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6, 2000 April, 2000

Highlights—November 23, 2013

  • Nashville Post: Bridgestone files massive fraud and deception suit against IBM. Tire manufacturer seeks untold level of damages related to IT system overhaul. By J.R. Lind. Excerpts: In 2009, Bridgestone contracted with IBM for a comprehensive overhaul of its back-office IT system. To say the Nashville tire manufacturer is displeased with the result doesn't begin to describe what is alleged in a 63-page complaint filed last week in U.S. District Court. ...

    "IBM represented its design solution would, when finalized and implemented, provide BSAM with a fully integrated, next generation SAP OTC system which would efficiently and accurately orchestrate and execute all of the back office business functions involved in the BSAM North American Tire Operations (“BATO”) and Bridgestone Retail Operations (“BSRO”) from end-to-end of the OTC business cycle," the complaint alleges.

    In short, IBM claimed if the planet was Bridgestone's back office, it could build a smarter planet.

    In the end, Bridgestone paid IBM in excess of $78 million for this rebuild that took more than two years.

    And after that 24-month wait, what did Bridgestone say was delivered? A "defective system [that] lost or deleted scheduled customer orders, would not process orders, duplicated, or partially processed orders and, for those limited orders that were processed, did not complete critical corresponding business applications." ...

    Bridgestone claims more than $200 million in lost revenue and extra costs as a result. Further, the tire company says IBM knew its system was not suitable, was not "next-generation" and assigned personnel without expertise to handle the design, roll-out and troubleshooting.

    In a statement, IBM said "The claims against IBM are exaggerated, factually wrong and without merit. From the outset of this project, Bridgestone failed to meet critical commitments upon which IBM's performance depended. Ultimately, Bridgestone’s repeated failures had a significant impact on the project’s cost and schedule, and its decision to ignore IBM's warnings and prematurely roll-out the implementation across its entire business negatively impacted its North America operations. Bridgestone has elected to bring this matter to court. IBM worked hard to make this a successful project and regrets a dispute with a client. However, IBM is prepared to vigorously defend itself in this matter and demonstrate that Bridgestone's own errors made this a troubled project."

  • Business Insider, courtesy of Yahoo! Finance: IBM Rips Into Bridgestone Over $600 Million Lawsuit. By Julie Bort. Excerpts: As we previously reported, tire company Bridgestone is suing IBM over a $75 million computer system it says performed so poorly it threw Bridgestone’s "entire business operation into chaos." IBM is vigorously defending itself. It insists it was Bridgestone's mismanagement of the project that caused all of the problems. ...

    Bridgestone sent us this comment: Bridgestone Americas, Inc. (BSA) filed suit against IBM on October 29, 2013 in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee. Due to confidentiality restrictions, BSA was required to file this complaint under seal. A redacted complaint which is available to the public was filed on November 12, 2013. The allegations in the redacted complaint speak for themselves, and BSA has no further comment at this time.

  • Bloomberg: Druckenmiller Shorting IBM in Bet Cloud Computing to Win. By Saijel Kishan & Joshua Fineman. Excerpts: Stan Druckenmiller, who has one of the best track records in the hedge-fund industry over the past three decades, said he’s betting against the shares of International Business Machines Corp. because the company’s business will be replaced by technology such as cloud computing.

    “It’s one of the more higher-probability shorts I have seen in years,” Druckenmiller, 60, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV’s Stephanie Ruhle at the Robin Hood Investors Conference in New York today. “IBM is old technology being replaced by cloud technology.” ...

    IBM’s sales have dropped for six straight quarters as the growth of services such as cloud computing have failed to make up for slowing demand for older businesses like hardware. The company is selling less-profitable divisions and is devoting cash to stock repurchases to help reach its forecast for growth in earnings per share.

    IBM said last month that it added $15 billion to its buyback plan, part of Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty’s plan to achieve $20 in adjusted earnings a share by 2015, up from $15.25 last year. The hardware unit, which makes servers and other devices for business users, reported a loss last quarter. ...

    Druckenmiller described Google Inc. as the most “innovative company on the planet,” citing the company’s web-enabled eyeglasses and self-driving cars. He said investors who want to bet on innovation should buy shares of Google and those who want to bet against innovation should buy IBM shares.

  • Washington Post: Software patent reform just died in the House, thanks to IBM and Microsoft. By Timothy B. Lee. Excerpts: On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider legislation aimed at reining in abusive patent litigation. But one of the bill's most important provisions, designed to make it easier to nix low-quality software patents, will be left on the cutting room floor. That provision was the victim of an aggressive lobbying campaign by patent-rich software companies such as IBM and Microsoft.

    The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He unveiled a new version of his bill last month, touting it as a cure for the problem of patent trolls. One provision would have expanded what's known as the "covered business method" (CBM) program, which provides an expedited process for the Patent Office to get rid of low-quality software patents. That change would aid in the fight against patent trolls because low-quality software patents are trolls' weapon of choice.

    But the change could affect the bottom lines of companies with large software patent portfolios. And few firms have larger software patent portfolios than Microsoft and IBM. These companies, which also happen to have two of the software industry's largest lobbying budgets, have been leading voices against the expansion of the CBM program. ...

    Last week, IBM escalated its campaign against expanding the CBM program. An IBM spokesman told Politico, "While we support what Mr. Goodlatte’s trying to do on trolls, if the CBM is included, we’d be forced to oppose the bill."

    Sources close to the negotiations say the campaign against the CBM provisions of the Goodlatte bill has succeeded. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a markup of the legislation Wednesday, and Goodlatte will introduce a "manager's amendment" to remove the CBM language from his own bill. IBM hailed that change in a Monday letter to Goodlatte. ...

    "Creating a low-cost alternative to litigation in order to address the poor-quality patents that are currently plaguing startups and small businesses is a cornerstone of effective reform," Schumer said in a statement Tuesday night. "I am continuing to have productive conversations with my colleagues and stakeholders in the Senate, and fully expect the critical issue of patent quality to be addressed in the Senate legislation."

  • Glassdoor IBM reviews. Selected reviews follow:
    • Long career stint...thrown away like yesterday's garbage” Finance (Current Employee), Raleigh, NC. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Great experience all over the country with excellent career progression and upward mobility if you're willing to play the game and make personal sacrifices. Ability to work from home office.

      Cons: No separation between work and life...and work usually wins out. Worked with the company for almost 2 decades with top level performance ratings for the bulk of my career and was then 'sold' to another company without any protection on long term employment or even current salary as part of a transaction involving over 30k worldwide employees. Company clearly sees its employees as numbers and not humans.

      Advice to Senior Management: Care more about the people and less about protocols/hierarchy. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • adfdfasdfttttthtisadfasdf” Advisory Software Engineer (Former Employee), Atlanta, GA/ I worked at IBM full-time for more than 5 years. Pros: There are still lots of smart people at IBM. If you like working long hours for little or no reward, this is the place for you.

      Cons: This is the worst managed company I have ever worked for. None of the smart people I mentioned in "Pros" is in upper management. Although I see quite a few favorable reviews of IBM on GlassDoor, in my experience the only people who think this is a good place to work are those who have never worked anywhere else.

      Advice to Senior Management: 1. Focus on creating real value for customers rather than just acquiring new revenue streams. 2. Drop the rah-rah stuff; we are not fooled. True greatness is inversely proportional to the amount of it that comes out of your mouth. 3. Grow up. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • Great reputation, average company to work for.” Software Engineer (Current Employee), Research Triangle Park, NC. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: The flexibility is great. You can work whenever and wherever within reason. You can work on a variety of technologies and switching jobs within IBM is not very difficult.

      Cons: Read the below for details, but in short, stay away, there are just so many other better companies to work for that will offer you better career opportunities, compensation and a humanizing work environment.

      The benefits and compensation are truly average. Every year I have been here they have taken something away from the employees, for example: free coffee, water jugs, pay coffee (yes they took that away), subsidized cafeteria food, team social events, site social events, tennis courts (closed down due to disrepair), employee stock purchasing plan went from 15% deduction to 10%, 401k is not matched but once a year instead of per pay check which for those who don't get it means you can't earn money that you don't have until they pay out at year end...assuming they haven't fired you.

      They have had consistent layoffs or selling of technology since 2009 reducing the local site almost 50%. I understand every company has had to adjust in the current economic climate, but match the above with IBM's record Earning Per Share numbers and astronomical revenues and it's a simple formula. Upper management is attempting to meet ludicrous goals at the expense of its employees.

      Advice to Senior Management: Stop driving all your company decisions based on short sighted goals around earnings per share. It's an unsustainable model and it's going to kill the company. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • Excellent company to work for.” Sales Operations Manager (Current Employee), Atlanta, GA. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Ability to gain amazing experience and work in a variety of rolls. The people within the company are also exceptional to work for and with. They are always willing to share their experience and insight to help you improve in your job. Cons: Losing experienced workforce due to layoffs. Advice to Senior Management: What is the cost when you lose experienced workers? Usually companies tend to repeat their previous mistakes because no one with a history within the company is around to advise them. Also how long does it take to get some fully immersed into your company enough to be an asset? Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend
    • IBM Hates Contractors” Engineer (Former Employee) Fishkill, NY I worked at IBM as a contractor for more than 3 years Pros: For a contractor, there are no pros to working there. The people at IBM are actually very pleasant. It is the culture that needs improvement.

