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Fury rises at Disney over use of foreign workers

Patrick Thibodeau | April 30, 2015
At the end of October, IT employees at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts were called, one-by-one, into conference rooms to receive notice of their layoffs.

"Some of these folks were literally flown in the day before to take over the exact same job I was doing," said one of the IT workers who lost his job. He trained his replacement and is angry over the fact he had to train someone from India "on site, in our country."

Disney officials promised new job opportunities as a result of the restructuring, and employees marked for termination were encouraged to apply for those positions. But  the workers interviewed said they knew of few co-workers who had landed one of the new jobs.

Employees said the original number of workers laid off back in October was more than several hundred. But the Disney source put that number lower, saying approximately 135 IT workers lost their jobs.

Disney has long used contractors at its IT operations in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at a building called "Team Disney." Workers on visas were likely in use well before the restructuring. But in the period after the October layoff notifications, IT workers said they observed a marked increase in people they believe were new to the U.S.

It's difficult to determine how many H-1B workers, L-1 visa workers or contractor workers generally, were at this Disney site. Only a couple of workers asked the contractors where they lived or if they were on a visa. It was an awkward conversation and generally avoided. But one observation all of the workers recounted was the widespread use of Hindi.

Several of these workers, in interviews, said they didn't want to appear as xenophobic, but couldn't help but to observe, as one did, that "there were times when I didn't hear English spoken" in the hallways. As the layoff date neared, "I really felt like a foreigner in that building," the worker said.

In the Team Disney office, two of the contractors, HCL and Cognizant, had, in total, about 65 Labor Conditional Applications on file in the past year, according to records by for just that site. But there were other contractors working at Disney, as well, and it's unknown whether temporary workers on L-1 visas were used.

Disney Parks and Resort CIO Tilak Mandadi, in a leaked memo shared Nov. 10 to the IT staff, described the planned transition, told about the posting of new roles and explained the goal to deliver new capability. Disney's culture is to refer to employees as cast members.

The CIO wrote in part: "To enable a majority of our team to shift focus to new capabilities, we have executed five new managed services agreements to support testing services and application maintenance. Last week, we began working with both our internal subject matter experts and the suppliers to start transition planning for these agreements. We expect knowledge transfer to start later this month and last through January. Those Cast Members who are involved will be contacted in the next several weeks."


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