Southern California Edison layoffs get U.S. Senate attention

Southern California Edison's replacement of IT workers with H-1B workers is getting attention from one U.S. lawmaker who is in a positon to influence immigration law.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala), who heads the Senate's immigration subcommittee and has emerged as a strong critic of the H-1B visa, cited SCE's layoffs in a speech in the Senate on Thursday.

"Apparently, Southern California Edison -- a power company rooted in the United States of America... [and] a quasi-almost-government entity under the regulatory powers of the State [is] terminating the employment of people who have been with them for a number of years," said Sessions.

The utility, Southern California's largest, is cutting about 500 IT workers, 100 of them through voluntary departures and others through layoffs. The layoffs have been happening in phases since August. A group was due to be laid off today, and another group is scheduled to go on March 6. The company says the layoffs will be completed by the end of the March.

SCE "is transitioning those positions to foreign employees who have come in under the H-1B visa program for the sole purpose of taking a job. They are not coming under the immigration policy where they would move from green card into permanent residence and into citizenship. They come solely for a limited period of time to take a job, and they work for less pay too often," said Sessions.

The layoffs began after SCE began transitioning some of its IT work to two India-based IT services firms, Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services.

Sessions, on the floor of the Senate, read parts of Computerworld's story about the workers -- along with some of their quotes -- while adding in his own observations.

Sessions criticized President Barack Obama's support for an increase in the H-1B cap, but some in his own party support an H-1B cap hike.

"What is in the interest of American workers at a time when we are laying off large numbers of workers -- skilled and unskilled?" said Sessions. "Do we really need massive increases in foreign workers? Do we need to pass legislation that would double the number of guest workers that come into the country at this time? I think not."

Here is a partial transcript of Session's remarks from the Congressional Record:

"Here is a dramatic article in Computerworld about the big power company in California--Southern California Edison. What have they done recently? Information technology workers at Southern California Edison are being laid off and replaced by workers from India. Some employees are training their H-1B visa-holding replacements, and many have already lost their jobs. The employees are upset and they say they can't understand how H-1B guest workers can be used to replace them since they are already doing the job now.

"Apparently, Southern California Edison -- a power company rooted in the United States of America -- is converting, laying off, and terminating the employment of people who have been with them for a number of years. Southern California Edison is transitioning those positions to foreign employees who have come in under the H-1B visa program for the sole purpose of taking a job. They are not coming under the immigration policy where they would move from green card into permanent residence and into citizenship. They come solely for a limited period of time to take a job, and they work for less pay too often.

"This is what one person said: 'They are bringing in people with a couple of years' experience to replace us and then we have to train them,' said one long-time IT worker. 'It's demoralizing and in a way I kind of felt betrayed by the company.''

"I bet he did. Continuing to quote from the article:

"SCE, Southern California's largest utility -- which is a quasi-almost-government entity under the regulatory powers of the State -- has confirmed the layoffs and the hiring of Infosys, based in Bangalore, and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) in Mumbai. They are two of the largest users of H-1B visas.

"Apparently, what happens is these companies sign up workers in -- in this case -- India, and they call up the big power company and say: Look, we have all these young people who have an education, and your salaries are real generous to them, they like your salaries, and we will just send them over on H-1B visas. They can stay 3 years and then return to their country and you can get rid of all those American workers. Maybe you will not have to pay such high retirement or health care benefits.

"The article goes on to say: Computerworld interviewed, separately, four affected SCE IT employees. They agreed to talk on the condition that their names not be used. The IT employees at SCE are 'beyond furious,' said a second IT worker. The H-1B program 'was supposed to be for projects and jobs that American workers could not fill,' this worker said. 'But we're doing our job. It's not like they are bringing in these guys for new positions that nobody can fill.'

"It goes on to say: 'Not one of these jobs being filled by India was a job that an Edison employee wasn't already performing,'' he said.

"It goes on to talk about this. Professor Ron Hira, who studied this in great depth and has written about this problem for some time, made some comments on it, too: The SCE outsourcing 'is one more case, in a long line of them, of injustice where American workers are being replaced by H-1B's,' said Ron Hira, a public policy professor at Howard University, and a researcher on offshore outsourcing. Adding to the injustice, American workers are being forced to do 'knowledge transfer,' an ugly euphemism for being forced to train their foreign replacements.'

"He goes on to say: 'Americans should be outraged that most of our politicians have sat idly by while outsourcing firms have hijacked the guest worker programs.''

"So the guest worker program is supposed to help businesses. If they can't get people to work, then they can apply to this program, which has some limits. Yet the President proposes doubling the number of people who can come in with H-1B visas to work. He wants to double that number. He has been demanding that. But Mr. Hira said:

"'The majority of the H-1B program is now being used to replace Americans and to facilitate offshoring of high wage jobs.'

"So this is a pretty thorough article in Computerworld, and it is a growing problem in the high-tech industry."

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