Southern California Edison layoffs get U.S. Senate attention

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FA Ques­tion: How will for­eign (H-1B) IT work­ers con­trol­ling our crit­i­cal infra­struc­ture main­tain the “secu­ri­ty” of the Smart Grid promised by DHS?

South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edison’s replace­ment of IT work­ers with H-1B work­ers is get­ting atten­tion from one U.S. law­mak­er who is in a posi­ton to influ­ence immi­gra­tion law.

Sen. Jeff Ses­sions (R-Ala.), who heads the Senate’s immi­gra­tion sub­com­mit­tee and has emerged as a strong crit­ic of the H-1B visa, cit­ed SCE’s lay­offs in a speech in the Sen­ate on Thurs­day.

Appar­ent­ly, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son — a pow­er com­pa­ny root­ed in the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca… [and] a qua­si-almost-gov­ern­ment enti­ty under the reg­u­la­to­ry pow­ers of the State [is] ter­mi­nat­ing the employ­ment of peo­ple who have been with them for a num­ber of years,” said Ses­sions.

The util­i­ty, South­ern California’s largest, is cut­ting about 500 IT work­ers, 100 of them through vol­un­tary depar­tures and oth­ers through lay­offs. The lay­offs have been hap­pen­ing in phas­es since August. A group was due to be laid off today, and anoth­er group is sched­uled to go on March 6. The com­pa­ny says the lay­offs will be com­plet­ed by the end of the March.

SCE “is tran­si­tion­ing those posi­tions to for­eign employ­ees who have come in under the H-1B visa pro­gram for the sole pur­pose of tak­ing a job. They are not com­ing under the immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy where they would move from green card into per­ma­nent res­i­dence and into cit­i­zen­ship. They come sole­ly for a lim­it­ed peri­od of time to take a job, and they work for less pay too often,” said Ses­sions.

The lay­offs began after SCE began tran­si­tion­ing some of its IT work to two India-based IT ser­vices firms, Infos­ys and Tata Con­sul­tan­cy Ser­vices.

Ses­sions, on the floor of the Sen­ate, read parts of Computerworld’s sto­ry about the work­ers — along with some of their quotes — while adding in his own obser­va­tions.

Ses­sions crit­i­cized Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s sup­port for an increase in the H-1B cap, but some in his own par­ty sup­port an H-1B cap hike.

What is in the inter­est of Amer­i­can work­ers at a time when we are lay­ing off large num­bers of work­ers — skilled and unskilled?” said Ses­sions. “Do we real­ly need mas­sive increas­es in for­eign work­ers? Do we need to pass leg­is­la­tion that would dou­ble the num­ber of guest work­ers that come into the coun­try at this time? I think not.”

Here is a par­tial tran­script of Session’s remarks from the Con­gres­sion­al Record:

Here is a dra­mat­ic arti­cle in Com­put­er­world about the big pow­er com­pa­ny in California–Southern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son. What have they done recent­ly? Infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy work­ers at South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son are being laid off and replaced by work­ers from India. Some employ­ees are train­ing their H-1B visa-hold­ing replace­ments, and many have already lost their jobs. The employ­ees are upset and they say they can’t under­stand how H-1B guest work­ers can be used to replace them since they are already doing the job now.

Appar­ent­ly, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son — a pow­er com­pa­ny root­ed in the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca — is con­vert­ing, lay­ing off, and ter­mi­nat­ing the employ­ment of peo­ple who have been with them for a num­ber of years. South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son is tran­si­tion­ing those posi­tions to for­eign employ­ees who have come in under the H-1B visa pro­gram for the sole pur­pose of tak­ing a job. They are not com­ing under the immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy where they would move from green card into per­ma­nent res­i­dence and into cit­i­zen­ship. They come sole­ly for a lim­it­ed peri­od of time to take a job, and they work for less pay too often.

This is what one per­son said: ‘They are bring­ing in peo­ple with a cou­ple of years’ expe­ri­ence to replace us and then we have to train them,’ said one long-time IT work­er. ‘It’s demor­al­iz­ing and in a way I kind of felt betrayed by the com­pa­ny.”

I bet he did. Con­tin­u­ing to quote from the arti­cle:

SCE, South­ern California’s largest util­i­ty — which is a qua­si-almost-gov­ern­ment enti­ty under the reg­u­la­to­ry pow­ers of the State — has con­firmed the lay­offs and the hir­ing of Infos­ys, based in Ban­ga­lore, and Tata Con­sul­tan­cy Ser­vices (TCS) in Mum­bai. They are two of the largest users of H-1B visas.

Appar­ent­ly, what hap­pens is these com­pa­nies sign up work­ers in — in this case — India, and they call up the big pow­er com­pa­ny and say: Look, we have all these young peo­ple who have an edu­ca­tion, and your salaries are real gen­er­ous to them, they like your salaries, and we will just send them over on H-1B visas. They can stay 3 years and then return to their coun­try and you can get rid of all those Amer­i­can work­ers. Maybe you will not have to pay such high retire­ment or health care ben­e­fits.

The arti­cle goes on to say: Com­put­er­world inter­viewed, sep­a­rate­ly, four affect­ed SCE IT employ­ees. They agreed to talk on the con­di­tion that their names not be used. The IT employ­ees at SCE are ‘beyond furi­ous,’ said a sec­ond IT work­er. The H-1B pro­gram ‘was sup­posed to be for projects and jobs that Amer­i­can work­ers could not fill,’ this work­er said. ‘But we’re doing our job. It’s not like they are bring­ing in these guys for new posi­tions that nobody can fill.’

It goes on to say: ‘Not one of these jobs being filled by India was a job that an Edi­son employ­ee wasn’t already per­form­ing,” he said.

It goes on to talk about this. Pro­fes­sor Ron Hira, who stud­ied this in great depth and has writ­ten about this prob­lem for some time, made some com­ments on it, too: The SCE out­sourc­ing ‘is one more case, in a long line of them, of injus­tice where Amer­i­can work­ers are being replaced by H-1B’s,’ said Ron Hira, a pub­lic pol­i­cy pro­fes­sor at Howard Uni­ver­si­ty, and a researcher on off­shore out­sourc­ing. Adding to the injus­tice, Amer­i­can work­ers are being forced to do ‘knowl­edge trans­fer,’ an ugly euphemism for being forced to train their for­eign replace­ments.’

He goes on to say: ‘Amer­i­cans should be out­raged that most of our politi­cians have sat idly by while out­sourc­ing firms have hijacked the guest work­er pro­grams.”

So the guest work­er pro­gram is sup­posed to help busi­ness­es. If they can’t get peo­ple to work, then they can apply to this pro­gram, which has some lim­its. Yet the Pres­i­dent pro­pos­es dou­bling the num­ber of peo­ple who can come in with H-1B visas to work. He wants to dou­ble that num­ber. He has been demand­ing that. But Mr. Hira said:

‘The major­i­ty of the H-1B pro­gram is now being used to replace Amer­i­cans and to facil­i­tate off­shoring of high wage jobs.’

So this is a pret­ty thor­ough arti­cle in Com­put­er­world, and it is a grow­ing prob­lem in the high-tech indus­try.”