For over 100 years, IBM has been the leader in the advancement of technology, and the removal of its COVID-19 vaccine ultimatum presents IBM with an opportunity to continue its legacy of leadership.
On October 7, 2021, IBM CEO, Arvind Krishna, announced that all U.S. employees must obtain vaccination against the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus and comply with all criteria set forth by IBM to be deemed “fully-vaccinated” to retain employment at IBM. The criteria include the disclosure of personal COVID-19 vaccination status and uploading of “vaccine validation ” (a “vaccination card”) to a third-party service. If U.S. IBM employees do not wish to be administered a COVID-19 vaccine, they must request a religious and/or medical accommodation.
All non-compliant employees – those who do not upload vaccine validation or do not receive an approved accommodation – will be placed on an unpaid leave of absence. This ultimatum was instituted contrary to Arvind’s reassurances on May 5th that IBM was, “not going to mandate vaccinations.” The original deadline for compliance was December 8, 2021; on November 16th, non-compliant US IBMers were informed that the deadline was delayed until “mid-January 2022.”
Our Opposition to the Ultimatum
- In response, hundreds of concerned IBM employees and those in opposition to this ultimatum formed an action committee. I serve as the point of contact. Throughout November, we formally petitioned Arvind and the highest levels of IBM management for a redress of our grievances:
- November 1: We submitted a petition for a redress of grievances, signed by 348 employees, to Arvind. The signers of this petition include program directors, project managers, IBM leads, software engineers, patent attorneys, finance personnel, help desk staff, and a host of other positions that represent nearly every rank and cross-section of the US IBM Family.
- November 3: We were contacted by a senior member of the IBM executive team and spoke with this executive about the intent of the petition. No redress was made.
- November 4: We received a formal rejection of the petition from Arvind.
- November 12: We followed up with questions (to clarify the specifics of the ultimatum and the ensuing unpaid leave of absence) to the same senior member of the IBM executive team. Still no redress was made.
- November 15: A shareholder and member of the action committee digitally submitted the petition – with 548 signatures at the time of submission – to the IBM Board of Directors. Receipt of this email was acknowledged on December 1st. At this time, no meaningful response has been received.
- November 18: The same petition was printed and submitted through mail and was delivered on November 20th. At this time, no response has been received.
- We believe that we are all born with natural, God-given rights, and that foremost among these rights are liberty and personal choice. In accordance with these principles, we — both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees — believe that no one should be coerced into receiving a COVID-19 vaccine or divulging private medical data under the threat of losing his or her job. All citizens who seek to preserve freedom are both honor-bound and duty-bound to oppose such measures using all peaceable means. These principles of liberty and opposition to tyranny are wholly responsible for the exceptional prosperity and blessing the United States, and American companies such as IBM, have experienced over the last three centuries.
- Since its founding in 1911, IBM has been unmatched in its consistent innovation and its advancement of technology throughout the world. One value has driven this unrivaled success: the IBM Family. For more than a century, IBM has dedicated itself to respecting its employees and treating them as family. This principle has produced numerous multi-generational employees as well as others who have devoted a majority or the entirety of their professional careers to IBM. The decision to supersede the loyalty to its employees with obedience to federal contract terms contradicts the family value of IBM, creates a significant dissolution within the IBM Family, and sets a dangerous precedent for future federal administrations.
- Moreover, this ultimatum contradicts the precepts laid forth in the IBM Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) policy. By cataloging employees based on their COVID-19 vaccination status, IBM has segregated employees into categories and discriminates against one category by requiring employees act against their conscience to maintain their employment. This practice not only repudiates the tenets of D&I, but also drives a wedge within the IBM Family.
- As IBMers, we believe that IBM is violating our civil liberties and rights as individuals. By instituting the October 7th COVID-19 vaccine ultimatum, IBM has:
- Disregarded the Natural Rights of its employees to make personal medical decisions, and unethically removed true informed consent of medical treatments by using coercion and duress
- Prioritized federal contracts and revenue over the welfare and liberty of its employees
- Demanded employees disclose personal medical information, such as COVID-19 vaccination status, and justify the rationale for personal medical choices through medical and religious exemptions to maintain employment
- Abdicated its responsibility as one of the largest, most venerable corporations in the United States to: (1) uphold IBM's long-standing Basic Belief of Respect for the Individual and the liberties of its employees above an unjust edict of the United States and (2) oppose Executive Order (EO) 14042
- We understand that IBM was foisted into a difficult situation and had a choice to make: Endanger its federal contracts by challenging EO 14042 or institute an ultimatum requiring employees to perform a medical procedure to maintain employment. Ultimately, IBM made the decision to enact its vaccine ultimatum and is therefore responsible for ownership of the ultimatum and its resulting consequences. To defer blame for the ultimatum to EO 14042, or any other outside influence, abdicates and undermines the leadership entrusted to Arvind, the Board of Directors, and the IBM executive team. As the party responsible for the vaccine ultimatum, we wish for IBM to answer the following questions:
- Conflict of Interests: At the time of writing, only three COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for use in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen. These vaccines are manufactured by Pfizer (PFE), Moderna (MRNA), and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), respectively – all publicly traded companies. Have all parties involved in the decision-making process for the IBM COVID-19 vaccine ultimatum – including IBM executives, members of the IBM Board of Directors, and other senior personnel – disclosed their financial holdings in these three companies? Have these parties disclosed any conflicts of interest, pecuniary or otherwise? In addition, does the IBM Digital Health Pass constitute a conflict of interest with respect to the enactment and support of a vaccine ultimatum?
