Tech Industry

HP petition irks some employees

Some Hewlett-Packard employees take exception to what they see as an attempt by the company to characterize a pro-merger petition as an example of grassroots sentiment.

Some Hewlett-Packard employees took exception Friday to what they saw as an attempt by the company to characterize a pro-merger petition as an example of grassroots sentiment.

Although HP spokeswoman Rebeca Robboy on Thursday characterized the petition as an example of employee support and said it was being done outside of the company's public relations effort, employees e-mailed CNET News.com on Friday saying they had received the e-mail from an employee in corporate communications.

"Grassroots support for the merger within HP is, at best, lukewarm," wrote one employee who said the only copy of the petition he had seen was attributed to Judy Radlinksy, director of external communications at HP. "All of us understand that the major cost savings to be realized will come as a result of firing 15,000 to 30,000 of the new company's employees."

In some cases, PR people forwarded the e-mail to employees, saying the petition was being circulated at the request of another, higher-ranking corporate communications employee.

"Please see the below request which has come from Judy Radlinsky, the director of external communications for HP," reads a letter forwarded to some employees by Elizabeth Phillips, a worker in HP's media relations department. "She is compiling a massive list of HP employees who support the HP/Compaq merger which will be sent to numerous reporters and publications as proof of the foundation it has."

The originator of the e-mail, Cathy Railton, also works in HP's corporate communications department.

When contacted about this, Robboy said in a statement, "We'd been hearing from a number of employees wishing to publicly express their support for the merger. A member of the communications team, who is not in PR, initiated an e-mail to tap into this grassroots movement."

The petition comes as HP is fighting to win support of its proposed merger with Compaq Computer. Descendents of founders William Hewlett and David Packard, representing 18 percent of HP shareholders, have already come out against the deal. The merger requires the approval of a majority of votes cast in a special meeting of HP shareholders to be held next year. The merger also requires approval from Compaq shareholders, as well as regulatory approval.

As evidence of employee support, HP this week cited an independent but unscientific poll of some employees that found 76 percent are "very supportive" or "somewhat supportive" of the deal. The remaining answered "unknown" or "not supportive at all."

However, several employees sent e-mails Friday to CNET News.com to voice their dissatisfaction with the deal.

"HP employees overwhelmingly do NOT support the merger," e-mailed one employee, who asked not to be named. "This is true of everyone who works around me and is also evident in the internal HP bulletin boards and newsgroups."

Another employee wrote that he felt dissenting voices were being stifled by the company.

"I'd just like to say how frustrated I feel that we inside the company are being bombarded with pro-merger e-mails, discussions, etc., but are not getting equal time from (David W.) Packard or (Walter) Hewlett on this," wrote the worker, who said he had been at the company for 20 years.

HP said it later sent out other e-mails clarifying that the e-mailed petition was not an official request.

"Since we also heard from some employees wondering if this was an official request--which it was not--the employee who started the request sent out a note to stop it, which has also been circulating," Robboy said in a statement.

Robboy also said Thursday that the company would not make use of the petition. However, company representatives said Friday that although HP has no plans to forward the list to reporters, it is contacting some workers who responded to the petition to see if they want to talk to the media.

In a letter to employees made public Friday, HP board member Robert Knowling praised the company's workers for remaining focused despite the media frenzy surrounding the merger.

"I find myself admiring what you have been able to do in light of all the publicity and, much to my dismay, the negative attention aimed at our business," Knowling said in the letter, which was filed Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.