Laid-off American IT workers are being silenced as H-1B debate heats up

by 1389 on February 3, 2016

in 1389 (blog admin), 2016 US Elections, censorship, Donald Trump, immigration, IT profession, outsourcing

Flags of US workers being displaced by H-1b foreign workers
Flags went up in silent protest at the former Northeast Utilities, now Eversource Energy. They were taken down once H-1B workers came on-site and occupied the cubicles.

Computerworld has the story:

By Patrick Thibodeau | Computerworld | Dec 11, 2015 3:45 AM PT

IT workers are challenging the replacement of U.S. employees with foreign visa holders. Lawsuits are on the rise and workers are contacting lawmakers. Disney workers who lost their jobs on Jan. 30, 2015, are especially aggressive.

There’s a reason for this.

The Disney severance package offered to them did not include a non-disparagement clause, making it easier for laid-off workers to speak out. This is in contrast to the severance offered to Northeast Utility workers.

The utility, now known as Eversource Energy and based in Connecticut and Massachusetts, laid off approximately 200 IT employees in 2014 after contracting with two India-based offshore outsourcing firms. The employees contacted local media and lawmakers to pressure the utility to abandon its outsourcing plan.

Some of the utility’s IT employees had to train their foreign replacements. Failure to do so meant loss of severance. But an idea emerged to show workers’ disdain for what was happening: Small American flags were placed in cubicles and along the hallway in silent protest — flags that disappeared as the workers were terminated.

The utility employees left their jobs with a severance package that included this sentence: “Employee agrees that he/she shall make no statements to anyone, spoken or written, that would tend to disparage or discredit the Company or any of the Company’s officers, directors, employees, or agents.”

That clause has kept former Eversource employees from speaking out because of fears the utility will sue them if they say anything about their experience. The IT firms that Eversource uses, Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services, are major users of the H-1B visa.

But staying silent is difficult, especially after Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) co-sponsored legislation in January 2015 that would hike the 65,000 H-1B base cap hike to as high as 195,000. The measure, known as the I-Squared Act, left some of the former utility IT employees incredulous. They were far from alone.

The 200,000-member engineering association, IEEE-USA, said the I-Squared bill would “help destroy” the IT workforce with a flood of lower paid foreign workers.

Eventually, Blumenthal’s staff did learn, confidentially, about the experiences of former Eversource IT workers.

In November, Blumenthal co-sponsored new H-1B legislation by longtime program critics, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), designed to prevent the replacement of U.S. workers by H-1B visa holders.

Nonetheless, Blumenthal remains a co-sponsor of the I-Squared Act, which raised questions among those laid off about his intentions.

“He is still co-sponsoring everything,” one former Connecticut utility worker said about Blumenthal. The worker asked not to be identified because of severance package limitations. “He is totally unbelievable.” Blumenthal was not immediately available for comment.

Leo Perrero, an IT worker at Disney who was laid off after training his foreign replacement, says non-disparagement agreements hinder the debate over the H-1B visa. Without such agreements, “you would have a lot more people speaking out – real human beings with real stories, not just anonymous persons speaking out,” said Perrero.

“Their freedom of speech is being taken away from them with the non-disparagement agreements,” he said.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee wanted to hear, last year, from IT employees who had been displaced by H-1B workers. It also wanted them to testify. It reached out nationally to affected employees, but had to settle for written testimony that was kept anonymous by the committee. The workers were too afraid to speak publicly.

In December, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who is also the chairman of the Immigration subcommittee, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), introduced an H-1B reform bill that includes a prohibition against non-disparagement clauses.

The bill “would prevent employers who seek access to the (H-1B) program from requiring American employees to sign so-called non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements.” The agreements can prevent “American employees from discussing potential misuse of the program publicly.”

Non-disparagement clauses are common in severance agreements. But the Disney severance did not have one, and had no prohibition against any claims or lawsuits, said Sara Blackwell, an attorney representing former Disney IT workers. It is unclear why the company went this route.

Fear of jeopardizing new employment also keeps many displaced IT workers quiet. But lawsuits alleging discrimination and racketeering are being filed on behalf of displaced IT workers.

Brian Buchanan, a former Southern California Edison IT worker, is another who trained his foreign replacements. He is now part of a lawsuit alleging discrimination by Tata Consultancy Services, one of the IT services firms used by Edison. He is also included in a lawsuit challenging the U.S. government’s decision to allow spouses of some H-1B workers to seek employment. That lawsuit argues that the added workers will hurt the job market for U.S. workers.

Buchanan, who has contacted lawmakers about the impact of the H-1B programs, sees “little progress” in the past year. “Americans are going to have to act and they are going to have to act in mass, because we are fighting a huge, unseen force,” said Buchanan.

Buchanan, who has contacted lawmakers about the impact of the H-1B programs, sees “little progress” in the past year. “Americans are going to have to act and they are going to have to act in mass, because we are fighting a huge, unseen force,” said Buchanan.

Eversource was asked about the non-disparagement agreement, and had this response: “These are private arrangements between affected employees and our company that were made more than two years ago during a period of transition and change in support of our merger. We have successfully moved on to form a new organization focused on providing superior service and value to our customers.”

