It’s a simple question, presumably with a simple answer. How many of its American employees has International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) fired in the past year? Or two? Or five? As criticism of IBM’s labor practices has mounted, CEO Ginni Rometty has decided not to give an answer.
Rometty does run some risk. She is part of President Trump’s team of business leaders who advise him on how to rebuild what he sees as a besieged U.S. workforce. Rometty has pledged to hire 25,000 workers in America over the next four years and invest $1 billion to train them. However, if IBM will not disclose the rate at which it lays off people in the United States, the result could be a net loss of American jobs by 2020. And it will be impossible to show if IBM adds the 25,000. Based on its past performance, IBM won’t release a list in four years.
When layoffs are done in small numbers, compared to a public company’s total, the figure does not have to be disclosed. IBM is well within its rights to keep its U.S. layoffs confidential, on that basis. There is, however, no reason to do so, except that it would drive a negative public perception, and additionally the perception of the president.
Bloomberg recently reported on IBM’s U.S. employment trend:
“Ginni Rometty is terminating thousands of IT workers and touting herself as some hero who’s out to hire 25,000 workers,” says Sara Blackwell, a Sarasota, Florida-based lawyer and advocate for Protect U.S. Workers, who represents about 100 IBM ex-employees who have filed discrimination and other complaints. “To me, that’s hypocritical.”
Blackwell may be biased, but that does mean she is wrong.