      Cons: IBM is not concerned with any of its contract employees. Workforce reductions and furloughs do little to improve overall morale. The culture at IBM is all about meeting IBM financials with little apparent regard to customer needs. Contract employees are told not to discuss workforce reductions with the customers they support. Why? Those customers would most likely get upset if they knew the level of support they should be getting has been reduced.

      Advice to Senior Management: Instead of implementing contractor furloughs, simply rate all contractors and dismiss those contractors that rate the lowest. Eliminating excess management positions, hiring GOOD project managers and eliminating non-performers would improve performance, morale and ultimately improve the margins IBM is so desperate to make. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • Great opportunity for fresh graduates” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee), Brno (Czech Republic). I worked at IBM for more than 3 years. Pros: IBM can offer great opportunities for inexperienced people. Lots of opportunity to grow. Flexible working with a very good life-work balance. Cons: No benefits or salary increase years in a row. Horrid management and promotions not made based on the real performance. Most of the times it feels like working in a factory. Advice to Senior Management: Bring better trained and real professional for the management positions. Improve the appreciation towards the employees. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend
    • Great culture, lot of trust and collaboration, exciting projects, great brand” Human Resources Partner (Former Employee), Somers, NY. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 3 years. Pros: I really had a great experience working for IBM. The environment has a lot of trust and collaboration. I was assigned on really great projects even though I was right out of college. There is fantastic flexibility. There is no fixed office time and you can make your own as long as you get your job done. Lots of opportunity to work from home as well. The executives are very down to earth and really roll-up their sleeves to work. I may go back to work for the company again after a few years.

      Cons: Salary increases are very slow. They make up for it in term of flex benefits, however if you stay here for long, you will lag the market in terms of pay. You may need to then jump a couple of jobs to get back at market pay. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • Age discrimination is rampant at IBM” Program Manager (Current Employee). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: IBM USED to be a wonderful company to work for, but that was many, many years ago. Cons: Employees are increasingly treated like they are dirt. Constant chronic cuts and stack ranking have made IBM a cutthroat, miserable environment to work in. I am so tired of seeing my fellow workers get canned—and what a coincidence—they are all in their 50's when it happens. For those of us left, we work insane hours because we are doing the job that 3 or 4 people used to do and this only gets worse with every year. Nothing is done to quality anymore. Customers are no longer a priority either—not sure what is a priority with this company. If you are looking for a job, look elsewhere—you will fare much better at another company, especially if you are just starting your career. Advice to Senior Management: You are running a once great company into the ground. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Was a great company to work for, but they got away for the core values that this company was founded on.” Customer Service Representative (Current Employee). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: The people you work with; the customers are great; and they will make you feel as part of their team. There is a lot of great and talented people in IBM, and they keep the company going. Cons: The company no longer cares about its employees. The focus is making money, and they will do it at all cost. People are let go, retire or whatever, and all they do is give those left working more work, no additional compensation, and taking away your home and family life. Advice to Senior Management: Get back to what the company was founded on. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend
    • If you're young, creative, or came from much younger tech companies and use to that type of culture, NOT the place for you” Systems Performance Engineer (Former Employee), Tucson, AZ. I worked at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: They pay very well. I had a very good manager. Very nice and knowledgeable people to work with.

      Cons: Cheap, Cheap, Cheap when it comes to buying supplies, or software, or for department celebrations, to the point of folks kicking in their own money to make the event enjoyable. Very old culture. I worked in an area where the over 50 age group was the majority. No stability; they laid off departments in an area, and cut staff to the point of them almost not able to do their work, because they didn't hit the stock price they were looking for. I think folks that started 30 years ago got a good run, but even the old folks say it's not the same anymore. They offshore their internal support, so you have an issue with your local computer you get to call India, and then they dispatch someone locally to come look at it because 9 times out of 10 they don't know how to fix issue or can't because you physically need to fix problem.

      Advice to Senior Management: Get back to investing in employees. Happy employees are much more productive and will get you to that stock price and keep the company there much better than cutting every corner on everything. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.

  • Glassdoor IBM Canada reviews
  • Wall Street Journal: Microsoft Abandons 'Stack Ranking' of Employees. Software Giant Will End Controversial Practice of Forcing Managers to Designate Stars, Underperformers. By Shira Ovide And Rachel Feintzei. Excerpts: Microsoft Corp. is abandoning major elements of its controversial "stack ranking" employee-review and compensation system, the latest blow against a once-popular management technique.

    The Redmond, Wash., software company said it would no longer require managers to grade employees against one another and rank them on a scale of one to five. The system—often called "stack" or "forced" ranking—meant a small percentage of Microsoft's 100,000 employees had to be designated as underperformers.

    The rankings were a key factor in promotions and in allocating bonuses and equity awards under Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, who in August said he plans to retire within a year. But many current and former Microsoft employees complained the system resulted in capricious rankings, power struggles among managers, and unhealthy competition among colleagues. ...

    That makes Microsoft the latest in a series of companies to eliminate forced ranking, which was widely copied in the 1980s after rising to popularity at General Electric Co. under Chief Executive Jack Welch. The system was often referred to as "rank and yank," because poor performers were encouraged to leave the company. ...

    In place of the numerical-ranking system, Microsoft managers now will give employees more frequent feedback on how they're performing. Managers also will have more flexibility in how they dole out bonuses. ...

    Ms. Brummel said the review system was overhauled in part to reflect an emphasis on teamwork in Mr. Ballmer's new strategy, and she said Microsoft can't wait for its next CEO. "We're aligning these [human resources] programs with what we're trying to do as a company," Ms. Brummel said. ...

    Samuel Culbert, a professor at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, said annual reviews are a misuse of management's time, and are long overdue for a yanking at companies like Microsoft. "The boss's job is not to evaluate," he says. "The boss's job is to make everyone a five."

  • Wall Street Journal: Why Microsoft Dumped ‘Stack Ranking’ by Shira Ovide. Excerpts: Microsoft is killing “stack ranking.” The sometimes loathed employee-review system has been a fixture of Microsoft for years. Lately, critics said the system — under which managers were forced to rank employees along a “bell curve” — has made Microsoft a more cutthroat and political place to work. The critics said the biggest bonuses were doled out to workers who learned to game the system in their favor when employee review time rolled out. ... (From a memo to Microsoft employees from Lisa Brummel, Microsoft’s executive vice president of human resources) Here are the key elements:
    • More emphasis on teamwork and collaboration. We’re getting more specific about how we think about successful performance and are focusing on three elements – not just the work you do on your own, but also how you leverage input and ideas from others, and what you contribute to others’ success – and how they add up to greater business impact.
    • More emphasis on employee growth and development. Through a process called “Connects” we are optimizing for more timely feedback and meaningful discussions to help employees learn in the moment, grow and drive great results. These will be timed based on the rhythm of each part of our business, introducing more flexibility in how and when we discuss performance and development rather than following one timeline for the whole company. Our business cycles have accelerated and our teams operate on different schedules, and the new approach will accommodate that.
    • No more curve. We will continue to invest in a generous rewards budget, but there will no longer be a pre-determined targeted distribution. Managers and leaders will have flexibility to allocate rewards in the manner that best reflects the performance of their teams and individuals, as long as they stay within their compensation budget.
    • No more ratings. This will let us focus on what matters – having a deeper understanding of the impact we’ve made and our opportunities to grow and improve.
  • Bloomberg BusinessWeek: Yahoo's Latest HR Disaster: Ranking Workers on a Curve. By Joshua Brustein. Excerpts: If Marissa Mayer is as good at identifying winning startups as she is at embracing contentious human resources practices, Yahoo! is going to be just fine. Several months after the great work-at-home kerfuffle of 2013, Yahoo employees were up in arms about a new policy that forces managers to rank employees on a bell curve, then fire those at the low end. According to AllThingsD, Marissa Mayer reportedly told Yahoo workers that the rankings weren’t mandatory, but many people disagree. The company hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

    With its embrace of rankings, Yahoo has waded into the “third rail of human resource management.” Forcing managers to rank their employees along a bell curve was popularized in the 1980s (thanks, Jack Welch), but lately it has fallen out of favor. The Institute of Corporate Productivity says the number of companies using either a forced ranking system or some softer facsimile is down significantly from previous years. Companies performing well were less likely to be using forced ranking systems than those that weren’t. Just over 5 percent of high-performing companies used a forced ranking system in 2011, down from almost 20 percent two years earlier.