But many IT workers hurt by offshore outsourcing have not been able to move on.

Former employees at Disney, Edison and Eversource tell of financial strains, tapped retirement funds and an inability to find a job, or to find one that pays close to what they once made.

Workers will say, anecdotally, that they know of many former co-workers who are now struggling. The H-1B workers tend to be younger, and the displaced ones, older, they say.

“It’s hard to start over at 50 when no one wants you,” said one former Edison IT worker. That worker is still searching for a job.

Extensive comments and more here…

Where do the candidates stand?

The leading GOP presidential candidate wants a ‘hire Americans first’ rule

Businessman Donald Trump’s plan for the H-1B visa is to make it harder and more expensive for tech companies to replace U.S. workers with foreign help.

Trump’s immigration plan, released Sunday, includes the ideas and thinking of some of the Senate’s strongest H-1B critics. It was immediately endorsed by one senator.

“This is exactly the plan America needs,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala), the chair of the Senate’s Immigration subcommittee, said in a statement Sunday regarding Trump’s overall immigration policy proposal. “Not only would the plan outlined in this paper work, but more quickly than many realize.”

The key things Trump is proposing for the H-1B visa include, first, an increase in the prevailing wage, making it more expensive to use H-1B workers. Many visa holders are paid the lowest prevailing wage level set for entry-level positions. Trump doesn’t spell out his specific action plan, but some have argued for eliminating lower prevailing-wage levels altogether.

“Raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas,” wrote Trump.

Second, Trump wants a requirement that companies hire U.S. workers first. Critics says without this requirement, visa workers can be used to replace U.S. workers. “We need companies to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed,” wrote Trump.

Trump said his proposals will also “improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program.”

Trump’s immigration policy paper is far from dry reading. He calls Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), “Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator,” because of Rubio’s support of the I-Squared bill.

The I-Squared bill would raise the base H-1B visa cap from its current 65,000 to 195,000, a move the IEEE-USA has said will help destroy the U.S. tech workforce. Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, is a principal behind FWD.us, a lobbying group seeking expansion of the H-1B program.

Trump, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, may be closer to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in his criticisms of the H-1B visa than any of his fellow Republicans seeking the presidential nomination. Sanders, an Independent who is seeking the Democrat presidential nomination, says the H-1B program is being used to help ship jobs overseas.

Trump’s H-1B proposal is clearly aligned with the ideas of U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Grassley’s longtime ally, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — not to mention Sessions.

The intellectual roots of Trump’s H-1B views can be found in its links, which includes the testimony and work of two of leading academic critics, Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at Howard University, and Hal Salzman, professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University, who studies the science and engineering workforce.

In previous presidential campaigns, the H-1B visa has been notable mainly by its absence. By making it major part of his immigration platform, Trump is clearly raising the issue’s profile and may force other candidates to engage on it. That alone could lead to a much broader debate about the H-1B visa than ever before.

Donald Trump is the only candidate who is funding his own campaign. Every other candidate is vulnerable to manipulation by wealthy donors who profit from cheap foreign labor.

Mr. Trump’s valiant stand against H-1b and other immigration abuses has forced other politicians to take notice, and in some cases, to adjust their positions:

Cruz’s H-1B reform bill proposes raising wages and ending OPT

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, has morphed from a vocal supporter of the H-1B program to a leading critic of it. He has done so in a new H-1B reform bill designed to raise the cost of hiring temporary visa workers.

This bill, released late Thursday, sets a minimum wage of $110,000 for H-1B workers, who currently can be paid well less than half that amount in some U.S. regions under prevailing wage rules. This base salary will adjust annually for inflation.

The legislative intent is to do more “to prevent employers from using the program to replace hard-working American men and woman with cheaper foreign labor,” said Cruz, in a statement. The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the chair of the Senate immigration subcommittee.

The bill also eliminates the Optional Practical Training Program (OPT), which provides a means to work via a student visa in the U.S. for at least 12 months. It prohibits employment authorization to anyone on student visa or F-1 status (who is no longer engaged in full time study) under the OPT program or a successor program, “without an express Act of Congress authorizing such a program.”

Session called the OPT program “a backdoor method for replacing American workers,” in a statement.

Eliminating OPT puts this bill at odds with the administration of President Barack Obama. Administration officials are now working to finalize regulations to give science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students the ability to work in the U.S. under their student visas from the current 29 months to 36 months.

What makes Cruz’s bill, titled “The American Jobs First Act of 2015,” particularly important is its timing. This proposal by a major candidate seeking his party’s presidential nomination may help raise the visibility of the H-1B issue.

This bill also sets Cruz clearly apart from fellow senator and presidential rival Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Rubio has talked about the need to end “abuses” in the H-1B visa program, but remains a co-sponsor of I-Square bill, which seeks a major visa cap increase.

With this bill, Cruz joins program critics who say the H-1B visa is being used displace U.S. workers. Sessions’ involvement gives the Cruz effort credibility as a serious visa reform proposal.

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1 Gramfan February 3, 2016 at 11:18 pm

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