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So Cal Edison's path to the center of the H-1B debate

Patrick Thibodeau | Feb. 13, 2015
Southern California Edison was known for good pay and benefits before it began laying off IT workers and replacing them with H-1B visa holders.

Southern California Edison was known for good pay and benefits before it began laying off IT workers and replacing them with H-1B visa holders.

Today, Edison (SCE) is the latest Exhibit A in Congress of a company whose IT workers are displaced through the use of the H-1B visa. Lawmakers are taking note.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), in in a recent speech, called the replacement of U.S. workers by H-1B visa workers "a growing problem." U.S. Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) said SCE's move is "deeply disturbing."

The IEEE-USA, which has 200,000 members, sent a letter to lawmakers Wednesday raising its own concerns. "Nobody can claim Americans could not be found to do these jobs Americans were doing these jobs," wrote Jim Jefferies, the president of the IEEE-USA, about the SCE layoffs. The IEEE-USA represents engineers, including those in IT.

"This is the true face of the H-1B temporary visa program," Jefferies said. "There are 500 American citizens in California who will have lost their middle-class jobs by the end of March because of the H-1B program."

SCE said, in a statement, that it is "in full compliance with immigration laws, including H1-B visa requirements." SCE also said that any H-1B visa workers SCE hires "for its own workforce are paid a wage comparable to SCE's domestic workforce, consistent with legal requirements." But there is a distinction here.

The H-1B workers that are replacing SCE employees were brought in as contractors from offshore outsourcing companies Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services. To this, SCE said the contractors "must also comply with all applicable work authorization laws, including work visa requirements. SCE will exercise its contractual right to audit service providers to ensure they are in compliance."

How did SCE get to the point where it was seen as a good place to work to the center of the H-1B battle?

For years, SCE offered its employees stability. "Once you were in the door, you could retire from Edison," said one longtime employee, who trained his visa-holding replacement before leaving.

SCE was frequently listed on Computerworld's Best Places to Work, especially for its training program. But there was something wrong at SCE.

The employees regarded some of SCE's IT managers as autocratic and authoritarian. There were accounts of employees being humiliated in front of their peers and blamed when things went wrong. Favoritism was alleged in some management actions. Employees complained of "country club politics" in the organization. They also believed that there were too many managers.

This all came to light after an IT employee, Andre Turner, shot and killed two IT managers, wounded another and then killed himself on Dec. 16, 2011.


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