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Documents obtained shine new light on IBM

ABC 17 News is uncovering more information about recent layoffs at IBM in Columbia.

In a Special Report last month, employees told ABC 17’s Jillian Fertig the company was laying off people and replacing them with foreign workers.

ABC 17 News also reported some of the state tax incentives were suspended because the company only employed 453 people of the promised 800.

On Wednesday, Fertig obtained the packet that was handed out to employees the day they found out they were losing their jobs.

The packet contains 33 pages of what’s called the “Resource Action Information Package for Employees,” informing employees they were “identified for permanent layoff.”

ABC 17 News found some questionable statements in the documents that Fertig tried to clarify with IBM, but a spokesman said the company has no comment.

In part two of the information packet it talks about opportunities for laid off employees to pursue other openings in the company. It said “an identified employee who receives an offer of a comparable job will not receive the payments and benefits of the resource action regardless of whether the employee accepts the comparable job.”

Fertig asked IBM spokesman Clint Roswell why this was the case, but…

“It’s IBM proprietary information,” Roswell said.

In part three of the packet, the company states “identified employees may be required to accept a temporary position to another location to assist with the transition of work until their scheduled departure date in order to receive the resource action payment and benefits.”

It goes on to say if they don’t, they will be terminated with no pay or benefits.

Another section of the packet said if they leave before the departure date determined by management, they will get no pay or benefits.

“I’m not going to comment on any, you know, internal documents or rumors or speculation,” Roswell said.

“I just wanted to call and get your comment on it is all,” Fertig said.

“Yeah, I understand you’re just doing your job and I’m just doing mine,” he said.

Since Fertig’s special report aired on May 11, some Columbia city council members have questioned why IBM is not being transparent with employment numbers and other information city leaders say taxpayers have a right to know.

One of those is Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala.

“We’ve asked the state for numbers and the state tells us when they get the numbers, they release those numbers to us, but there is really no recourse to really challenge any of these numbers or get into them further,” Skala told ABC 17 News.

According to the Missouri State Department of Economic Development, 453 people work at the Columbia IBM facility.

But when Fertig counted the cars on a Monday afternoon back in May, she only counted 164 cars in the lot.

So Fertig counted the cars for a second time Wednesday afternoon at 3:30. This time, there were 160 cars, which is far below the 453 employees IBM said it has working at the Columbia facility.

Skala said he feels the council was misled about some things back when this project was first brought to the council for approval, as far as who all was on involved in the IBM project and the money incentives.

“I objected to the idea that, frankly, REDI and the city manager apparently didn’t even trust the city council to hold this information confidential,” he said.

Skala told Fertig he is skeptical about the employment numbers.

“I’m sure there are some employees on that list that don’t even live in Columbia,” he said. “I just have no way to verify that and that’s the nature of the beast when you’re dealing with the kinds of contracts and provisions that were kept confidential that lots of us weren’t privy to and frankly should have been.”

Skala said he will continue to have talks about IBM with the city council, but said right now the next step is unclear.

“In retrospect, I’m not sure what it is, short of some sort of legal action against IBM, and like I said, I’m not sure there is an appetite for that,” Skala said. “Going forward, we can enhance the process so that we do have a better handle on the transparency of contract negotiations.”

Sources said there will be even fewer cars in the lot by the end of the month, as more layoffs are in the works.

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