by Elizabeth Heichler

IBM Offshoring Sparks Protests

Jun 15, 20042 mins

Roughly 2 dozen picketers, current and former IBM workers raising signs that read “America’s future is not offshore” and “Offshore CEO Sam Palmisano,” alerted shareholders attending the company’s annual meeting April 27 that offshore outsourcing would be on the table.

Inside the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, Sam Palmisano, IBM’s chairman, president and CEO, defended the outsourcing strategy, which has gained a high profile after reports said executives discussed moving a large number of U.S.-based jobs to countries such as India.

Palmisano stressed IBM’s strength as a global business and said it needs to “look at a global skills pool around the world.” He pointed to $25 million the company has set aside for the Human Capital Alliance, a skills retraining program, although he acknowledged that the effort is just beginning.

However, it was apparent from the chairman’s remarks extolling the benefits of open markets and global free trade that IBM is not turning back from offshoring. “Most people recognize that you can’t lock down jobs, businesses and skills, and you can’t lock down nations,” Palmisano said. And he warned that in managing an enterprise such as IBM, there can be “no emotional attachment to the things that don’t represent your future.”

That lack of emotional attachment, to employees in particular, rankles with longtime IBMers who say they have seen a shift in the corporate culture.

Bill Costine, an IBM AIX system support employee in Fishkill, N.Y., took part in the demonstration in front of the convention center. Costine says that he feels his job is relatively safe for now because it requires face-to-face interaction with U.S.-based hardware engineers. But others are vulnerable. “Any help desk job, any programming job, any software development job, anything that doesn’t involve face-to-face transactions with your customer” is vulnerable, he says.