September 18, 2015
Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Meg Whitman announced another layoff bombshell that during the next three years will put about 33,000 workers on the unemployment line. The latest cuts reflect a total workforce reduction of at least 10 percent, based on its 300,000 officially stated employment as of October 31, 2014 that included a previous 55,000 staff cut. Yet between 2011 and 2014 Labor Department records show that HP filed 2,668 labor condition applications for additional workers using H1-B visas and 815 labor certifications for green cards.
Whitman blamed the massive layoffs on corporate restructuring, in HP’s case splitting into two publicly traded companies effective November 1. Getting fired is a way of life in Silicon Valley, especially at HP which since 2008 has let tens of thousands go.
HP has plenty of company in corporate job-shredding. In recent months, Southern California Edison, Disney in Florida, Cargill in Minnesota, Harley Davidson in Wisconsin and Connecticut-based Northeast Utilities and Pfizer have done the same, all the while lobbying for Congress to authorize more H-1 B visas to replace Americans. Critics call Silicon Valley’s push for more visas at the same time they’re firing U.S. citizens the “war on the American worker.”
Late this spring, Howard University Professor Ron Hira, who has researched the H-1B visa for years, told a Senate Judiciary Committee that the media and policymakers paint a false picture when they suggest that most employers search high and low for Americans before turning to guest workers. Hira said those claims are “absolutely not true.” Neither the law nor the regulations require corporations to pursue Americans first. As an example, Hira pointed to Deloitte which now hires only H-1B visa holders to service California’s unemployment insurance IT system. Since 2008, more than 1.2 million H-1B visas have been issued with nearly 60 percent of them going to computer-related occupations.
Rutgers University Professor Hal Salzman who along with Hira testified that the current large supply of guest workers into the IT labor market displaces U.S. workers and depresses their wages.
While it’s well known that overseas workers in the U.S. on non-immigrant visas normally work for lower salaries than Americans, Silicon Valley has another equally compelling but less public reason to hire H-1Bs. Overseas workers are indentured servants; their employer dictates the terms of their employment, and routinely prevents them from switching jobs.
Here’s how it works. During the initial years of his visa, three years with an automatic three-year roll over provision, the employee must tow the corporate line no matter how many unfair requests it makes of him or risk that his employer will fire him. Dismissal would result in a revoked visa and deportation.
The U.S. labor movement has long supported an alternative to arbitrary foreign worker expansion: an independent, standing commission to determine whether there are true shortages in particular occupations, and then to recommend whether to import foreign workers and if so, how many. The commission would evaluate whether it’s more logical to import foreign nationals or to pay higher wages to attract more U.S. job applicants.
The historic solution to filling job shortages is to offer higher wages, not search abroad for cheap foreign labor.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]