    Basically, many people have lost faith that ranking employees works, and some research suggests that employee performance doesn’t follow a bell curve at all. Instead, most people are slightly worse than average (PDF), with a few superstars. And while a bit of pressure can motivate people, constantly pitting employees against one another is terrible for morale. In a company that is going through layoffs, this gets worse over time (PDF), wrote several MIT professors in a study of forced rankings in 2006. “As the company shrinks, the rigid distribution of the bell-curve forces managers to label a high performer as a mediocre. A high performer, unmotivated by such artificial demotion, behaves like a mediocre.”

  • Wall Street Journal MarketWatch: Duly noted: PBGC maximum insurance benefit increases. By Robert Powell. Excerpts: The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation announced this week that the yearly maximum guaranteed benefit for a 65-year-old retiree has increased to almost $59,320 from about $57,500.

    Most retirees who get their pension from PBGC, almost 85% according to a 2006 study, receive the full amount of their promised benefit, according to a release. In some cases, retirees can receive more than the PBGC maximum guarantee. (For more information, read this entry from the blog, Retirement Matters, “Making Sense of the Maximum Insurance Benefit.”)

  • The Huffington Post: 8 Reasons Why Employees Never Want To Leave This Amazing Company. By Ann Brenoff. Excerpts: For years now, SAS, the Cary, North Carolina-based tech company, has made pretty much every list of best places in the universe to work. So it got us thinking, what's really so great about this place? We would take it as a given that SAS -- the world's leading business analytics software vendor -- offers a nice paycheck and first-class medical, dental, and vision care for the whole family, but surely there must be some other reasons they consistently wind up as the company with the lowest turnover rate in the tech sector (and voted best place to work in IT by ComputerWorld.) Sure enough, we found them: The not-your-every-day-variety of benefits (we don't just mean free Gatorade) that make a difference. Here are some of our favorite perks they offer because, as we know, it's the little things that count...

    Can you count to 37.5? That's the maximum number of hours SAS wants you to work in a week. SAS is big on work-life balance and puts its money where its time clock is. It is staffed to a level so that people aren't routinely working late or long. Sure things come up and you might have to work on the occasional weekend, but just adjust your schedule and keep it to 37.5. Flex time rules. ...

    You can get all your errands done under the same roof. There is an on-site hair salon, nail salon, shoe repair, jewelry repair, dry cleaning drop off/pick up and a tailor for clothing alterations. There is also seasonal tax preparation and a non-fee ATM. There is a free on-site health clinic and an on-site pharmacy. Free flu shots too. And you can get your personal packages shipped, so no trips to the post office are necessary. You can actually do your grocery shopping too. Each week, a farmers market truck brings fresh produce, eggs, meats and flowers to the work campus. ...

    Everyone gets a private office. We're not talking cube farm here, either. These are real offices with doors that can be shut. All of SAS' 13,700 employees are encouraged to be creative and make their work space fun. A SAS senior communication specialist has turned her office into a shrine to Elvis with a velvet Elvis painting and a life-size standup of the King.

  • Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert. This week's headlines:
    • Richard Fiesta is Named Alliance’s Next Executive Director
    • Seniors Remember JFK on 50th Anniversary of his Assassination
    • Sen. Elizabeth Warren Makes the Case for Expanding Social Security
    • Update on Budget Negotiations: Talks Center on Sequestration
    • Social Security Administration Releases Facts and Figures for 2014
    • 130 House Members Send Letter to Obama Regarding Trans-Pacific Partnership
    • AFL-CIO Showcases New Video Link, “Stronger Together”
  • Smirking Chimp: A Gathering Movement Tries to Expand Social Security Instead of Cutting It. By Joshua Holland. Excerpts: In our nation’s capitol, calls for cutting Social Security benefits and shifting the ever-rising costs of health care from Medicare onto the backs of American seniors are ubiquitous. But context matters, and these ideas are nothing short of perverse given the depths of the massively painful retirement crisis that working America faces today.

    Social Security was never designed to provide real retirement security. It was conceived as one leg of a three-legged stool, supplementing pensions and personal savings. But traditional pensions are becoming a thing of the past, replaced by 401(K) plans — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the share of private sector workers responsible for their own retirement savings increased nearly four-fold between 1980 and 2008. And while Americans socked away almost ten percent of their incomes back in 1970, decades of stagnant middle-class wages has made saving up for retirement much harder – by 2010, we were only saving around four percent of what we made. ...

    This is the backdrop for calls to cut benefits, which averaged just $14,760 last year. But a coalition of progressive groups are now coalescing around a proposal by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) to increase Social Security payments by an average of $70 per month.

    Finally, Harkin’s plan would make an already solvent program more so, by scrapping the cap on earnings subject to payroll taxes. A study conducted in January by the National Academy of Social Insurance found that this was the most popular of 12 options for shoring up America’s last remaining defined-benefit pension system.

  • AARP Health Care Costs Calculator. Excerpt: Have you saved enough? Health care costs are an increasingly large, and often unplanned, expense in retirement. Use the Health Care Costs Calculator to estimate your health care expenses in retirement and the costs associated with different health issues, and to explore how much you can save by improving your health.
  • The Channel (United Kingdom): Microsoft bags another glamorous Office 365 customer. Poundland coughs for 1,200 seats, bins IBM Notes. By Paul Kunert. Excerpts: Microsoft knows how to score those big cloud rollouts with customers that are positively dripping in glamour - Poundland is migrating to Office 365. Europe's self-proclaimed biggest "single price discount retailer" chose heavily Microsoft-accredited channel partner Core Technology Systems (CTS) to deploy the cloudy wares. ...

    He said Poundland was using IBM Notes but shifted wholesale from on-premise to the cloud. "30 per cent of my business is currently migrating people off IBM Notes. "We tend to find most users can't stand it [IBM Notes]… people don't like the functionality and administrative resources are few and far between," said Carnie.

  • Information Week: Are You Too Old For IT? Ageism might be a taboo topic among employers, but veteran IT pros say it's very much an industry reality. By Kevin Casey. Excerpt: Ageism in IT isn't a new story, but it typically doesn't travel beyond the confines of Silicon Valley and its youthful startup culture. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, told the audience at a 2007 Y Combinator Startup School event: "I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter." Zuckerberg's now a wizened 28-year-old, which also happens to be the average age of Facebook employees, according to a recent study. The average age of Google's workforce is 29.
News and Comments Concerning ExtendHealth (New Medical Plan for Medicare-Eligible IBM Retirees)
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  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "HRA disappointment" by Nancy Ginn. Full excerpt: I am the widow if an IBMer who retired in 2000 after 30+ years. He passed away in 2002. He was not healthy when he retired so he made sure that I would receive the full benefits when he was gone. I have now been sent to EH for my insurance. I was just informed my HRA amount is only going to be $1,189. EH could not explain why the amount was so low, but said they had other widows and widowers asking the same questions. She referred me to the IBM benefits.

    At first I was told that EH would have to explain it to me, etc, etc. Finally this very nice person explained that yes, as long as I was getting my health care through IBM they were contributing $3500 per month towards my insurance. However, when they moved me to HR, because my husband was no longer living that amount got cut in half. Had my husband still been alive and he had selected survivor benefits for me at the time of the transfer to EH, and then passed away, I would have retained the full benefit amount. I told her that did not make sense, he had already done that when he retired and now he is deceased and they are moving me and there is no way he could "check" any form today. He retired believing that I would always have full benefits. She said she understood, but that is the way IBM handled the widows and widowers in this transition.

    I ask if there was anything or anyone I could speak to because it seems so unfair that IBM could just take away 1/2 of my health benefit when my husband had designated differently and they had been paying differently. She said that is how IBM decided to handle the transition to the EH Insurance and there is nothing that could be done about it. I am still in shock as I type this. So end result is that IBM kept half of the $3500 and gave the other half to EH. EH then takes a portion out of the $1700 leaving me with $1,189 to purchase my medical, dental, prescription drug and vision insurance. Basically I just lost $2,311 annually.

    This seems so unfair if not illegal. I could understand if they gave EH the $3500, then EH take their portion. At least this would leave me a couple thousand, but to cut it in half as they send it to EH is unbelievable!

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA disappointment" by "nkp766". Full excerpt: Nancy, you were given a lot of bad information from EH and maybe IBM Benefits (it's not clear to me from your note who told you what). Shows you how badly trained these people are.

    Since your husband retired after 1992, IBM was contributing up to $3000 (not $3500) per year (not month) towards your medical. We don't know exactly how much since we never saw that money but know it did not exceed $3000/year.

    Here's what I think is happening. IBM is treating your situation as if your husband had chosen the IBM Survivor Coverage option. That means you, as a surviving spouse, will get an HRA amount of $1187 (not $1189) towards your medical starting in 2014 and every year after. So the amount they told you is correct within $2.

