IBM employees are taking a public stand following a personal pitch to Donald Trump from CEO Ginni Rometty and the company’s initial refusal to rule out participating in the creation of a national Muslim registry.
In November, Rometty wrote Trump directly, congratulating him on his electoral victory and detailing various services the company could sell his administration. The letter was published on an internal IBM blog along with a personal note from Rometty to her enormous global staff. “As IBMers, we believe that innovation improves the human condition. … We support, tolerance, diversity, the development of expertise, and the open exchange of ideas,” she wrote in the context of lending material support to a man who won the election by rejecting all of those values. Employee comments were a mix of support and horror. Now, some of those who were horrified are going public, denouncing Rometty’s letter and asserting “our right to refuse participation in any U.S. government contracts that violate constitutionally protected civil liberties.”
The IBMPetition.org effort has been spearheaded in part by IBM cybersecurity engineer Daniel Hanley, who told The Intercept he started organizing with his coworkers after reading Rometty’s letter. “I was shocked, of course,” Hanley said, “because IBM has purported to espouse diversity and inclusion, and yet here’s Ginni Rometty in an unqualified way reaching out to an admin whose electoral success was based on racist programs.” The petition now has 51 signees, which is a tiny fraction of the company’s enormous global staff, but to date has circulated only privately. The full IBMPetition.org letter can be read below:
We are disappointed that IBM CEO Ginni Rometty’s open letter to President-elect Donald Trump does not affirm IBMers’ core values of diversity, inclusiveness, and ethical business conduct. For our mutual aid and protection, we call on IBM to expand diversity recruitment programs, and we assert our right to refuse participation in any U.S. government contracts that violate constitutionally protected civil liberties. We call on IBM to demonstrate commitment to our Business Conduct Guidelines and to prevent perceived influence peddling through Trump affiliated businesses. Lastly, in the present context of insecurity and unpredictability, we call on IBM to return to our traditions of high worker retention and morale by making retirement plans equitable once again.
Why is this important?
Dear Ginni Rometty:
In response to your open letter to Mr. Trump , we are disappointed that you did not reaffirm the core values which differentiate both IBM as a company and us collectively as IBMers.
While we understand your willingness to engage in constructive dialogue with the president-elect, we believe our shared culture and values remain not only constant, but also central to our transformation underpinned by cloud and cognitive initiatives. As you know, more than 400,000 IBMers around the world work in environments where diversity — including diversity of thought — is the norm. IBM values this because our diversity helps create innovation that enhances every aspect of our business.
Your internal memo to employees, advocating diversity and the open exchange of ideas, echoes IBM President Tom Watson’s Policy Letter #4 . Watson’s letter reaffirmed IBM’s moral leadership by refusing to discriminate on the basis of race, resisting the prevailing attitudes of governors in the southern United States. In this instance, Watson sacrificed short-term business interests in order to be on the right side of history, something IBM takes pride in today.
IBM’s leadership in this domain is more essential than ever. If we cannot boldly and openly affirm our commitment to diversity, then who are we? The right thing to do for IBM workers and our stakeholders — which includes every person on the planet touched by our technology — is to emphasize this in writing to public officials. Yet writing is not enough. We have a moral and business imperative to uphold the pillars of a free society by declining any projects which undermine liberty, such as surveillance tools threatening freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. The kinds of moral decisions you and our senior executives make in the next four years will define our corporate character for our next century. This will be your legacy.
Taking a conservative approach has grave implications. Our own founder’s experience and the rest of history teach us that accommodating those who unleash forces of aggressive nationalism, bigotry, racism, fear, and exclusion inevitably yields devastating outcomes for millions of innocents.
IBMers are members of a global family without borders. Hostile rhetoric towards immigrants, Muslims, Latinos, LGBT people, and others impinge on our core values of tolerance, diversity, and open exchange of ideas that are essential for innovation and our ability to recruit top talent. In this present context of insecurity and unpredictability, we also share deep concerns about recent reductions in benefits programs. This has consequences on the morale, retention, and well-being of long-term IBMers, especially those affected by our company’s transformation.
For our mutual aid and protection, we petition you to do what is right for IBMers, our business, and society, on the basis of equitable treatment and fairness:
(1) Respect our right to refuse participation in any U.S. contracts that violate constitutional and civil liberties.
(2) Expand our diversity recruitment programs specifically targeting women, people of color, and LGBT people with the goal of doubling recruitment of these groups in 2017 and steadily increasing the share of these groups as a proportion of new hiring in subsequent years.
(3) Prohibit perceived influence-peddling of elected officials by restricting IBM and its employees from using any Trump owned or Trump branded properties for business purposes, in accordance with the IBM Business Conduct Guidelines.
(4) Treat established workers with dignity by restoring the 2015 Individual Separation Allowance Plan that provided severance based on years of employment instead of the current one-month severance plan for all employees, regardless of time served.
(5) Make IBM retirement plan contributions equitable by restoring company 401k match contributions to regular pay cycles instead of a one-time, year-end contribution that is contingent on being employed as of December 15 of the calendar year, which is not fair to employees who are laid off before that date.
As IBMers, we strive to be engaged citizens of the world; innovating how we think and work; collaborating across cultures, time zones, and borders; and, in doing so, we make a positive impact locally and globally.
While our differences shape who we are as individual IBMers, our shared corporate culture and values remain central to our success. We petition you to affirm this identity, and we thank you in advance for your leadership and courage in the years ahead.
Your fellow IBMers, past and present
The petition has some similarities to the “Never Again Pledge,” wherein almost 1,700 tech workers across many companies agree to never “participate in the creation of databases of identifying information for the United States government to target individuals based on race, religion, or national origin,” and to “minimize the collection and retention of data that would facilitate ethnic or religious targeting.”
But the IBM petition is perhaps the first of its kind, a rare instance of tech employees directly confronting their management in an industry where organized labor is unheard of. This may have something to do with the influence of former IBM employee Elizabeth Wood, who publicly quit the company shortly after reading Rometty’s letter. Wood, who provided advice and helped with drafts of the IBMPetition.org letter, told The Intercept that she quit because she found Trump’s “entire campaign repulsive,” and Rometty’s “willingness and eagerness to be involved made me think I want no part in this.” Although as an ex-“IBMer” she has not signed the IBM petition, she believes it’s “not too much to ask for a company to say they won’t be complicit in mass deportations,” and fully supports the effort. “I think it’s really weird that a lot of companies wouldn’t be clear about this.”
Update: December 19, 2016
This post has been updated to reflect the fact that IBM has said it will not participate in the creation of a national Muslim registry.