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HP workers in Idaho oppose merger

A survey commissioned by David Woodley Packard, an opponent of the mega-merger with Compaq Computer, says 63 percent of HP employees in Boise are opposed to the plan.

Hewlett-Packard workers in Idaho are against the pending Compaq Computer mega-merger by more than a two-to-one margin, according to survey results released Monday by polling company Field Research.

The random survey, commissioned by merger opponent David Woodley Packard, son of HP co-founder David Packard, polled 235 HP employees living in Boise, Idaho. The survey builds on an earlier Field Research poll taken last week in Corvallis, Ore., and virtually mirrors the results of that survey.

See special coverage: Big iron: HP to buy Compaq Both areas were selected for their high concentration of HP workers--many of whom work in the highly profitable imaging and printing division. Merger opponents have argued that the company's focus on its printing business could be disrupted by the merger, which, they say, would also expose HP to the rough waters of the PC market.

This latest survey comes as the controversial merger heads toward the finish line, with shareholders scheduled to vote in less than four weeks. Packard, along with dissident HP director Walter Hewlett--also the son of an HP co-founder--and the foundations and trusts associated with the founders' families, have publicly stated they intend to vote their combined 18 percent HP stake against the merger.

In the most recent poll, 63 percent of HP employees in Boise were opposed to the merger, according to Field Research. And of this group, 39 percent were strongly opposed, while 24 percent were somewhat opposed.

HP employees who favored the merger represented 26 percent of survey participants. And only 9 percent of these employees were strongly in favor of the merger. The remaining 17 percent were somewhat in favor of the deal. Eleven percent of employees surveyed had no opinion or comment.

"These results indicate there are pockets of strong opposition, but whether it extends beyond that, I don't know at this time," said E. Deborah Jay, chief executive of Field Research. She added that the polling company expects to conduct another survey, in a different location, possibly as early as next week.

The Idaho results, with a sampling error of plus or minus 6.4 percent, were roughly on par with each of the five categories in the Oregon poll.

HP continued to maintain that the poll results have not been representative of its work force.

"The survey offers zero insight," said Rebeca Robboy, an HP spokeswoman. "It's not representative of HP as a whole, and I question if it represents the views of the Boise site; we have 3,500 people who work in Boise. We also question the objectivity of the surveys, since the views of David Woodley (who commissioned the study) are known."

Representatives for David Woodley Packard declined to immediately comment. But a representative for Walter Hewlett characterized the survey results as showing consistent, widespread dissatisfaction among HP employees over the merger.

In addition to gathering information on employees' sentiment regarding the pending merger, pollsters also again asked HP workers about the issues driving their opinions on the merger, as well as their views on Carly Fiorina, HP's chief executive.

Among the Boise employees who opposed the merger, 30 percent cited a lack of confidence in HP's top management, Fiorina and the board of directors as one of the main reasons for their concern. Also, 38 percent said they were troubled by a combination of factors, including Compaq's profitability, whether the deal would add enough value to HP, and the fact that PCs are a commodity business.

Nearly half of all survey respondents, 46 percent, felt the company was generally heading down the wrong track.

Despite these concerns, more than eight out of 10 HP employees in Boise said they were very or somewhat satisfied with working for HP, though 71 percent said HP was a worse place to work now than when they started.

One Idaho employee, however, said she thought the method of questioning was manipulative.

"I felt that I was being led down a path...it was the strangest survey I have ever been asked to participate in," said the employee, who favors the merger. "I remember two questions in particular and was stricken by the way they were presented to me...One question was, Do you perceive HP to be a worse place to work now? And then (the pollster) paused as though she wanted me to answer that way, and then she asked if it was a better place to work."

On the flip side, HP employees have expressed frustration over the company's own internal polling of employees. Last December, the company noted that its sampling of employee sentiment found 76 percent were "very supportive" or "somewhat supportive."

A number of HP employees who e-mailed CNET News.com expressed skepticism about HP's results--often noting the informal polling they did with their co-workers and internal HP bulletin boards and newsgroups.

The Boise poll received participation from 89 percent of HP employees contacted, a dramatically high participation rate, said Jay.

"We've found that if a person has an opinion on something. They are happy that someone asks," Jay said.