The Electrical Worker online
June 2015

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Taking Out the Trash

It's one thing to feel disrespected on the job. It's quite another for a company to tell its employees that they are completely disposable.

That's the situation at Southern California Edison, where the utility giant is laying off American workers to bring in lower-paid employees of two India-based outsourcing firms, Tata and Infosys.

Since last summer, SCE has laid off hundreds of American information technology specialists whose salaries ranged between $80,000 and $160,000, according to records acquired by the Los Angeles Times. The workers from the outsourcing firms earn a top rate of $71,000.

SCE is doing this by exploiting an immigration law regarding H-1B visas, which grant guest worker status to foreign nationals who come to the U.S. to fill so-called specialty occupations — usually in science, technology, math and engineering.

The H-1B program was designed with one thing in mind: To bring in foreign workers to do jobs that Americans could not.

At tech companies like Google and Microsoft, managers say that they are having a hard time finding enough American software engineers, so the corporations have lobbied hard for the expansion of the program to help shore up their workforce.

But that's not the case at SCE. These IT professionals can — and do — perform their jobs admirably. But like a lot of corporations, SCE is taking the low road and casting off their skilled American workforce simply to save cash.

In a February Los Angeles Times article, writer Michael Hiltzik interviewed some of SCE's workers who were laid off. "They told us they could replace one of us with three, four or five Indian personnel and still save money," one former employee told Hiltzik. "They said, 'We can get four Indian guys for cheaper than the price of you.'"

"When you are referred to as a commodity or cost, not even treated as a human being, it's pretty degrading," another worker said.

Not that any of these guest workers appear to be treated any better. In 2013, Tata paid nearly $30 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed by former employees. They accused the company of cheating them out of wages and stealing tax refund checks.

The Brotherhood is taking action. Leaders like Diamond Bar, Calif., Local 47 Business Manager Pat Lavin are asking the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate the abuses. The program is also taking heat from a bipartisan coalition in Congress including Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

"Congress has a responsibility to ensure that the law does not permit employers to abuse our visa programs to undercut domestic wages and workers," Durbin and Sessions said in a joint statement.

So, memo to SCE: In America, we don't throw away people. We throw away bad policies. And the current setup of the H-1B program fits that bill.

I urge the U.S. Department of Labor to take the broken parts of the law and do what any of us would do with something in the kitchen that smells rotten: throw it in the trash.


Also: Chilia: Run, IBEW Members, Run Read Chilia's Column

Edwin D. Hill

Edwin D. Hill
International President