aside H-1B VISAS: WALT DISNEY REPLACED U.S. WORKERS WITH OTHERS FROM INDIA, PART I

airlines seattle rotator-prime-F

Imagine being an employee for an iconic American company, one who for over two decades had your hard work recognized with excellent reviews and accolades by  management. Then one day, you and your coworkers are called into a meeting to be rewarded by being handed the pink slip. Not only has your life been shattered but in some instances, you are then expected to train your replacements who will be paid, much less.

I will be posting via a series of blogs, stories about employers’ usage of the H-1B visas to layoff qualified US workers, so that they can hire individuals from India or from other contractors, at much lower pay scales.

Alaska Airlines 737 departing Sea-Tac 25 July 2005

Recently, I cited an example, which is similar to the above scenario in my blog, delta and southwest in battle over seattle’s market share. I referred to a 5/13/15 Huff Post Business blog as written by Mary Kay Henry based on SEIU Union President, Valerie Long’s  shared recollections which are reflected in the following excerpts:

“In the early morning hours of May 13, 2005, Alaska Airlines ramp workers were escorted off the tarmac at Sea-Tac, to be replaced by contract workers at lower hourly wages.”

“The move eliminated roughly 500 positions, displacing employees, some of whom had been working for the company for more than two decades.”

Sea-Tac Airport
Sea-Tac Airport

(Fast forward to 2015/ 2016), “Alaska is feeling significant pressure from its fierce competition with Delta Airlines for dominance in Seattle and other West Coast markets, as Delta strives to make Seattle its primary West Coast hub.”

“Alaska Airlines has responded by staking a claim on being Seattle’s hometown airline; investing heavily in marketing campaigns to support that image and “defend its position as the carrier of choice in the Pacific Northwest.”

Alaska Airlines is rated #1 for 8 years by JD Power.
Alaska Airlines is rated #1 for 8 years by JD Power.

Valerie Long details how two employees recently stood up at meetings to remind the Seattle community about how loyal Alaska Airlines has been to their employees:

“At the shareholders meeting last week, former Alaska ramp worker Alex Hoopes told the airlines CEO Brad Tilden that “I used to have a middle-class job making $21 an hour working for this company. Today, I do the same work and I’m paid less than half of what I used to be paid. I struggled to make mortgage payments … to pay for groceries.” Hoopes went on to ask, “Can you explain to me how a company that values cost savings above loyalty and hardworking men and women makes Alaska a hometown airline?”

“When I started, the pay was minimum wage and after eight years. I am still making the minimum wage,” said Kasil Kapriel, a Huntleigh USA employee, in testimony before the Port of Portland Board of Commissioners. “Every day, I give all of my effort at work, but there is no path for getting the raises or benefits that we deserve. There is no such thing as a raise or promotion here at my job. I am a single mother and right now it is very tough for me to get by.”

“Alex Hoopes and his co-workers  are still waiting for that answer.”

Disney

Unfortunately, Alaska Airlines is not an isolated case. Today, U.S. companies are resorting to similar tactics, by using the H-1B visas to replace their current workers with those from India at a lower wage scale.

Around January, 2015 Walt Disney fired 250 tech workers. Before they could leave, many were asked to teach the new hires from India with their H-1B visas, how to do the exact same tasks that they had been doing.

A few months later, in a 6/16/15 NY Times article, Julia Preston tells about how Walt Disney had a sudden change of heart with the following details:

“In late May, about 35 technology employees at Disney/ABC Television in New York and Burbank, Calif., received jarring news. Managers told them that they would all be laid off, and that during their final weeks they would have to train immigrants brought in by an outsourcing company to do their jobs.”

Cinderella, Disney's Electrical Parade (with Cinderella Castle in back), Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida USA

“The training began, but after a few days it was suspended with no explanation. In New York, the immigrants suddenly stopped coming to the offices. Then on June 11, managers summoned the Disney employees with different news: Their layoffs had been canceled.”

I suspect that Disney’s management’s reversal of plans was due to Ms. Preston’s earlier 6/3/15 NY times article and other negative press coverage which did not depict them in a flattering light.

