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IBM, Manpower Accused Of Employee Poaching

A lawsuit accuses Manpower of recruiting AcctKnowledge temps who were on their way in to work at an IBM office in Tulsa.

While some tech pros maintain that all the good IT jobs have gone overseas, that's apparently not the case for accountants.

The labor market for finance professionals is evidently so tight that some companies have resorted to dot-com era recruiting tactics -- like poaching employees right outside their workplace, according to a lawsuit filed last week.

AcctKnowledge, a temp firm that had been providing finance workers to IBM's Tulsa office for the past three years, has filed a lawsuit against the computer maker and rival temporary HR firm Manpower. The suit alleges that IBM yanked the staffing services contract without proper notice and handed it to Manpower, and it charges the company with using threats and other unseemly tactics to steal AcctKnowledge workers so it could fulfill the deal.

According to the suit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma, IBM "unlawfully terminated its contract with AcctKnowledge" and replaced it with Manpower. Upon receiving the contract, Manpower managers showed up outside the IBM Tulsa office to recruit AcctKnowledge temps who were on their way in to work.

On Oct. 23, "Manpower representatives positioned themselves at the entrances to IBM's building, where they solicited AcctKnowledge's employees and distributed invitations to 'informational sessions,' " the lawsuit states.

"The invitations informed AcctKnowledge employees for the first time that IBM had terminated its relationship with AcctKnowledge. Manpower representatives also told the employees that, if they wanted to keep their positions at IBM, they would need to join Manpower," the suit maintains.

AcctKnowledge charges that the 10-day notice it received from IBM terminating the staffing contract, which had been in effect since mid-2004, was "insufficient under well-known and clearly established industry standards."

The small, Tulsa-based temp firm says the 88 workers it had been providing to IBM represent more than half of its employees. The firm also claims that it went to the trouble of becoming certified as a women-owned business so that IBM could get tax breaks from the relationship.

IBM paid AcctKnowledge rates for workers ranging from $17.40 per hour to $42.60 per hour, with AcctKnowledge assuming all costs for benefits like health insurance, 401(k) plans and paid vacation. "AcctKnowledge has suffered irreparable harm" from IBM's decision to pull the contract and give it to Manpower, the firm claims.

AcctKnowledge is asking the court to reinstate the contract and to block any attempts by Manpower to contact its employees. It's also seeking unspecified damages.

A spokesman for IBM would say only that the company is "consolidating certain work performed at our Tulsa center, but the work will continue to be done in Tulsa." He declined to comment on AcctKnowledge's charges. A spokeswoman for Manpower declined to comment.

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