    Strangely, it could be a lot worse. If IBM had treated your situation as if your husband had NOT chosen the IBM Survivor Coverage option, you would be getting nothing ($0) towards your medical starting in 2014 and every year after. Dave H.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA disappointment" by "chz_whiz". Full excerpt: Some subtle, but important, clarification. The (self-insured) IBM contribution for Nancy and her husband was not limited to $3000. Since he was in poor health, the IBM contribution was probably more than $3000. The $3000 limit was a cap on IBM’s average contribution per retiree. (Think $3000/$3500 times retirees for total funding), it was not a cap on payments to individuals.

    With the HRA, the average of $3000/$3500 is provided to each eligible retiree. If the retiree chooses surviving spouse coverage, the annual funding is actuarially reduced to $2374/$2600 since it covers two lifetimes (2nd to die). As being one person, the surviving spouse’s coverage is half of $2374/$2600, or $1187/$1300.

    Like I said, subtle, but important clarifications. Note that, even with all the hand waving, at no time did Dr. Rhee’s hands leave the ends of his arms in his presentation.

    Nancy’s husband’s survivor benefits depended on his Plan in effect when he retired (2000). Could someone post the benefit documentation for that time? Was surviving spouse medical benefit 1-year, 2-year, lifetime?

    Nancy: Sorry about the loss of your husband, and hope we can help you through this benefit change.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA disappointment" by "samthe1dog". Full excerpt: Hi Nancy, I am also a widow and have had a similar experience with the same topic. I have a "ticket" through EH asking for review of my situation, and it has been 6 weeks (I was told a response in 4-6 weeks).

    Netbenefits refused to put in a request for clarification of his retirement date, saying that their records show he was on disability through 2006 (his year of death) which was the date they were using; and the older records going back to 1990 are no longer available. My husband OFFICIALLY retired in 1990 (the gold watch, luncheon and all).

    I always wondered why the pension I received from IBM was so much smaller than my husband said I would receive. I now think they did the same thing with that and used the 2006 date.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA disappointment" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: Did your husband start collecting his pension in 1990, or did you only start receiving a pension after his death?

    If you did not start receiving a pension until after his death, then I believe what IBM is telling you is correct. From IBM's point of view, he was out on long term disability until his death, at which point you became eligible for 50% of his vested pension under what is called the Pre-Retirement Survivor Protection provision.

    If he started receiving a pension before his death, then he was indeed officially retired, But how much you receive after his death depends on the Joint and Survivor option he selected. The default would be 50% of his full pension. He could have chosen a greater or lesser percentage at the time he retired. Choosing a greater value would have reduced the amount of his pension while he was still living, while a lesser value would have increased it. The J&S option is basically a choice of giving up a part of your pension in exchange for an insurance policy that allows payments to continue after the death of the retiree.

    But all this would have had no effect on what IBM is telling you your medical benefits will be in 2014. My personal opinion is that the reduced amount is wrong from an ethical point of view but, unfortunately, there are few legal protections for retirement medical benefits and IBM can pretty much do what they want.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA disappointment" by "hankharty". Full excerpt: "I always wondered why the pension I received from IBM was so much smaller than my husband said I would receive." I am sorry for your situation and the fact the no one at IBM will take the time or make the effort to explain pensions and retiree medical to you.

    If an employee dies before retirement, the spouse receives the default 50% survivors pension benefit. Generally that is true, but as usual, there are special situations. Maybe this is what happened in your case.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA disappointment" by Nancy Ginn. Full excerpt: He started receiving his pension in 2000. He passed away in 2002. He was not on disability he simply retired. He drew a lessor amount when he retired so it would not be reduced when he passed away. The person I spoke with at NetBenefits told me that IBM had been contributing $3000 towards my insurance through this year, but it was dropping because I was being shifted to EH.

    I am so confused as to what is actually fact. EH told me there was nothing they could do. They simply were following the instructions of IBM. This is why I called NetBenefits. At first the person at NetBenefits was not very helpful but I kept asking questions. When I asked "what had IBM been contributing to my health benefits" she began looking up information and then told me I had been receiving $3000. I told her I thought this was so unfair and was there anything I could do and she said no.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA disappointment" by Kathi Cooper. Full excerpt: Here what I suggest you do, starting tomorrow.

    Call the New York Times. Ask for Mary Williams Walsh. Tell her you are an IBM widow and Kathi Cooper of Cooper v. IBM, a pension case she worked for a few years, referred you to her. If she needs a reminder, tell her to look up the articles she wrote about IBM and Kathi Cooper. Refer her to 12/15/2002 ' It might be time to plumb your pension's depths', which is one of many of her articles.

    Do your own legwork to find her.

    Tell her you want your story published because of what IBM has done to widows. If she can't, ask her who she might recommend to look into your heartbreaking story. If she is gone, ask for the business editor in charge of retiree medical for widows that have been discarded.

    Don't give up. Be direct. Kathi Cooper

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA disappointment" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: Nancy - Just for future reference, here is some information that might be useful.

    There are documents that describe the IBM pension plan and the medical plans. There is a high level overview of each of these called the Summary Plan Description (that's the legal name). Then there are the detailed versions which are the official Plan Documents.

    While the SPD and Plan Documents should agree with each other, in cases where they do not, the Plan Documents are the ones that count.

    The Plan Administrator is the source for official answers to questions. The Plan Administrator is not a single person, but a committee. They only way to deal with them is by writing a letter. Information you get on the phone, or from other people may or may not be correct. If it is incorrect, the courts have said "too bad... official answers only come from the Plan Administrator."

    The Plan Administrator for IBM's plans can be written to at:

    Office of the Plan Administrator
    IBM Employee Services Center
    PO Box 770003
    Cincinnati , OH 45277-1060

    If you want copies of the Summary Plan Descriptions, you can download copies from Netbenefits, at http://netbenefits.com.

    These files have "About Your Benefits" in the title and a document number of the form USHRxxx.

    There are also copies of many of them in the Files section of this group. But it may be a bit confusing to find the right ones, since there are different versions for the various pension and medical plans that people are in.

    Based on your husband's retirement date, I'll guess that USHR113 and USHR112 are the ones that you want.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA disappointment" by "rmeggy". Full excerpt: This was the response I got when I wrote a letter to the Program Administrator requesting the Plan document.
    Dear Mr. Meggyesy:

    This responds to your letter dated November 2, 2013 regarding your request for a copy of the formal plan document for the new retiree Health Reimbursement Account (HRA).

    The new HRA goes into effect on January 1, 2014 and it has no legal effect now. Please note that ERISA does not require the existence of a written plan document prior to the HRA's effective date and the Labor Department regulations make it clear that we are not obligated to distribute a copy of the document until then. The company is working on the document you have requested and as previously indicated, we will be glad to provide you with the document once it has been prepared in final form.

    Please note the enrollment deadline is December 31, 2013. In the meantime, if you have any specific questions about the new HRA, I encourage you to address your questions to retiree@us.ibm.com.

    Kyu Rhee, MD, MPP, Vice President Integrated Health Services

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA disappointment" by Harris Berman. Full excerpt: I posted about a month ago that the HRA Plan documents would not be forthcoming until after Jan, 2014. Additionally, the reimbursement policies for different medical expenses are still not quantified per the IBM constraints. The fact that the IRS allows for a myriad of expenses to be reimbursed from an HRA does not define the IBM policies. So, we're all making choices about survivor coverage, assumptions of reimbursement policies without the HRA SPD or the HRA Plan documents available.

    Several people challenged my viewpoint on all of this stating that they were "satisfied" with Dr. Rhee's response and that he had electronically signed the e-mails asserting the rules changes, etc. and therefore his word was fact. Unfortunately, the choices that we have had to make are limited by time and must be completed by Dec 31, 2013. What if the assumptions were wrong? You would still have your medical/drug coverage, but perhaps no HRA reimbursement because some specific condition has not been met.

    The inconsistent information (rules, policies, directions) being disseminated by IBM, EH, etc. just boggles the mind. The lowest common denominator will win out I'm certain. Now we just have to wait for the pension shoe to drop soon. YMMV.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA disappointment" by "netmouser". Full excerpt: You are right in that IBM can differ from what the IRS allows. With respect to money left at end of year in the account, the IRS permits rolling that over to the new year, as most companies do per the EH FAQ, but IBM chooses to keep funds left at year end that are not used.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "EH appointment experience" by "redrock_5432". Full excerpt: I had my EH appointment/call today. Overall it was a poor experience.

    Some summary points: My wait was less than 5 minutes.

    On the phone came the The Licensed Benefit Adviser. She was basically reading off a script and when I asked questions she looked up the answer. The answers were very basic. I asked detailed questions but never got good answers, always just general ones and sometimes not answering the question I asked.

    When I tried to interrupt one of her long 'reads' she asked that I not interrupt and let her finish the answer even though it was not the answer to my question. I asked to speak to another person, I was transferred to application processing and then transferred again back to another agent.

    The scheduling of your call is not to a specific person but the scheduling keeps their queue relatively even and full. This was their explanation. This is a good thing, I think.

