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In a turnabout, Disney ABC TV cancels plans to outsource IT jobs

Patrick Thibodeau | June 16, 2015
Two weeks ago, the Disney ABC Television Group told a team of approximately 30 to 35 application developers that they were being laid off.

Just two weeks ago, the Disney ABC Television Group told a team of approximately 30 to 35 application developers that they were being laid off. Their jobs were being moved to an IT contractor with large offshore operations. Some were told their last day would be at the end of July.

But on Thursday, the Disney ABC TV Media Technology & Strategy development team told the developers that their layoffs were being rescinded. The change was confirmed by a Disney ABC source, although a company spokesman would not comment on the reversal or even confirm it.

Kevin Brockman, the Disney ABC spokesman, said that in the course of making a technology upgrade, "we look at a myriad of options to achieve our goals. We're clearly on an alternative path to achieve our goals that we think is better suited to our business."

The employees were notified of their impending layoffs on May 28. Some had already begun working on the "knowledge transfer" process of training employees of IT services contractor Cognizant Technology Solutions, a U.S.-based firm with major offshore operations.

The reasons behind Disney's change of heart are unclear. One affected Disney ABC IT employee speculated that the decision is linked to the uproar over the outsourcing at another division, Parks and Resorts, which runs the theme parks.

"They (Disney officials), want this to go away -- right now," said the IT employee, who asked not be named.

In April, Computerworld reported how IT workers at Disney Parks and Resorts had to train their replacements, some of whom had recently arrived from India, as a condition of receiving severance. That story generated about 1,600 reader comments, mostly critical of the move by Disney.

On June 3, the New York Times published its own story about Disney workers training foreign replacements. That story generated some 2,800 comments, and helped propel the issue of offshore outsourcing and H-1B use onto a broader national stage.

Last Friday, two days after the Times story was posted, two IT workers at ABC TV said the contract workers were no longer in the office. As of yesterday, they had not yet returned.

A Disney source said there was no connection between recent news stories and the company's IT plans.

The intent of the outsourcing at Disney ABC was to turn over "sustainment," or application development and maintenance work, to the contractors. Employees said that -- as they understood it -- they would shift to more modern and interesting work. But the workers became wary, particularly after learning of the outsourcing at the Parks and Resorts division.

Disney says it had been communicating for months prior to the layoffs that officials were looking at many options and the future direction was not set. The May 28 layoff notices appeared to clear up the uncertainty.


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