News that Southern California Edison (SCE) fired 400 American IT workers and replaced them with foreign-born H-1B visa holders is remarkable only in the sense that the media picked up the story. Other high-visibility employers like Disney shamelessly rely on H-1B workers, and in the process overlook many qualified Americans.
Displacing Americans with H-1B overseas workers is a practice that has accelerated since the visa was first created in the early 1990s. Falsely advertised as a temporary source of labor when companies couldn’t find Americans, the H-1B is widely used. Adding to the pain of losing a job, the displaced worker is often required to train his replacement or lose whatever severance he may have due. Such was the case with SCE.
|…but not before you train your replacement.|
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) spoke out against SCE. On his website, Issa called SCE’s action “deeply disturbing” and suggested that “this appears to be an example of precisely what the H-1B visa is not intended to be: a program to simply replace American workers en masse with cheap labor from overseas.”
Before still-employed IT workers get too excited at the prospect that Issa may be a champion of their cause, they should take note that in 2013 Issa introduced the SKILLS Visa Act which would increase the numbers of H-1B visas. Issa’s press release may be just more all-too-familiar political grandstanding.
If employers follow the H-1B guidelines exactly as they are written, hiring foreign-born even if it costs an American his job is legal. The most ardent H-1B advocates like U.S. Re. Zoe Lofgren, whose district includes Silicon Valley, acknowledge that the visa undercuts U.S. workers. For a cumulative look at how 6.5 million H-1B visa admissions through 2010 have cost American high-tech workers about $10 trillion in lost wages, read CAPS contributor Gene Nelson’s analysis here.
Unlike many corporations that rely on H-1B visa employees, SCE can’t claim that U.S. workers aren’t available. Americans were on the job when the foreign-born arrived to replace them! The official SCE public statement should offend every working American: “SCE needs to compete for customers by providing them safe, reliable and affordable electricity with quality service. This can best be achieved by continuing to be mindful of SCE’s responsibility to spend customers’ money prudently.”
But check this out. In Los Angeles, the average computer programmer earns $92,000 annually. However, the chief executives do much, much better. In 2013, SCE President Robert L. Litzinger made $2.4 million, while Senior Vice President Peter Dietrich’s compensation was $2 million, and Linda G. Sullivan, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, $1 million. Three others made $900,000 or more.
If SCE is truly as concerned about spending “customers money prudently,” they might consider cutting their own salaries before firing American workers and importing cheap labor.