    I was only planning on buying the Walmart Humana drug plan unless some of the answers changed my mind. It never got that far before I gave up. I ended up purchasing the drug plan purely online and adding to my social security deductions.

    I called back once more to insure that purchasing online was sufficient to 'unlock' the HRA and the agent said it was, although he was confused about reimbursement of Medicare Part B premiums, he thought they were not reimbursable but the IRS docs indicate they are. I think the IRS docs are correct and they are available at irs.gov

    My strategy is basically to have catastrophic coverage and if anyone is interested I will post my thinking and purchases for Austin, Texas with a non-Medicare spouse.

    This board/forum is an outstanding resource for preparing for the IBM to EH transition, with folks posting there experiences with EH and IBM, emails from/to IBM and those who are being very aggressive in dealing with issues. I Really Appreciate everyone's postings and comments. My thanks to the moderator(s) for the time and effort they continue to contribute to make this board an excellent resource of information.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "EH appointment experience" by " hankharty". Full excerpt: Roger, Thank you for writing the Plan Administrator and posting the response that you received. I have several problems with Dr Rhee's response.
    1. Dr Rhee did not sign the response as the 'Plan Administrator.' Since it was in response to your letter and you have a copy of that letter, it may be legally binding, but I don't know the legal fine details.
    2. Dr Rhee states "Please note the enrollment deadline is December 31, 2013." Really? Is that the deadline that they have been telling everyone?
    3. Dr Rhee also states "The new HRA goes into effect on January 1, 2014 and it has no legal effect now. Please note that ERISA does not require the existence of a written plan document prior to the HRA's effective date and the Labor Department regulations make it clear that we are not obligated to distribute a copy of the document until then." I would find that unacceptable and find it hard to believe that you have to make irrevocable decisions based on specifics in Plan Documents that will not be available until AFTER the deadline date.

    You have to make a once-in-a-lifetime irrevocable decision on survivor's benefits without the benefit of Plan Documents. You have no way to judge how committed IBM is to making future contributions to HRA. It is unreasonable to force you to make the survivor's benefit decision with no right to change after you receive the Plan Documents.

    You have to make an irrevocable decision for health benefits next year without the benefit of Plan Documents. You have insufficient information to make an informed decision without the benefit of the Plan Documents. It is unreasonable to force you to make the health benefits decisions with no right to change after you receive the Plan Documents.

    You may want to write the Plan Administrator (not Dr Rhee) again stating that you find the response to your previous letter is unsatisfactory. You may want to reserve the right to change or modify any decisions you are forced to make by the unreasonable deadline until you have received a copy of the Plan Documents and have had a reasonable time to thoroughly review them, e.g., 30 days.

    You also may want to state that requiring you to make irrevocable decisions without the Plan Documents cannot be found to be logical under any reasonable standard, and unless you receive reasonable accommodation, you may have to pursue this issue with the DOL under laws a regulations of ERISA.

    Dr Rhee only mentioned the HRA Plan Document. Is that the only plan document you requested? I assume there are other plan documents covering retiree medical benefits. I would think having copies of all of them would be beneficial. If you only asked for the HRA Plan Documents, somebody else will need to request the other documents since by law, you can only make one request per year, but they are required to provide a complete response to that one request.

    Good luck.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Survivor coverage option for HRA coverage" by "bb45oman". Full excerpt: Just wondering if anyone has spoken to or received any written confirmation from IBM that indicates some sort of formal commitment from IBM that the reduced HRA survivor coverage will continue as a yearly benefit beyond 2014 since we are paying a significant cost in reduced HRA coverage in choosing the survivor option?
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Healthcare and other benefit promises" by Mitch Weiser. Full excerpt: I do not have the original "About Your Company" booklet that IBM provided to me prior to my joining the company in 1967. Of course, since then just about every benefit promised then has been modified, reduced or eliminated. My question has to do with the healthcare benefits but could apply to any and/or all benefits.

    Does anyone remember IBM promoting it's benefits package as inducement to join the company? I seem to remember it that way. My point is did IBM create a sort of contract with each employee that these "benefits for life" would always be there if they came on board as an employee. If that is so, isn't that contract still valid? Maybe some of you more legal minded folks have an opinion?

New on the Alliance@IBM Site

Job Cut Reports

  • Comment 11/18/13: I will echo -IBM_in_rearview_mirror- comment. After many years, I found it difficult to fathom how off-kilter the place had become, complete with the bullying management and vicious layoffs just to artificially inflate EPS. All the while IBM's self-protective exec inner circle continued to enrich themselves even as growth stalled and cust-sat tanked.

    Finally decided to go find something else since I realized I couldn't stand the place anymore. It took a few months but I eventually found my opportunity and jumped on it. Crafting that two-week notice was a blast! Even better, I landed in a place where they actually appreciate their workforce and treat them like real human beings, not despised widget-resources. We have employee appreciation picnics and get raises! It is a much better world out there so advice: "it's easier to find one while you still have one." But once you do, jump as fast as you can from that sinking blue ship. -I-left-in-2012-also-

  • Comment 11/19/13: After 7 long horrible years in IBM S&D I am finally moving to a new company next month. Pay is great so is the role. IBM really does not deserve good talent. Leaders managers are all powerless creatures who survive by playing games and most are useless anyway. They are just adding to the fat. Good riddance. Hope things are brighter on the other side. -longgone-
  • Comment 11/19/13: OK, I'm done. I had to do the calculation as to whether it was better to stay and wait for a package, or leave on my own terms and take a job I really wanted while being in a better position to negotiate. I decided the latter. What really swung it for me is that my skills were always depreciating while at IBM. The rest of the industry is not impressed with IBMers anymore. I came to the conclusion it's better to get out while I'm still worth something. The IBM ship is huge and has a lot of momentum, it's going to take a while to fully sink, sadly it's going to take a lot of people with it. For me, I couldn't handle anymore years re-arranging the deck chairs while I waited for my fate. IBMers, even if you're not sure you want to leave, you owe to yourself to take a look at what's going on in the rest of the industry. I was amazed at what's available - IBM is not typical. -Done-
  • Comment 11/19/13: So, let's see .... Disney Corporation, State of Texas, State of Indiana, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, National Football League, Hilton Hotels Corporation, ServiceMaster Corporation .... And now you can add Bridgestone Americas to the list of unhappy former IBM customers. Somebody once told me: "If you take care of the customers that walk through your door, you'll never have to spend a dime on advertising", but I guess Ginni doesn't believe that. Her philosophy seems to be: "Screw your customers and employees for everything they're worth, so I can cash in my stock options and skedaddle before this house of cards comes crashing down." -Nurse Mildred "Ginni" Ratched-
  • Comment 11/21/13: Does anyone know if Campbell's Soup fired IBM yet. I left in 1Q13 and IBM was almost thrown out the door by them. I worked on a few others on that list of disgruntled customers. Very glad I left on my own. -Rich-
  • Comment 11/22/13: I read about the CIA loss, and the fun tax problem in India and thought I'd post. I left voluntarily in January of this year. I really do miss parts of IBM. They did many things right, with tons of smart and hard-working people, even up into the first line of management. But the squeeze for ever more productivity and cost reduction was too much for me. My new employer has a lot wrong with it, and they have a LOT to learn about being a reliable vendor, but I have taken 2 vacations this year, and at about 5:30pm every weekday I take a train home and forget about work. I am not sorry that I left, and I encourage everyone in the US at IBM... not to blindly leave, but definitely to keep your eye on external options. In the end, if IBM has to contend with a tighter labor market for top notch knowledge workers, it will be better for the employees and for IBM too. -J_C-
  • Comment 11/23/13: Sanford Linda S who is Senior Vice President at International Business Machines Corp., sold 32,295 shares at $185.09 per share for a total value of $5,977,429. The shares recently traded at $184.13, down $0.96, or 0.52% since the insider sale. To all IBMers in your face. This is typical of an IBM executive. This is why IBM needs a Union -ANA-
  • Comment 11/24/13: @PigStain Linda Sanford is probably preparing to bail. She's 60, traditional IBM exec exit age. Why stick around as one of the architect's of the 2015 roadmap disaster? From her IBM bio. "She is responsible for executing organizational change to enable growth, productivity and innovation and achieve the goals of the IBM 2015 Roadmap." -Anon-

IBM Retiree Issues

News and Opinion Concerning Health Savings Accounts, Medical Costs and Health Care Reform
Minimize
  • The Guardian (United Kingdom): A single-payer system, like Medicare, is the cure for America's ailing healthcare. Obamacare's reforms are a welcome but small step. To give all Americans healthcare as a right, we need a fair, efficient solution. By Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Excerpts: I start my approach to healthcare from two very basic premises. First, healthcare must be recognized as a right, not a privilege. Every man, woman and child in our country should be able to access the healthcare they need regardless of their income. Second, we must create a national healthcare system that provides quality healthcare for all in the most cost-effective way possible.

    Tragically, the United States is failing in both areas.

