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Renewed effort begins to save Calif. university’s IT jobs

Patrick Thibodeau | Feb. 22, 2017
Legislation would bar offshore outsourcing at state universities

At least 10 U.S. lawmakers have written University of California officials about their plan to move IT jobs offshore. It has been called it "ill-advised" and "dangerous," and some have demanded its reversal. But the letters have had no apparent impact, and employees are slated to be laid off Feb. 28.

The next step in the fight is legislation.

California Assembly member Kevin McCarty, (D-Sacramento), introduced a bill (AB 848) Thursday in the state legislature that's backed by university unions. It would require the University of California and California State University to certify that any contracted work "will be performed solely with workers within the United States."

McCarty's legislation may be too late to help the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) IT employees scheduled to lose their jobs this month. But it could stop the loss of other IT jobs across the university system.

The agreement UCSF signed with IT services contractor India-based HCL can be used at other campuses, potentially putting hundreds of other IT jobs at risk.

UCSF is laying off about 50 full-time IT workers, plus contractors, and is eliminating vacant posts. Nearly 100 positions will be affected all together. School servers, which were outsourced to a Dell facility in Washington state, will remain in the U.S. But the systems will be accessed by workers overseas, a university official has said.

McCarty notes in his bill that this action has precedent. In 2012, California approved legislation ((AB 2508)) prohibiting the offshore outsourcing of call centers that administered state public benefits program. It was signed into law by the Gov. Jerry Brown, who is still in office.

McCarty's legislation is backed by unions affiliated with university employees, including the University Professional and Technical Employees, a Communications Workers of America local.

"This bill is important as we put a stop to this nonsense," said Kurt Ho, one of the affected IT employees at UCSF. He said U.S. taxes should be used to create jobs in the U.S., not in other countries.

UCSF has said that its $50 million, five-year contract with HCL will save it $30 million. University officials have blamed cutbacks in state assistance and rising healthcare costs for the decision.

But the university is a publicly supported institution, and the outsourcing move has prompted a backlash from lawmakers.

The complaints have arrived in letters written over the last several months and sent to Janet Napolitano, the UC president. They discuss the appropriateness of a public institution sending jobs overseas, and question the role of H-1B visa workers in this shift.

Originally, Labor Condition Application notices were posted at UCSF, indicating plans to bring in H-1B workers. Computerworld received copies of the notices. But the university said that none of the workers is being replaced by H-1B visa holders. This does not remove the H-1B visa use from the discussion. While HCL is far from the largest user of H-1B visa workers, it is in the top 10.


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