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IBM workers call for shareholders to 'Offshore the CEO'

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A group of IBM employees protested the company's annual shareholder meeting held today in Providence, Rhode Island, taking shots at the outsourcing of jobs and executive compensation packages.

Alliance@IBM - Communications Workers of America Local 1701 - led the protests with around 60 people rallying ahead of and after the shareholder meeting. Despite attempts to undermine the rally, the workers had their say, displaying signs with the slogans "Export executive traitors, not US jobs," "Offshore the CEO" and "Retrain for what?". Alliance@IBM also introduced several shareholder resolutions calling for more transparency into executive pay and changes to the practice of outsourcing jobs overseas.

"I think we got our message out before, during and after the meeting," Linda Guyer, president of Alliance@IBM and a software project manager for the company, told The Register.

The protesters were not deterred by efforts to lessen the impact of the rally. Security officials forced the demonstrators to stand in front of a locked door of a large complex, meaning they could not display their messages to as many incoming shareholders. Still, they spread out in a line as far as they could before the meeting and then were allowed to move to another entrance after the meeting.

One of the main points of contention for Guyer is the executive compensation issue.

"IBM today discloses executive compensation to the minimum standard required by the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission)," Guyer said. "We want them to be more transparent about compensation and bonuses."

Results on the voting for this resolution were not immediately available. IBM did, however, say it will raise its quarterly dividend 12.5 per cent to $0.18. In addition, shareholders passed a proposal demanding that IBM expense stock options.

Beyond these issues, sending jobs overseas remains one of the biggest concerns for IBM workers. During the meeting, Guyer recounted the story of six fellow employees currently training their Indian replacements.

"The CEO can get up on the podium and say, 'We live in a global world,' but I wanted to convey that this policy is very stressful to US workers," she said. "These are good, hi-tech jobs being sent overseas. If you have a masters or doctorate in software, what do you retrain for? Plumbing?"

Some IT executives, analysts and politicians have argued that sending jobs overseas is a natural course of events that could ultimately benefit the US economy. The idea is that the US will "skill up" and gain better jobs instead of answering IT support calls or coding.

In March, IBM put $25m behind the Human Capital Alliance program, which is billed as a fund to help encourage employee retraining efforts. But as Guyer pointed out, $25m is not a heck of lot of money for a company the size of IBM.

"Spread over all of IBM's employees, that's nothing," she said. "It's a PR stunt. The program is not even set up yet. For people losing their jobs over the next 6 months, it will not do them any good."

Alliance@IBM would like to see policies that require employers to maintain workers' health care for at least a year after their termination. The group also wants an end to breaks that allow companies to defer paying taxes on revenue earned overseas. ®

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