(NECN: Jack Thurston, Essex, Vt.) - IBM is shedding more than 100 jobs at its microchip processing plant in Essex, Vt., according to Gov. Peter Shumlin. The Democrat said leadership at the facility phoned him to let him know about layoff notifications. Shumlin said IBM would not disclose an exact figure, but said he expects the number to be roughly one-third the number let go in the summer of 2013. That would mean approximately 140 losses.
"Layoffs are heartbreaking," Gov. Shumlin told WPTZ-TV. "These layoffs are beyond the forces of decisions we make in Vermont. [IBM is] doing international reductions around the globe, and my job was to try to work together with them to encourage them to have them be as limited as possible, and I know they tried to accomplish that."
Shumlin said he is not aware of what types of jobs inside the facility are affected. Vt. Dept. of Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan told New England Cable News she should have a better idea next month of precisely how many jobs were cut. IBM must let the state know details of its reductions within a day after the job separation takes effect, Noonan explained.
Big Blue shed more than 400 Vermont jobs last summer. The plant once was the state's largest private employer with more than 8,000 workers, but steady reductions over the past decade and a half have NECN sources estimating the current workforce there at under 4,000.
Despite that, IBM said in a statement its total workforce has been steady over the past three years: more than 400,000 people globally. The rest of the statement, from IBM spokesman Doug Shelton, read:
As reported in our recent earnings briefing, IBM continues to rebalance its workforce to meet the changing requirements of its clients, and to pioneer new, high value segments of the IT industry. To that end, IBM is positioning itself to lead in areas such as Cloud, Analytics and Cognitive Computing and investing in these priority areas. For example, already this year we have committed $1 billion to our new Watson unit and $1.2 billion to expand our Cloud footprint around the world. In addition, just this week IBM announced a $1 billion investment in platform-as-a-service Cloud capabilities, as well as investments in areas such as nanotechnology which will bring hundreds of new jobs to New York State. This also creates new job opportunities at IBM. At any given time, IBM has more than 3,000 job openings in these and other growth areas in the US.
"I'm disheartened," state Rep. Linda Myers, R-Essex, told NECN Thursday. "We feel bad about the day."
Myers said she is the mother of an IBM employee, and that her late husband moved to Vermont to take a job with IBM. She added that a friend of hers was laid off Thursday. Myers said she worries about the vitality of her town and the other businesses, such as restaurants and shops, that may feel the pinch of fewer customers. "A little bit further down the road, we're going to have some major concerns as to whether we're actually going to continue to have IBM in Essex," Myers added.
"It's a tough day all around," Vt. Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan said.
Noonan said her department will let displaced workers know about resources available to them and help them find work. Noonan said many of the folks handed pink slips last year found new jobs. "When you go to a new employer, you don't necessarily go in at the same pay rate, but I think many of them were successful in getting re-employed," she said.
"There's a lot of stress," Earl Mungeon, a spokesman for an IBM employee group called Alliance@IBM, told WPTZ-TV. "People are just walking around never knowing when the axe is going to fall."
The Shumlin administration said Vermont's economy is rebounding and the state still has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. But Republicans charge that not enough is being done to grow jobs or better the business climate. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vt., discussed that in a written statement:
This is terrible news for the affected employees, their families and communities. While I am relieved to learn the number of workers affected in this round of layoffs is about one-third of the 419 employees impacted in the last round, the fact of the matter is more than 100 Vermonters are losing their well-paying jobs. The trend of job losses over the last two years is concerning. This month, Plasan Carbon Composites in Bennington also announced triple-digit layoffs. In addition, the impending closure of [the] Vermont Yankee [nuclear power plant in Vernon] means even more high-paying jobs will disappear from our state. I fear we in Montpelier are simply not doing enough to grow our economy, create high-paying jobs, or make it easier to do business within our borders. Today's news is proof we cannot wait another second to turn our full focus to rectifying this economic situation we find ourselves in.
Noonan said the Labor Dept. will hold a resource fair next Friday at the Sheraton in South Burlington from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Noonan said it will provide job seekers guidance in a host of career areas, including where to look for work, how to update resumes, advice for interviews, and help identifying skills so they can better compete for open positions. The event is open to anyone looking for work, not just displaced IBM workers, Noonan noted.