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

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In my previous blog, a former Orlando Walt Disney employee, Keith Barrett shared his story about being fired, as part of a 250 team of tech employees around January, 2015. He described how many of his associates were required to train replacement workers from India who had H-1B visas.

Recall that in my prior blog, I mentioned that a Disney NY and California tech team of 35 were presented with pink slips with the expectation that they would be training their replacements from India with the H-1B visas in May, 2015. But in June, they were advised that these plans had been completely scraped. I suspect that management did this as they became aware of the 6/3/15 NY Times article, as well as other negative media coverage, depicting them in a less than flattering light.

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The 6/3/15 NY Times article as written by Julia Preston, “Pink Slips at Disney. But First, Training Foreign Replacements,” tells the story of the January 2015 laid off workers. Here are some excerpts:.

“The employees who kept the data systems humming in the vast Walt Disney fantasy fief did not suspect trouble when they were suddenly summoned to meetings with their boss.”

“These workers monitored computers in industrial buildings nearby, making sure millions of Walt Disney World ticket sales, store purchases and hotel reservations went through without a hitch. Some were performing so well that they thought they had been called in for bonuses.”

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“Instead, about 250 Disney employees were told in late October that they would be laid off. Many of their jobs were transferred to immigrants on temporary visas for highly skilled technical workers, who were brought in by an outsourcing firm based in India. Over the next three months, some Disney employees were required to train their replacements to do the jobs they had lost.”

“I just couldn’t believe they could fly people in to sit at our desks and take over our jobs exactly,” said one former worker, an American in his 40s who remains unemployed since his last day at Disney on Jan. 30. “It was so humiliating to train somebody else to take over your job. I still can’t grasp it.”

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“Disney executives said that the layoffs were part of a reorganization, and that the company opened more positions than it eliminated.”

“(They) said the reorganization resulting in the layoffs was meant to allow technology operations to focus on producing more innovations. They said that over all, the company had a net gain of 70 tech jobs.”

“Disney has created almost 30,000 new jobs in the U.S. over the past decade,” said Kim Prunty, a Disney spokeswoman, adding that the company expected its contractors to comply with all immigration laws.”

“The tech workers laid off were a tiny fraction of Disney’s “cast members,” as the entertainment conglomerate calls its theme park workers, who number 74,000 in the Orlando area. Employees who lost jobs were allowed a three-month transition with résumé coaching to help them seek other positions in the company, Disney executives said. Of those laid off, 120 took new jobs at Disney, and about 40 retired or left the company before the end of the transition period, while about 90 did not find new Disney jobs, executives said.”

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(Ex- employees version of reality)

“Living in a company town, former Disney workers were reluctant to be identified, saying they feared they could jeopardize their chances of finding new jobs with the few other local tech employers. Several workers agreed to interviews, but only on the condition of anonymity.”

“Disney “made the difficult decision to eliminate certain positions, including yours,” as a result of “the transition of your work to a managed service provider,” said a contract presented to employees on the day the layoffs were announced. It offered a “stay bonus” of 10 percent of severance pay if they remained for 90 days. But the bonus was contingent on “the continued satisfactory performance of your job duties.” For many, that involved training a replacement. Young immigrants from India took the seats at their computer stations.”

“The first 30 days was all capturing what I did,” said the American in his 40s, who worked 10 years at Disney. “The next 30 days, they worked side by side with me, and the last 30 days, they took over my job completely.” To receive his severance bonus, he said, “I had to make sure they were doing my job correctly.”

“In late November, this former employee received his annual performance review, which he provided to The New York Times. His supervisor, who was not aware the man was scheduled for layoff, wrote that because of his superior skills and “outstanding” work, he had saved the company thousands of dollars. The supervisor added that he was looking forward to another highly productive year of having the employee on the team. The employee got his raise.”

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“The former Disney employee who is 57 worked in project management and software development. His résumé lists a top-level skill certification and command of seven operating systems, 15 program languages and more than two dozen other applications and media.”

“I was forced into early retirement,” he said. The timing was “horrible,” he said, because his wife recently had a medical emergency with expensive bills. Shut out of Disney, he is looking for a new job elsewhere.”

“Former employees said many immigrants who arrived were younger technicians with limited data skills who did not speak English fluently and had to be instructed in the basics of the work.”

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“HCL America, a branch of a global company based in Noida, India, won a contract with Disney in 2012. In a statement, the company said details of the agreement were confidential. “As a company, we work very closely with the U.S. Department of Labor and strictly adhere to all visa guidelines and requirements to be complied with,” it said.”

“According to federal guidelines, the visas are intended for foreigners with advanced science or computer skills to fill discrete positions when American workers with those skills cannot be found. Their use, the guidelines say, should not “adversely affect the wages and working conditions” of Americans. Because of legal loopholes, however, in practice, companies do not have to recruit American workers first or guarantee that Americans will not be displaced.”(The legal loophole was revealed by Patrick Thibodeau in his 4/29/15 Computerworld post. According to him, the U.S. Department of Labor has informed some U.S Senators that the larger companies can replace their employees as long as the H-1B new hires are paid an annual salary in excess of $60,000.)

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“Critics say, the visas are being used to bring in immigrants to do the work of Americans for less money, with laid-off American workers having to train their replacements.”

NOTE: On 4/29/15, Patrick Thibodeau of Computerworld exposed how invested Walt Disney has been in in lobbying on behalf of the H-1B visa program, “Fury rises at Disney over use of foreign workers.” Here are some excerpts:

Disney CEO Bob Iger is one of eight co-chairs of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a leading group advocating for an increase in the H-1B visa cap. Last Friday, this partnership was a sponsor of an H-1B briefing at the U.S. Capitol for congressional staffers. The briefing was closed to the press.

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One of the briefing documents handed out at the congressional forum made this claim: “H-1B workers complement – instead of displace – U.S. Workers.” It explains that as employers use foreign workers to fill “more technical and low-level jobs, firms are able to expand” and allow U.S. workers “to assume managerial and leadership positions.”

The document was obtained by Norman Matloff, a computer science professor at the University of California at Davis and a longtime critic of the H-1B program. He posted it on his blog.

Disney says its restructuring wasn’t about displacing workers, but was intended to shift more IT resources to projects involving innovation. That involves hiring many new people to fill new roles. Prior to the reorganization, 28% of Disney’s IT staff were in roles focused on new capabilities; after this reorganization, that figure was 65%, a source at Disney said.