I struck a chord with my recent column on H-1B visa abuse, so I’ll be following later today with an enormous post that tries to explain the underlying issues. But before then here’s something I came across that doesn’t quite fit that theme but was too interesting to let pass unnoticed — how companies like IBM intimidate employees and discourage them from speaking up.

A few years ago there was a class action lawsuit against IBM. Thirty-two thousand server administrators were being forced to work overtime without extra pay. IBM lost the suit and paid a $65 million settlement. That’s just over $2000 per affected employee before the lawyers took their share. Then IBM gave all those workers a 15 percent pay cut with the justification they’d get it back in their overtime pay. Next IBM restricted the workers to 40 hour weeks so there would be no overtime.

VP approval was required each time someone was needed to work overtime. The net result was all the server admins worked exactly 40 hours a week and for 15 percent less pay. I’m told by some of those IBMers involved that they were then put at the top of the layoff list. At the end of their severance pay period after being laid off many were rehired as contractors — for less money and no benefits. At that point they were at 50-60 percent of their original pay.  Eventually most of those jobs were shipped overseas.

One could argue, of course, that nobody was forcing IBM server administrators to stay with a company that would treat them that way, and I think that’s strong argument. But I’m a guy who was fired from every job I ever held and so may not be the right person to judge proper employee or employer behavior.