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IT layoffs at insurance firm are a 'never-ending funeral'

Patrick Thibodeau | June 1, 2016
Workers train replacements as some IT duties shift overseas

The "knowledge transfer" argument was used after Cognizant was hired by EmblemHealth in New York. The company is cutting some 200 IT employees in a plan to outsource their jobs. Emblem refuted the idea that its employees were training their replacements.

"It truly is a knowledge transfer, it's not training," an Emblem spokeswoman told Crain's New York in April.

Employees who have been through "knowledge transfer" said there is no real back-and-forth discussion. "It's like talking to a wall," said a former Cengage Learning IT employee, in an interview last week, who trained her contractor replacements. "They are just recording it," she said. She lost her job after that firm shifted its work to a contractor.

"The whole process is very dehumanizing," said the second IT employee at MassMutual.

In the case of MassMutual, the Web sessions are typically followed with in-person shadowing, where the contractors and client IT employees take turns following each other.

Another reason for the industry to call this knowledge transfer versus replacement training is to try to blunt the criticism over the use of foreign workers.

MassMutual IT employees believe visa workers are on-site at the Springfield, Mass. offices. Some of these workers recently arrived from India, said two employees. The idea that there are visa workers at this site is supported by multiple Labor Condition Application (LCA) filings, which include salaries for visa workers and have been filed for the Springfield workplace, according to the online database maintained by MyVisaJobs.

The original intent of the now 26-year-old H-1B visa program was to make foreign workers available to meet specific skill needs when a U.S. worker wasn't available. But the major users of the visa are offshore outsourcing firms.

IT employees at multiple firms, from different contractors, have voiced complaints similar to those from the MassMutual employees. But the practice is legal, and the Department of Labor has told lawmakers that it has no grounds for enforcement action.

The MassMutual employees are either getting laid off over an 18-month transition, or are being rebadged as Cognizant employees. Any employee rejecting a job with Cognizant is left without severance. Rebadged employees get a one-year contract.

In response to queries about its actions, MassMutual released a statement similar to what it released in April to local media. The firm "continually reviews its operations to ensure we are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible to deliver the greatest value to our policyowners and customers. At times, these decisions impact our staffing levels and when they do, we are committed to a thoughtful and respectful process. While decisions like this are never easy, such activities are necessary to meet the evolving needs of our customers and compete as effectively as possible both today and in the future."

 

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