Since 1999, the Alliance@IBM – a group led by the Communication Workers of America union – has unsuccessfully tried to turn IBM into a union shop. When the Alliance boasted 400 dues-paying members at its peak, a number cut to 200 now, it was a key source of public information for employees and the news media about job cuts, benefit changes, and restructuring actions by the company. Employees shared with the Alliance documents and knowledge about the firm’s restructuring activities. But, IBM’s restructuring and layoffs, described by the firm as “rebalancing” of its workforce, made organizing increasingly difficult. In the mid-1980s, IBM employed almost 250,000 in the U.S. Today the Alliance estimates that number is down to 71,000 (with more employees in India than the U.S.), but IBM stopped disclosing its U.S.-specific headcount about five years ago.
The union organizing drive was probably a factor in IBM’s decisions to off-shore so many jobs, but it was hardly the main factor, considering that at its peak, the Alliance had support of 0.0016 percent of the workforce. Nevertheless, the timing of the Alliance calling it quits is curious. With the Board’s aggressive expansion of micro bargaining units and ambush elections, union organizing has never been easier. This is also the reason I was surprised to learn a few months ago that OUR Walmart officially stopped trying to organize Walmart workers, especially since the union could take credit for pressuring Walmart into increasing starting wages at the retail giant.