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Employees stump for HP merger

Some HP employees, who arguably have the most at stake in merging with Compaq, have taken matters into their own hands to drum up support for the proposal.

    Some Hewlett-Packard employees, who arguably have the most at stake in the proposed merger with Compaq Computer, have taken matters into their own hands to drum up support for the proposal.

    Although anticipation and uncertainty is the norm, a few employees are doing what they can to organize support for the proposed deal. One employee started a petition, seeking to get names of co-workers who would be willing to state publicly their support for a deal. Another sent an e-mail to a reporter after reading an article he felt was negative toward the merger.

    Consternation over the deal has increased in the weeks since board member Walter Hewlett, son of co-founder William Hewlett, came out against the deal. Concern deepened last week, when the David and Lucile Packard Foundation joined Hewlett and David W. Packard, son of co-founder David Packard, in opposing the deal.

    In addition to being important as workers, HP employees will also be important in the vote over the merger, as they collectively represent 2 percent of the company's shareholders.

    HP spokeswoman Rebeca Robboy said the company did not authorize the petition and said it would not make use of the names it received. Still, some who got the petition worried how they might be viewed within the company if they did not add their name to the list.

    Christopher Rowlison, a business development manager for HP's e-inclusion program who backs the deal, said he took to e-mailing reporters in support of the deal after reading the negative publicity the deal has gotten.

    "I see many of the publications (and) my net perception and take away is everyone is against this," Rowlinson said in a telephone interview. "I want to be heard too, because I am in favor of this merger."

    It is unclear how many of HP's employees support the deal. HP has said that its sample polling has showed a majority support the deal.

    However, it's hard to say if the results are conclusive. In polling employees, HP asked, "How would you describe your level of support for the deal?" The possible responses were "very supportive," "somewhat supportive," "not supportive at all" and "unknown." Those who answered "somewhat supportive" were counted among the majority of employees in support of the deal. There was also no "somewhat unsupportive" option.

    see special coverage: Big iron: HP to buy Compaq HP said that a survey of workers this week, chosen from among employees who heard a presentation by CEO Carly Fiorina, found that 76 percent of those surveyed were either "very supportive" or "somewhat supportive."

    That is up from just 55 percent who took a similar poll last month after Walter Hewlett announced his opposition to the deal. About 84 percent were "somewhat supportive" or "very supportive" in a poll taken in September, just after the merger was announced. The wording varied slightly in the earlier surveys.

    The company would not breakdown the results further, showing how many workers were very supportive comapred with those that had more reservations.

    HP also stressed that although the surveying was anonymous and done by a third party, it was not a random survey nor did it represent all workers and was done primarily to guage how effective HP had been in communicating its plans to workers.

    Some other employees have come out against the deal, albeit anonymously, saying it goes against the company's long-term philosophy.

    "Today, the HP Way has been diminished to only one (objective): profit. Employees no longer feel valued, and (they) fear for their jobs," said an 18-year employee in Boise, Idaho, recently. "I personally feel that HP is only catering to Wall Street these days so that the stock price will go up, stockholders will be happy, and they can cash in their options."

    Rowlison said that as part of his job he sees the entire line of HP's products and sees the value of combining with Compaq. He said he can see how people in a single product group might oppose the deal, given a more narrowly focused view of the business.

    But Rowlison said he was initially supportive of the deal and that belief has grown after talking to HP customers.

    Although Rowlison's support has grown, merger backers concede that the opposition from the Hewletts and Packards has taken its toll on employees, throwing a great deal of uncertainty into their daily life.

    "The truth is that the actions of Mr. Hewlett are the reason that uncertainty and concern are more heightened than they should have been," HP said in a statement Thursday, after Walter Hewlett sent a letter to the boards of Compaq and HP urging them to scrap the deal.

    HP has been reaching out extensively to its employees to try to assuage their concerns and build support. On Monday, CEO Carly Fiorina met with workers in Corvalis, Ore. and Vancouver, Wash., to discuss the merger and the latest developments. Such meetings are important, Robboy said.

    "The more employees hear about the merger from management, the more supportive they become," Robboy said.

    Since the deal was announced, HP has had a spot on its Web site where employees could post comments or questions about the deal. Opinion has been mixed, with some critics openly questioning the deal and others offering statements of support.

    Individual shareholders, including employees, could be decisive in a shareholder vote, should the votes of family heirs and institutional investors be roughly split.

    HP faces a proxy battle over the deal and needs to win approval from a majority of votes cast by its shareholders. Compaq shareholders also must approve the deal, though that vote is seen as far less contested.

    Compaq spokesman Arch Currid said his company has not done any polls of its employees, but said the company has received feedback through a forum on its Web site and from face-to-face meetings with employees.

    "Employee sentiment regarding the merger has been very good," Currid said.