It’s legal, but is it right?
After a years-long legal fight, laid-off Disney Corp. employees this month dropped their case against the company’s practice of replacing U.S. workers with foreign nationals.
“We lost because what Disney did is legal. It is acceptable in this nation,” attorney Sara Blackwell said of the H-1B visa program used to lay off Americans.
Disney obtained H-1Bs to import tech workers, mainly from India, to sideline some 250 U.S. employees. As a condition of their severance, the American workers were required to train their foreign replacements. Many had been longtime employees who received awards of excellence for their work, said Blackwell, a lawyer with Protect U.S. Workers, a nonpartisan group that brands the H-1B program an “anti-American business model.”
Disney said its manpower shift was part of a larger IT restructuring, but displaced workers claim it was pure cost cutting. Either way, U.S. courts have granted companies wide latitude in personnel decisions.
H-1B is a disruptor in the skilled-labor sector. Every year, more than 100,000 workers are imported to the U.S. on the visas and allowed to stay for up to six years. The foreign legions continue to swell as universities and non-profits are exempt from nominal H-1B caps.
A related “Optional Practical Training” program has grown 400 percent since the federal government in 2008 increased the length of time foreign students can remain in the U.S. to work.
In April 2017, the Trump administration called out Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Cognizant – so-called “body shops” that provide foreign replacements at U.S. companies ranging from Carnival Corp. to MassMutual Life Insurance.
“You’ve seen high-profile examples where you have career employees at a company who have been working there for 10, 20 years, and then they get laid off and they hire a contracting firm using H-1B workers at much less pay,” a White House statement said. “This is an issue that labor unions have called attention to for a long time.”
In accordance with President Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order last year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it intends to “propose new rules and issue new guidance” on H-1Bs.
But even a modest reform – such as rescinding the Obama-era entitlement for spouses of H-1B holders to enter the U.S. labor force – was delayed by USCIS this year.
It’s all too late for the terminated Disney employees. Other Americans are still waiting … hoping the foreign-worker ax won’t fall on them.