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Union officials are planning picket action at IBM offices across the US in retaliation for the firm's freezing of employee pensions.

The Alliance@IBM arm of the Communication and Workers of America union is also hoping to drum up enough new recruits over the dispute to seriously consider seeking recognition.

Linda Guyer, president of Alliance@IBM and a project manager at the IT firm, said: "We are talking of demonstrations at all the major sites."

IBM sites in major cities would be the likely targets and could include: Burlington, Vermont; Austin, Texas; San Jose, California; Boston, Massachusetts; Raleigh, North Carolina and the headquarters in Armonk.

CWA has not won recognition from IBM in the US to date, but its Big Blue chapter was formed after the last time the firm reneged on its pension commitments. Following the downgrading of IBM pensions in 1999 the CWU attracted 6,000 affiliates under the Alliance@IBM banner.

With 125,000 staff in the US, the union has some way to go before it can expect to win 30 per cent favour in a vote for recognition. It may seek to ensure it can get 60 per cent backing before it commits itself.

However, the union is drawing up reasonably sized bargaining units so that it can seek recognition in individual sites or corporate groups.

Those 6,000 affiliates that there are have few members among them. Most are associates who do not have full rights, but have been adopted by the union anyway in the hope their numbers might help overall membership snowball.

Guyer said a "couple of hundred" more IBM employees had signed up to the union since the pension freeze was announced last week.

Job cuts across IBM world-wide, meanwhile, have left many employees fearful for their jobs, said Guyer: "Big layoffs happen all the time. Some of the sales people call them drive-by firings. You never know when your time might be up."

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