    It is unconscionable that in one of the most advanced nations in the world, there are nearly 50 million people who lack health insurance and millions more who have burdensome co-payments and deductibles. In fact, some 45,000 Americans die each year because they do not get to a doctor when they should. In terms of life expectancy, infant mortality and other health outcomes, the United States lags behind almost every other advanced country.

    Despite this unimpressive record, the US spends almost twice as much per person on healthcare as any other nation. As a result of an incredibly wasteful, bureaucratic, profit-making and complicated system, the US spends 17% of its gross domestic product – approximately $2.7tn annually– on healthcare. While insurance companies, drug companies, private hospitals and medical equipment suppliers make huge profits, Americans spend more and get less for their healthcare dollars. ...

    The only long-term solution to America's healthcare crisis is a single-payer national healthcare program.

    The good news is that, in fact, a large-scale single-payer system already exists in the United States and its enrollees love it. It is called Medicare. Open to all Americans over 65 years of age, the program has been a resounding success since its introduction 48 years ago. Medicare should be expanded to cover all Americans.

    Such a single-payer system would address one of the major deficiencies in the current system: the huge amount of money wasted on billing and administration. Hospitals and independent medical practices routinely employ more billing specialists than doctors – and that's not the end of it. Patients and their families spend an enormous amount of time and effort arguing with insurance companies and bill collectors over what is covered and what they owe. Drug companies and hospitals spend billions advertising their products and services. ...

    Further, a single-payer system will expand employment opportunities and lift a financial weight off of businesses encumbered by employee health expenses. Many Americans remain at their current jobs because of the decent health insurance provided by their employer. Without the worry of losing benefits, those Americans will be free to explore other, more productive opportunities as they desire. For business owners, lifting the burden of employee healthcare expenditures will free them to invest in growing their businesses.

  • The Smirking Chimp: Most of Those Outraged by Obamacare Enjoy Big Taxpayer Subsidies Themselves. By Joshua Holland. Excerpts: Why do conservatives have such a visceral hatred of a market-based expansion of health care coverage once championed by the Heritage Foundation – a scheme that their last presidential candidate called an expression of “the ultimate conservatism”? ...

    It also dovetails perfectly with the overarching mythology that animates today’s conservative movement: the belief that there exists a large group of shiftless people whose lifestyles are subsidized by an increasingly overburdened class of hard-working Americans. It’s the ‘makers versus takers’ narrative that animates the movement – from the lowliest right-wing blogger to Mitt Romney’s claim that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes and refuse to take care of themselves.

    It’s also complete nonsense. The reality is that virtually all Americans are, at various stages in their lives, both “makers” and “takers.”

    Americans subsidize each other all the time, in dozens of ways, and the biggest beneficiaries are not the poor, but the middle class and the wealthy. But as Suzanne Mettler, a professor of government at Cornell University, found in her research, many of those receiving taxpayer subsidies don’t realize it. In fact, according to Mettler’s 2008 study, “94 percent of those who had denied using [government] programs had benefited from at least one; the average respondent had used four.”

    In other words, many of those hardworking “taxpayers” outraged at the idea that they’re now being asked to subsidize health insurance for people with modest incomes themselves enjoy mortgages, health insurance, retirement accounts and other social goods that are being subsidized by other taxpayers, including those at the bottom of the income ladder. ...

    So here’s something to keep in mind when you hear someone grousing about being forced to help pay for health insurance for what they see as “the undeserving poor”: in all likelihood, that person has enjoyed subsidized college tuition or health insurance or home ownership or retirement plans– or any of a dozen other hidden government benefits in our submerged welfare state — and the idea of one group of Americans subsidizing another didn’t seem to be a cause of outrage then.

  • The Huffington Post: Having the Backbone to Set Minimum Standards for Health Insurance. By Robert Reich. Excerpts: Democrats are showing once again they have the backbones of banana slugs.

    The Affordable Care Act was meant to hold insurers to a higher standards. So it stands to reason that some insurers will have to cancel their lousy sub-standard policies.

    But spineless Democrats (including my old boss Bill Clinton) are caving in to the Republican-fueled outrage that the President "misled" Americans into thinking they could keep their old lousy policies -- and are now urging the White House to forget the new standards and let people keep what they had before.

    And some congressional Republicans are all too eager to join them, and allow insurers to offer whatever crap they were offering before -- exposing families to more than $12,700 in out-of-pocket expenses, canceling policies of people who get seriously sick, failing to cover prescription drugs, and so on.

    Can we please get a grip? Whenever industry standards are lifted -- a higher minimum wage, safer workplaces, non-toxic foods and drugs, safer cars -- people no longer have the "freedom" to contract for the sub-standard goods and services.

    But that freedom is usually a mirage because big businesses have most of the power and average people don't have much of a choice. This has been especially the case with health insurance, which is why minimum standards here are essential.

    Yes, the President might have spelled this out a bit more clearly beforehand, explaining that 95 percent of us aren't in the private insurance market to begin with and won't be affected, and that most of the 2 percent who lose their lousy policies and have to take better and more expensive ones will be subsidized.

  • The Fiscal Times: How America’s Health System Stacks Up Against Other Developed Countries. By Bruce Bartlett. Excerpts: One of the core disagreements between congressional Republicans and Democrats on health care reform is their perception of the existing system. By and large, Republicans are satisfied with the current system and represent those who share that view. For them, almost any expansive change without cost cuts is change for the worse; hence their opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Democrats are more inclined to think that the existing health care system is deeply flawed and in need of improvement. They represent those for whom change will largely be for the better.

    One problem with this dichotomy is the lack of context. When people only have experience with the health system that exists now they may not be aware of the possible options for improvement. One way of finding out what improvements may be possible is to look at the experience of similar countries. A new study from the Commonwealth Fund does exactly that. ...

    Average health care spending (insurance plus out of pocket costs) per person was $8,508 in the U.S. in 2011. The next highest spending country was Norway at $5,669—one third less. Other countries pay half of what we pay or less. The comparable figures are $4,522 for Canada, $4,495 in Germany, $4,118 in France, $3,925 in Sweden, $3,800 in Australia, $3,405 in the U.K. and $3,182 in New Zealand.

    In other words, if we had almost any other country’s health system we could give every American $4,000 every year to spend on whatever they feel like. For a family of 4, that would be $16,000 per year. That is a very substantial amount given that the median household income is $51,000. ...

    There are many reasons why Americans pay far more for health care than those in every other country. One is that we pay our doctors more than any other country does. The average primary care physician makes $186,582 in the U.S. versus $159,532 in the U.K., $131,809 in Germany, $125,104 in Canada, $95,585 in France and $92,844 in Australia.

    The gap is even larger among specialists. For example, the average orthopedic surgeon makes $442,450 in the U.S. compared with $324,138 in the U.K., $208,634 in Canada, $202,771 in Germany, $187,609 in Australia and $154,380 in France.

    One would think that with such high incomes, the U.S. would have far more doctors per capita than other countries. In fact, the U.S. is at the bottom of the countries surveyed in this regard with just 2.5 physicians per 1,000 people. Sweden has 3.9, Germany and Switzerland 3.8, Norway 3.7, Australia 3.3, France 3.1, the U.K. 2.8 and New Zealand 2.6.

    In many other ways as well Americans get less for their health care dollar than the citizens of other countries do. It is much harder for them to get same-day or next-day appointments with their doctor and have much greater difficulty getting after-hours care. Consequently, Americans use high-cost emergency rooms more than those in any other country do. ...

    The higher cost of health insurance and health care in the U.S. means that many more Americans suffer from medical cost-related financial problems. In the past year, 37 percent of Americans have reported cost-related medical access problems. No other country reported more than 22 percent of people with such problems.

    Even those with health insurance have problems paying medical expenses; 27 percent reported cost-related access problems, 15 percent said they had difficulty paying medical bills, and 42 percent spent more than $1,000 out of pocket for medical expenses.

  • New York Times editorial: The Shame of American Health Care. Even as Americans struggle with the changes required by health care reform, an international survey released last week by the Commonwealth Fund, a research organization, shows why change is so necessary.

    The report found that by virtually all measures of cost, access to care and ease of dealing with insurance problems, Americans fared poorly compared with people in other advanced countries. The survey covered 20,000 adults in the United States and 10 other industrial nations — Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain, all of which put in place universal or near-universal health coverage decades ago. The United States spends far more than any of these countries on a per capita basis and as a percent of the national economy.

    For that, it gets meager results. Some 37 percent of American adults went without recommended care, did not see a doctor when sick or failed to fill prescriptions in the past year because of costs, compared with 4 percent in Britain and 6 percent in Sweden. Nearly a quarter of American adults could not pay medical bills or had serious problems paying them compared with less than 13 percent in France and 7 percent or less in five other countries. Even Americans who were insured for the entire year were more likely than adults abroad to forgo care because of costs, an indication of how skimpy some insurance policies are.