- Legal Liability: At the time of writing, the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson Janssen COVID-19 vaccines (and some Pfizer-BioNTech vials) have only been approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). Will IBM assume the liability for any IBM employees who receive COVID-19 vaccines approved under EUA to maintain employment if the employees suffer injury or death or are otherwise unable to work due to side-effects from their COVID-19 vaccination?
- Risk Assessment: Currently, U.S. IBM employees are responsible for requesting a religious and/or medical accommodation to forgo receiving a COVID-19 vaccine and maintain employment at IBM. In essence, the burden of proof is on IBMers to justify their decision to maintain their employment with IBM. Because IBM is instituting a medically-based mandate, the burden of proof is on IBM to provide the supporting data to justify the decision to mandate the medical procedure. Has IBM conducted a risk assessment of the COVID-19 vaccines prior to instituting the October 7th ultimatum? If such an assessment was made, who was involved in the assessment process? Has IBM provided the data utilized for this risk assessment to its employees in a good-faith effort to provide informed consent
- Natural Immunity: According to the CDC, there are two types of active immunity against diseases: (1) natural immunity and (2) vaccine-induced immunity. The CDC states, “natural immunity is acquired from exposure to the disease organism through infection with the actual disease.”17 Research demonstrates that those who have acquired immunity to COVID-19 through infection have at least as high of a degree of immunity as those who are vaccinated without previous exposure. Why does IBM not consider natural immunity a suitable alternative to vaccination? Why are those employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, such as with a positive Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, still required to be vaccinated to maintain employment at IBM?
- Stimulus for the Ultimatum: In his October 7th email, Arvind stated that “President Biden recently issued an executive order  mandating COVID-19 vaccines for federal contractors. As a federal contractor, it is a business imperative for IBM to comply with this mandate. In light of this requirement, the policies of many of our clients and partners, and the easy access to vaccines around the country, we will now require all IBM U.S. employees to be fully vaccinated…in order to work at IBM.” Given this rationale, if an injunction is issued for EO 14042 or if EO 14042 is determined to be unlawful, will IBM remove its COVID-19 vaccination mandate?
- Limiting Principle: IBM claims that it has enacted its ultimatum in response to “an executive order  mandating COVID-19 vaccines for federal contractors” and “the policies of many of our clients and partners.” What limiting principles does IBM use to determine the behavior that clients can dictate that IBM enforces on its employees, including the Federal Government through its contracts? Is there a conceivable dictate, whether from a private or government client, which would be considered untenable such that IBM would overtly object to at the detriment of a contract?
Our Petition for a Redress of Grievances
- Remove all COVID-19 vaccine requirements from its current employees
- Remove all COVID-19 vaccine requirements for those applying for employment with IBM
- Remove all requirements that employees disclose and maintain current COVID-19 vaccination status as a requisite for employment
- Abstain from enacting any punitive or otherwise discriminatory measures that target unvaccinated employees, such as, but not limited to, increasing medical insurance premiums or imposing medical insurance surcharges
- Reinstitute all rights and privileges commensurate with employment at IBM for all employees, regardless of vaccination status
- Georgia v. Biden, et al., which grants injunctive relief against EO 14042 nationwide.
- Commonwealth of Kentucky, et al., v. Joseph R. Biden, which grants a preliminary injunction for the EO 14042 (the “federal contractor mandate”) for workers in Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee.
- State of Louisiana, et al. v. Xavier Becerra, et al., which grants a preliminary injunction for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) mandate (the “healthcare workers mandate”).
- BST Holdings, L.L.C.; et al. v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, United States Department of Labor; et al., which stays the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) (the “OSHA mandate”).
- The State of Texas v. Joseph R. Biden, et al., which seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction for EO 14042.
- State of Florida v. Bill Nelson, et al., which seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction for EO 14042.
- US Freedom Flyers v. The United States of America; Joseph R. Biden, Jr; et al., which seeks injunctive relief of EO 14042 on behalf of transportation workers.
- While others follow increasingly unlawful and untenable ultimatums, IBM has the opportunity to lead the industry. For over 100 years, IBM has been the leader in the advancement of technology, and the removal of its COVID-19 vaccine ultimatum presents IBM with an opportunity to continue its legacy of leadership. As IBMers, we are publicly calling on IBM to uphold the rights and guard the personal and medical liberties of its employees. In light of the approaching compliance deadline, we request that IBM answer our questions and redress the grievances contained in this letter without delay. Sincerely,