By Joe Guzzardi
July 3, 2015
In a significant, unexpected development, California may soon take the first step vaulting it ahead of the other states to protect American workers from job displacement through offshoring.
As reported in Computer World, the California Assembly passed a bill, AB 853, which would tighten regulations that currently allow state-regulated utilities to replace American employees with H-1B visa holders. AB 853 evolved from the Southern California Edison Company’s firing of about 400 qualified IT workers, and forcing them, at the risk of losing their severance, to train their less experienced foreign-born replacements provided by two Indian-based outsourcing companies. The SCE scandal soon gained national media attention, and prompted demands from many in Congress as well as from grassroots activists for more American job protection.
Yet although there’s been predictable congressional bluster, California Democrat Roger Hernandez has led the way. Hernandez introduced AB 853 that would require a public electric or gas company to use direct employees, not those provided through an intermediary, for work associated with the design, engineering and operations of its nuclear, electrical and gas infrastructure. Hernandez’s bill would also mandate that direct employees including contractors and subcontractors provide the work done on computer and information systems.
The much needed AB 853 puts the spotlight on the questionable practice of allowing offshore personnel to manage California’s critical infrastructure and thereby to gain access to personal data stored on computers. AB 853 questions using offshore resources to manage California’s infrastructure, “a paramount state interest” according to the bill’s language.
Should AB 853 become law—it awaits a final State Senate vote—the bill would make it more difficult for public utilities to hire H-1B visa holders unless they would be directly supervised by the companies.
Assuming AB 853 gets Senate approval, it would still need Governor Jerry Brown’s signature, no sure thing. In New Jersey, for example, lawmakers in 2012 approved legislation, the “Save New Jersey Call Centers Jobs Act,” intended to block call center outsourcing. The Communication Workers of America said that in 2002 it had represented about 3,000 workers, but by 2012, the total had fallen to 725 with most of the jobs lost to H-1B visa holders. But without comment, Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill.
The SCE disgrace has one positive side effect: it’s brought to attention the H-1B’s pervasive abuse. Because of their intensive Capitol Hill lobbying efforts, many think that tech titans like Microsoft, Google and Facebook who allegedly pursue the world’s “best and brightest” are the visas’ biggest users.
But the facts tell a different story. The top ten H-1B visa recipients are, according to Department of Labor data, consulting companies or as Rochester Institute of Technology Professor Ron Hira calls them “offshore outsourcing firms.” For the past decade, Hira’s studied how consulting firms use temporary work visas to help American companies like SCE cut costs. He has found that the so called consultants use visas to supply cheaper workers in the United States, and also to smooth the transfer of U.S. jobs to information-technology centers overseas, strategies attested to by thousands of displaced Americans.
The cumulative totals of H-1 and H-1B visa admissions through fiscal year 2010 is a staggering 3.2 million, and has wielded a devastating impact on American IT workers. Hernandez’s bill would be a welcome first step toward protecting American jobs and helping stunt special interests’ lobbying influence.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]