    When Americans got sick, they had to wait longer than people in most of the other countries to get help. Fewer than half were able to get same-day or next-day appointments with a doctor or nurse; one in four had to wait six days or longer. (Only Canada fared worse on both counts.) But Americans got quicker access to specialists than adults in all but two other countries.

  • Washington Post: Health-care Web site’s lead contractor employs executives from troubled IT company. By Jerry Markon and Alice Crites. Excerpts: The lead contractor on the dysfunctional Web site for the Affordable Care Act is filled with executives from a company that mishandled at least 20 other government IT projects, including a flawed effort to automate retirement benefits for millions of federal workers, documents and interviews show.

    CGI Federal, the main Web site developer, entered the U.S. government market a decade ago when its parent company purchased American Management Systems, a Fairfax County contractor that was coming off a series of troubled projects. CGI moved into AMS’s custom-made building off Interstate 66, changed the sign outside and kept the core of employees, who now populate the upper ranks of CGI Federal.

    They include CGI Federal’s current and past presidents, the company’s chief technology officer, its vice president for federal health care and its health IT leader, according to company and other records. More than 100 former AMS employees are now senior executives or consultants working for CGI in the Washington area.

  • Washington Post opinion: How we got Obamacare to work. By Jay Inslee, Steve Beshear and Dannel P. Malloy. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, is governor of Washington. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, is governor of Kentucky. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, is governor of Connecticut. Excerpts: In our states — Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut — the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” is working. Tens of thousands of our residents have enrolled in affordable health-care coverage. Many of them could not get insurance before the law was enacted.

    People keep asking us why our states have been successful. Here’s a hint: It’s not about our Web sites. ...

    The Affordable Care Act has been successful in our states because our political and community leaders grasped the importance of expanding health-care coverage and have avoided the temptation to use health-care reform as a political football.

    In Washington, the legislature authorized Medicaid expansion with overwhelmingly bipartisan votes in the House and Senate this summer because legislators understood that it could help create more than 10,000 jobs, save more than $300 million for the state in the first 18 months, and, most important, provide several hundred thousand uninsured Washingtonians with health coverage.

    In Kentucky, two independent studies showed that the Bluegrass State couldn’t afford not to expand Medicaid. Expansion offered huge savings in the state budget and is expected to create 17,000 jobs. ...

    In our states, elected leaders have decided to put people, not politics, first. ...

    What we all agree with completely, though, is the president’s insistence that our country cannot go back to the dark days before health-care reform, when people were regularly dropped from coverage, and those with “bare bones” plans ended up in medical bankruptcy when serious illness struck, many times because their insurance didn’t cover much of anything. ...

    These sorts of stories could be happening in every state if politicians would quit rooting for failure and directly undermining implementation of the Affordable Care Act — and, instead, put their constituents first. Health reform is working for the people of Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut because elected leaders on both sides of the aisle came together to do what is right for their residents.

  • Hartford Courant: Insurer Cuts Medicare Plan Doctors — Patients Left In Lurch. By Miranda Rosenberg. Excerpts: While most Americans have been focusing on the recent problems surrounding the rollout of the new healthcare.gov website, another health insurance story has been largely overlooked. Last month, just as Medicare's open enrollment period was set to begin, UnitedHealthcare dropped thousands of physicians nation-wide, including thousands in Connecticut, from its Medicare Advantage programs without an explanation.

    Who are these physicians and why were they dismissed from United's Medicare Advantage plans en masse without being dropped from any of United's commercial programs? Company executives remain notably tight-lipped despite public inquiries from physicians, newspapers and lawmakers. Connecticut's five-member congressional delegation and attorney general have become involved. Based on the information available, it is clear that the company's end goal is to unload its sickest, costliest patients.

    Typically insurance companies entice patients to join by including large networks of highly regarded providers. United's doctor drop, however, accomplished almost the exact opposite, wiping out entire services in some areas and removing the most talented physicians from the network.

    Many of the physicians in question carry United's premium designation, the company's official recognition of excellence in "quality of care and cost efficiency." In Florida, United dropped an estimated 45 percent of its Medicare Advantage provider network, including the nationally renowned Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. United also dropped the only nephrologists in Connecticut's greater New Britain area as well as the entire Yale Medical Group, which represents more than 1,000 physicians on the faculty of the Yale School of Medicine. It is not only specialists that United is targeting — more than a third of the 2,250 physicians dropped in Connecticut are primary care providers. ...

    When Medicare Advantage programs debuted, they tended to attract younger, healthier patients. Now that those patients are getting older and sicker, the cost of their care is increasing, pushing United to look for a way to remove them selectively from their coverage programs. ...

    Ultimately, what United has done is enact a back door plan to unload the sickest, costliest patients and put the financial burden back onto traditional Medicare and other health insurance companies.

  • The Smirking Chimp: The Affordable Care Act: An Oxymoron. By Randy James. Excerpts: Where to start? The pundits spout out reams of rhetoric on this subject daily. We must not forget, that this bill was written by the insurance companies, with the ultimate goal of enhancing their bottom lines. It is NOT about making health care more affordable, this is disingenuous Orwellian terminology, meant to bolster an enterprise that already represents a sixth of the entire economy. The bill’s failures will be attributed to a meddlesome government, not to the insurance companies and the providers, with us already paying double per capita, as per what most other rich nations pay for healthcare. ...

    So, why are we hoodwinked? Because deception works, even inadvertently. Medicare was hated by the AMA at its inception in 1965, but, it serendipitously turned out to be the biggest moneymaker for them ever, the biggest boondoggle. ...

    You will still hear how we have “the greatest medicine in the world,” when the care is actually rated 37th, alongside Cuba, and our life expectancy is 72nd in the world. It is the source of 60% of all bankruptcies, 140 people/day die in this country because they couldn‘t afford the remedy that would save them. What’s so “great” about all that? ...

    What do “We, the people,” want? 2/3rds of us want socialized, single payer medicine, which would be cheaper, and an equal number wants higher taxes on the corporations and the wealthy to help pay for it. That’s what the ACA and the people who run this country want to thwart.

  • New York Times opinion: The G.O.P.’s Health Care Playbook. By David Firestone. Excerpts: The last thing Republicans want right now is to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

    They may claim it is destroying the country, but they need it, and desperately, to rebuild their party. They even have a detailed playbook to exploit it, outlining how and when to stage attacks against Democrats who support it in order to inflict maximum damage in the months before the 2014 midterm elections.

    As Jonathan Weisman and Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported in this morning’s Times, House Republicans have been organizing their strategy behind closed doors for the last month. They began by capitalizing on the gifts given them by the White House in the form of the malfunctioning health care website and President Obama’s false promise that no one need lose an insurance policy. Then they moved on to claims that personal data is insecure on the insurance exchanges. ...

    In 2010, long before the health reform law took effect, 20 percent of people on employer-based insurance expressed dissatisfaction with their plans, as did a third of people on the individual market. They complained about high deductibles and constrained networks of doctors and hospitals, just as many of them will under the new system. And they complained about cancelled policies.

    Republicans never cared about those concerns before the Affordable Care Act came around, and they don’t really care now, even though they’re doing a great job of feigning outrage. They’re simply using these grievances, magnified by anecdotal media coverage, to batter Democrats who are still standing up for the president’s program. ...

    But the most attention, as always, will be paid to the shrillest critics. Just remember, as their attacks pick up in volume in the months to come, that they were prepared long in advance, as cheap as canned laughter.

News and Opinion Concerning the "War on the Middle Class"
Minimize "It is a restatement of laissez-faire-let things take their natural course without government interference. If people manage to become prosperous, good. If they starve, or have no place to live, or no money to pay medical bills, they have only themselves to blame; it is not the responsibility of society. We mustn't make people dependent on government- it is bad for them, the argument goes. Better hunger than dependency, better sickness than dependency."

"But dependency on government has never been bad for the rich. The pretense of the laissez-faire people is that only the poor are dependent on government, while the rich take care of themselves. This argument manages to ignore all of modern history, which shows a consistent record of laissez-faire for the poor, but enormous government intervention for the rich." From Economic Justice: The American Class System, from the book Declarations of Independence by Howard Zinn.

  • New York Times opinion: Billionaires’ Row and Welfare Lines. By Charles M. Blow. Excerpts: A report last week in The New York Times says that developers are turning 57th Street in Manhattan into “Billionaires’ Row,” with apartments selling for north of $90 million each.

    And there’s no shortage of billionaires. Forbes’s list of the world’s billionaires has added more than 200 names since 2012 and is now at 1,426. The United States once again leads the list, with 442 billionaires.

    It’s a great time to be a rich person in America. The rich are raking it in during this recovery. ...

    Median household income continues to fall, according to recent data from the Census Bureau. The data showed, “In 2012, real median household income was 8.3 percent lower than in 2007, the year before the most recent recession.”

    And according to an April Pew Research Center report, “During the first two years of the nation’s economic recovery, the mean net worth of households in the upper 7 percent of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28 percent, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93 percent dropped by 4 percent.” ...

