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As Layoff Rumors Circulate, Big Blue Still A Big Deal in Vermont

Toby Talbot

After a disappointing first quarter earnings report, IBM announced there will be layoffs in the second quarter.  The company says most of the job cuts would take place outside the U.S. but in recent days there have been rumors that cuts are imminent at domestic IBM facilities, including in Vermont.

Despite the fact IBM employs fewer people than it once did at the Essex Junction plant, IBM's fortunes are still important to the state’s job picture and its economy.   

Lee Conrad is a former IBM employee.  He’s the national coordinator of the Alliance@IBM, a union organization that is in touch with company workers nationwide.  “There’s rumors of job cuts throughout IBM in the United States, including at Essex Junction,” says Conrad.

IBM's policy is not to comment on rumor or speculation and state officials say they don’t know if job cuts are coming.

At one point 8,500 people worked at the Essex Junction plant but over the years there have been several  significant layoffs and the company no longer reveals how many employees work at any of its facilities.   

Conrad says the fact that no one outside the company knows exactly how many is itself an issue.  “That should be a requirement,” he says.  The fact that the governor doesn’t know how many people are there or doesn’t know if job cuts are coming.  IBM should be transparent about all this stuff.”

According to the The Burlington Free Press, 17 IBM contract workers have been laid off by the company this month. 

Economist Art Woolf says layoffs at IBM are never good news, but if further cuts also involve contract workers they have a greater chance of finding new employment. “If its contract jobs, it will be easier for them to find jobs in the local area,” says Woolf. “The people who are very, very specialized they may not be able to find jobs in the local economy and they may have to leave town.”

Woolf says despite the downsizing, IBM remains one of Vermont’s largest private employers, so the possibility exists for layoffs large enough to ripple through the economy.

Frank Cioffi, President of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation says Big Blue is still a big deal in Vermont.

According to Cioffi, IBM accounts for nearly half of Chittenden County’s manufacturing output.  He says the county also enjoys a higher than average education level in its workforce partly because of the skilled jobs at IBM.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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