In response to this and other similar events, several U.S. representatives have asked the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate. Florida’s U. S. Senator Bill Nelson argues that the H-1B visas were intended to assist employers with finding competent staff when they are faced with labor shortages but not to replace current ones.

But according to a 4/29/15 Computerworld article by Patrick Thibodeau, the U.S. Department of Labor is not keen to take on this case. This is what he writes:

“In response to Southern California Edison’s use of foreign labor, 10 U.S. senators recently asked three federal agencies to investigate H-1B use. But one agency, the U.S. Department of Labor, wrote back last week and told the lawmakers that large H-1B using firms “are not prohibited from displacing U.S. workers” as long as they meet certain conditions, such as paying each H-1B worker at least $60,000 a year.”

DISNEY Christmas-at-Disney-World-christmas-2948074-1024-768

“Kim Berry, president of the Programmer’s Guild, said that “Congress should protect American workers by mandating that positions can only be filled by H-1B workers when no qualified American – at any wage – can be found to fill the position.”

Currently, there are two ex-employees who are going through the process of having their cases set up to quality for class action status in order to pursue a legal claim against Walt Disney.

Keith Barrett
Keith Barrett

The following blog is by Keith Barrett, a former Walt Disney employee who tells his narrative about his years at this iconic U.S. company:

My Disney World by 

Note 6/12/15: The NYT (New York Times) has published a link to this post, so I want to make it clear these are my personal experiences and opinions. I’ve also shared some of my memorable experiences: https://plus.google.com/+KeithBarrett/posts/K2LXXHWKJSM ]

My Position On The Disney Outsourcing Layoffs

“People who know me know I loved sharing my adventures at Disney. I still do. Anyone whose been with me in Disney World has seen this for themselves. Look at the earlier posts in this G+ collection. Ignoring the last 12 months my time at Disney was filled with numerous awesome moments. I made the most out of being there more than anyone I know. I worked there for over 10 years, which is unheard of in the technology field and nearly twice as long as anywhere else I’ve been. For a company that teaches people come first, I never expected to be reading and sharing stories like these. I waited nearly 6 months before saying anything.”

Disney

“Most of the people I know who were let go back in January were the hardest working professionals I’d ever met in my 25+ year career, and they routinely sacrificed personal time and freedoms to help make your experience in the parks what it was. There are things I cannot share that would help you see the dept in that statement. They had good performance reviews and none expected to be told they were being let go 90 days later. Many had their stress compounded by being forced to train their own replacements. Others made efforts to work as contractors, only to discover that door also closed. I don’t believe they deserved to have their loyalty and sacrifice rewarded this way, in the declining years of their life for some. All of this during record company profits. Most of them will not say anything because every area business (contractors, recruiters, lawyers) has a relationship with Disney, or they hope to return there one day despite all this. I had hoped to contract there myself, but they changed the policy. My exit status is officially “retiree”, but that was not planned and was 7 years before we were financially ready to really retire. We were in the middle of dealing with medical challenges when this happened. Even greater savings and better ethics could have been made by cutting the salaries or medical coverage of their executives. [Note I’m being sarcastic]”

Disney

“It would not surprise me if this is simply their new CIO (Tilak Mandadi) committed to reducing costs by xx% in order to comply with a hiring contract or receive a bonus. I have no knowledge this is true or not, but it does occur in executive hiring. He had no prior hospitality experience, and the financial sector is not known for being innovative in technology or valuing employees [I’ve worked in it]. A company would not normally risk their brand by taking key internal infrastructure services directly related to revenue, terminate the people responsible for them, and turn them over to foreigners  unless cost was a priority over stability and staff. That’s not the company I joined. Any skill situation could have been addressed by re-positioning and/or training existing staff. If you view your staff as a liability, it’s more likely a leadership problem.”

“I’m disappointed,, but I have no anger or malice. Honestly I’m more focused on my own family survival. I’m sharing news about it because this experience has taught me the H-1B Visa program needs to change to protect others in the future.”