IBM Union Organizers Extend Help to Laid Off Workers

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(Host) Organizers say job uncertainty at IBM has renewed worker interest in forming a union at the Essex Junction plant. Last week, IBM cut nearly a thousand jobs at the facility.

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, the future of a union is uncertain, but organizers are working this week to help former employees of the company.

(Zind) It would take a yes vote from 3,500 of the workers to form a union at the IBM plant in Essex Junction. That’s five times more than have ever showed up at a union organizing meeting. Ralph Montefusco is an IBM employee and a union organizer with Alliance IBM. The group is part of the Communications Workers of America Union. After four years of organizing at IBM, Montefusco says the effort is still in the early stages. He says union organizing is different in the high-tech field than it is in other industries.

(Montefusco) “It’s different for many reasons. One is, it’s not the old filthy industry, so it isn’t like you’re dying of black lung disease or something like that. You’re not working side by side on an assembly line. Also, typically the high-tech industry has differentiated itself from the old dirty industries of the past and there’s that typical attitude that ‘well, we’re not like that, a union was fine for a steel mill or an auto plant.'”

(Zind) Montefusco says fears that IBM will target the Essex Junction plant because of union efforts there are unfounded. He says union organizing is under way company wide.

(Montefusco) “The Alliance is a national organization. There is no other IBM site that you can move this work to, at least in this country, that does not have an Alliance organizing committee there.”

(Zind) Montefusco says it will probably be years before organizers ask IBM workers to vote on a union. Meanwhile the Alliance is working with those who have lost their jobs. Thursday night the group will hold a meeting for former IBM workers. The Alliance is flying in a representative for IBI Global, a firm that offers job training and works with start up businesses. Michael Nalasco is an Alliance member who’s worked for IBM for 21 years. He’s among those who lost their jobs last week. It isn’t the first time he’s been let go by IBM.

(Nalasco) “In fact, I lost my house in Poughkeepsie when they had that big job cut down there in the ’90s. I think we’re all going to try to prevent that from happening here in Vermont and one of the ways, hopefully, we can do that is if we can get together and stimulate some business here. This IBI Global may be able to help show us the way to bring some work in Vermont.”

(Zind) Organizers say a union would not have been able to prevent the cuts that occurred last week at IBM. They say a union would give workers a voice in how and when cuts are made.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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