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Disney Is Latest Company to Abuse H-1B Visas; U.S. Workers Forced to Train Foreign Replacements

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It’s a growing problem across the country which has now permeated an American institution, Walt Disney.  In October, the company contacted 250 of its unsuspecting Information Technology (IT) employees and invited them to a meeting.  Many thought they were going to get bonuses.  Instead, they found out that they were losing their jobs to foreign replacement workers from India, who they would be forced to train. The unwelcome announcement was the latest in a string of what workers’ rights advocates consider abuses of the H-1b visa system.

The situation is similar to what workers faced at Southern California Edison and are now facing at Fossil in Texas.  Cutting labor costs by outsourcing American jobs is not a brand new tactic, but specifically utilizing H-1b visas to bring in Indian tech workers, and forcing the outgoing employees to be their personal coaches, is uniquely brazen. 

There are only 85,000 H-1b visas granted per year by government, but Indian IT outsourcing firms such as Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services and HCL America (the company hired by Disney), constitute six of the ten companies receiving them.  Each company received over 1,000 visas.  

The visas are meant to be used by American companies only when positions can not be filled by American workers. Clearly, the laid off Americans could be (and were) interested in having these jobs.

One former worker, an American in his 40s who remains unemployed since his last day at Disney on Jan. 30, described the experience as humiliating:

“I just couldn’t believe they could fly people in to sit at our desks and take over our jobs exactly.  It was so humiliating to train somebody else to take over your job. I still can’t grasp it.”

The worker, who along with many of the laid off workers chose to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation or difficulty finding a job in Orlando given Disney’s presence there, provided a more detailed timeline of training his foreign replacement:

“The first 30 days was all capturing what I did,” said the American in his 40s, who worked 10 years at Disney. “The next 30 days, they worked side by side with me, and the last 30 days, they took over my job completely.” To receive his severance bonus, he said, “I had to make sure they were doing my job correctly.”

Laid off employees were given the opportunity to apply for other Disney Jobs, according to the company.  They were also offered a “stay bonus” of 10 percent of severance pay if they stayed for 90 days.  For many laid off workers, this meant personally training the young Indian worker who would replace them as they sat at their former desk.  

But some workers, again anonymously, argued that their experience did not match Disney’s press releases:

They said only a handful of those laid off were moved directly by Disney to other company jobs. The rest were left to compete for positions through Disney job websites. Despite the company’s figures, few people they knew had been hired, they said, and then often at a lower pay level. No one was offered retraining, they said. One former worker, a 57-year-old man with more than 10 years at Disney, displayed a list of 18 jobs in the company he had applied for. He had not had more than an initial conversation on any one, he said.

What is the end result for Disney? It’s no different than Southern California Edison and Fossil. They save a few bucks on the backs of Americans despite being a highly profitable institution. It’s the new normal for a broken system.

Orlando Weekly writer Erin Sullivan touched on the unpatriotic irony of Disney’s behavior:

Something not in the story but worth pointing out: Walt Disney is one of the sponsor’s of Mayor Teresa Jacobs’ State of the County address, taking place at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, June 5. Restructuring 250 tech workers out of jobs and replacing them with contract workers from other countries – that does say something about the state of our economy.


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