials say they know fewer than 500 people were laid off. If there had been more, IBM would have had to file an official notice.

State Labor Commissioner Patricia Moulton Powden says IBM employs about 5,300 people in Essex Junction.

She says the number of layoffs appears to be lower than many had feared, but that doesn’t make the cuts any easier to take.

(Powden) "In all cases it’s bad news. And for those who are affected it’s horrifying news and that’s really our first objective is to try to help get information into people’s hands to make sure they’re aware of benefits.”

(Sneyd) The state plans to meet with laid off workers to help them get benefits.

IBM says anyone whose job was cut can apply for other jobs in the company. If no job is available, each worker will get severance pay, medical and life insurance for as much as a year, and job training and financial planning assistance.

Frank Cioffi of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation says, despite the talk of cutbacks, there’s good news out of IBM.

(Cioffi) "Over the past number of months with all the talk about IBM and the economy here in Vermont, there’s been this notion of us treating IBM like a hospice patient and they’re not. They’re very vibrant company.”

(Sneyd) Still, workers say the insecurity associated with the layoffs – have made it difficult. Earl Mongeon (mun-juhn) has worked at IBM for 30 years and he leads a group trying to form a union there.

(Mongeon) "I’m fearing for my kids. Where are they going to be? What are they going to have? When I got a job at IBM my parents were elated because you’re working at this great company and thousands of people want to get in there. It’s not the same way anymore.”

(Sneyd) IBM won’t say whether there will be additional layoffs – or what the long-term prospects are for the Essex Junction plant.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

(Host): VPR’s John Dillon and Melody Bodette contributed to this story.

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