    There is an inherent tension — and obscenity — in the wildly divergent fortunes of the rich and the poor in this country, especially among our children. The growing imbalance of both wealth and opportunity cannot be sustained. Something has to give.

  • Huffington Post: Meet Your Taxpayer-Subsidized Farm Bill Billionaires! By Jason Linkins. Excerpts: When most people think about farm subsidies, chances are they do not immediately think "massive taxpayer money boondoggle that should be cut from the federal budget immediately." They've probably heard about how hard it is out there for small family farmers, doing honest work in the world, keeping everyone fed and maintaining our institutional repository of agricultural practices. Surely, these subsidies are helping to keep an important way of life alive for the True Sons of Soil and Toil ... like, say, multi-billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

    Wait. What? He's a farmer?

    Ha ha, yes. As it turns out, your taxpayer dollars "subsidize" the "farming" that's being done by a host of mega-rich superstars from the Forbes 400 list, none of whom you'd immediately associate with the sort of hardscrabble agri-artisan who's in need of a leg up from the federal government. But their numbers are legion. According to the Environmental Working Group, "at least 50 billionaires or farm businesses in which they had a financial interest benefited from $11.3 million in traditional farm subsidies between 1995 and 2012." And the farm bill currently being considered contains changes that will likely increase the subsidies these billionaires take away.

    It would also affect several members of Congress. As we reported back in June, there's a $237,921 kitty of farm subsidies currently going to fifteen lawmakers or their spouses. That includes people like Reps. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) and Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), who are apparently budding ironists in the world of government handouts:

    Reps. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) and Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) both cited the Bible last week to argue that while individual Christians have a responsibility to feed the poor, the federal government does not.

    "We're all here on this committee making decisions about other people's money," Fincher said.

    LaMalfa said that while it's nice for politicians to boast about how they've helped their constituents, "That's all someone else's money."

    Yet both men's farms have received millions in federal assistance, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit that advocates for more conservation and fewer subsidies. LaMalfa's family rice farm has received more than $5 million in commodity subsidies since 1995, according to the group's analysis of data from the U.S. Agriculture Department, while Fincher's farm has received more than $3 million since then.

    Last year alone, Fincher's farm received $70,574 and LaMalfa's got $188,570.

  • The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia): JPMorgan allegedly paid $80,000 a month to Wen Jiabao's daughter. By David Barboza. Excerpts: To promote its standing in China, JPMorgan Chase turned to a seemingly obscure consulting firm run by a 32-year-old executive named Lily Chang.

    Ms Chang’s firm, which received a $US75,000 ($80,000)-a-month contract from JPMorgan, appeared to have only two employees. And on the surface, Ms Chang lacked the influence and public name recognition needed to unlock business for the bank.

    But what was known to JPMorgan executives in Hong Kong, and some executives at other major companies, was that “Lily Chang” was not her real name. It was an alias for Wen Ruchun, the only daughter of Wen Jiabao, who at the time was China’s prime minister, with oversight of the economy and its financial institutions.

    JPMorgan’s link to Ms Wen — which came during a time when the bank also invested in companies tied to the Wen family — has not been previously reported. Yet a review by The New York Times of confidential documents, Chinese public records and interviews with people briefed on the contract shows that the relationship pointed to a broader strategy for accumulating influence in China: put the relatives of the nation’s ruling elite on the payroll. ...

    For the last two decades, Wall Street banks and multinational corporations operating in China have sought out so-called princelings as employees, consultants or partners in major Chinese business deals. Many banks talk freely about the ability of princelings to open doors and offer insights into government policies and regulations.

    In 2006, JPMorgan established a program, called Sons and Daughters, according to interviews with people in New York and China, to have better control over such hires. But documents that the bank turned over to investigators showed that there were less stringent hiring standards for applicants from prominent Chinese families.

  • The Smirking Chimp: The Super Rich Reinvent US Capitalism. By Shamus Cooke. Excerpts: As U.S. corporate profits soar to record highs, food stamps for the neediest were quietly cut. The politicians who are demanding endless cuts to social programs — Democrats and Republicans alike — insist that the U.S. is broke, all the while conveniently ignoring the mountains of tax-free wealth piling up in the pockets of the super rich.

    This newest flood of cash for the nation’s wealthiest 1% is a blatant government subsidy: the Federal Reserve continues to pump out an extra $75 billion a month, the vast majority of which fattens the already bursting overseas bank accounts of the rich. Since Obama has been president this pro-corporate policy has helped funnel 95 percent of the nation’s new income to the wealth-soaked rich. ...

    When the next crash happens the nation will have learned its lessons: the big banks and wealthy investors who destroyed the economy in 2008 are back at it, encouraged by Obama’s pro-corporate behavior and the Federal Reserve’s money flooding. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that breaking the power of the super wealthy is the first step towards balancing the budget, job growth, protecting the safety net, and creating a semblance of a rational society. Until then the U.S. will lurch from one crisis to another, while blaming everyone but the real culprits.

  • The Smirking Chimp: Rip-off: High Out-of-Pocket Social Costs are a Stealth Tax on the Middle Class and the Poor. By Joshua Holland. Excerpts: Americans’ heavy reliance on the private sector to provide social goods and services doesn’t only result in us paying a lot and getting a lot less for it, compared to other wealthy countries. It also makes the financing of our entire social welfare system far less fair. It’s a great deal for the wealthiest, and a huge rip-off for the rest of us. To understand how, we’ll need some background. ...

    When one includes all taxes paid in this country – federal, state and local taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes, etc. – it turns out that we have more or less a flat tax system, with all but the poorest paying out about the same share of their incomes. That was the conclusion of David Cay Johnston, in 2009, six of these families paid no income taxes on incomes over $200 million each; overall, “the top 400 paid an average income tax rate of 19.9 percent, the same rate paid by a single worker who made $110,000.”

    Mitt and Ann Romney aren’t among the wealthiest 400 families, but they are wealthy enough to employ all manner of tax-avoidance tricks. If the couple hadn’t overpaid their 2011 taxes to get their effective rate over 14 percent for political purposes (an overpayment that they almost surely corrected after the election), their effective federal tax rate, including what they paid on investment income, would have been 12.2 percent, and a rough estimate of their state, local and property taxes suggests that they would have paid less than 15 percent overall.

    The takeaway from all of this is that our unique reliance on the private sector to provide social goods doesn’t only result in us paying the same to get a lot less economic security, it’s also the equivalent of a tax on the middle class and working poor that most people don’t realize they’re paying.

  • The Fiscal Times: Wider Wealth Disparity Between CEOs and Workers. By Jeff Cox. Excerpt: The growing wealth disparity between CEOs and workers finally may be catching up to corporate America. With the Securities and Exchange Commission pushing an ambitious new proposal that would mandate companies to disclose gaps between executive and worker pay, a new study which does just that will only add fuel to the debate.

    CEO pension plans are now worth an average 239 times more than the retirement plans for the employees they supervise, according to data compiled by NerdWallet on the companies with the 10 highest gaps.

  • BuzzFlash: Average Social Security Check Is $1269, But CEOs With Nest Eggs Worth Tens of Millions Want to Slash the Program. By Mark Karlin. Excerpts: According to a just-released Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Center for Effective Government report, "Platinum-Plated Pensions: The Retirement Fortune of CEOs Who Want to Cut Your Social Security":
    • Business Roundtable CEOs’ corporate retirement accounts average $14.5 million—more than 1,200 times as much as the median retirement savings of U.S. workers near retirement age.
    • A retirement fund of $14.5 million, combined with Social Security, would generate a monthly retirement check for these CEOs of $88,576. That’s 68 times what a typical U.S. retiree can expect to receive.
    • Ten Roundtable CEOs (including four who are also Fix the Debt members) have retirement plans valued at more than $50 million.
    • Three of these CEOs have retirement assets of more than $100 million: John Hammergren of McKesson, David Cote of Honeywell, and Mike Duke of Wal-Mart.
    • Duke’s $113.2 million retirement fund is more than 7,500 times as large as his employees’ average 401(k) account balance of $15,000. ...

    As IPS comments on the report, "In the current budget debate, the loudest calls for Social Security cuts are coming from two lobby groups led by CEOs who will never have to worry about their own retirement security." The two groups under scrutiny are The Business Roundtable and a public relations front group called Fix the Debt. ...

    “As Congress heads toward another budget showdown, the loudest calls for cutting Grandma’s benefits are coming from CEOs who will never have to worry about their own retirement security,” said Sarah Anderson, Institute for Policy Studies Global Economy Director.

If you hire good people and treat them well, they will try to do a good job. They will stimulate one another by their vigor and example. They will set a fast pace for themselves. Then if they are well led and occasionally inspired, if they understand what the company is trying to do and know they will share in its sucess, they will contribute in a major way. The customer will get the superior service he is looking for. The result is profit to customers, employees, and to stcckholders. —Thomas J. Watson, Jr., from A Business and Its Beliefs: The Ideas That Helped Build IBM.

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