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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.

Following the shooting, SCE hired an organizational management consulting firm to examine the IT workplace. Consultants interviewed employees and the subsequent report, released in May of 2012, faulted management for an unhealthy culture.

Layoffs began soon after the consultant's report was released. SCE employees interviewed by Computerworld said the total number of job cuts is more than the 500 identified by company. Employee estimates of job cuts over the past two years range from 650 to well past 1,000. In early 2012, before the cuts began, the IT operations consisted of 1,831 employees and 1,500 contractors.

SCE's planning for outsourcing may have begun before the Turner shooting. Was the consultant's report a catalyst that led to a restructuring? That's hard to know, but employees see the Turner shooting as a clear turning point.

The independent consultant's report articulated management problems and gave voice to employee concerns. The very first set of layoffs that occurred affected managers, said IT employees interviewed.

Despite the management criticisms, employees said there were many positive things about SCE. The pay and benefits were good, and there was job security, which was also noted in the consultant's report.

Computerworld, which contacted SCE employees affected by the layoffs, were proud of their professionalism, skills and spoke highly of their co-workers. The consultant's report noted this as well: "They genuinely like their co-workers which is another significant source of workplace satisfaction."

These workers describe a supportive culture. Utility work can be dangerous for those in the field, and IT workers pulled together to help those affected by accidents, or to help a wounded veteran. One longtime employee recalled many instances of employees contributing vacation days and money to other workers.

"The best part of Edison was the closeness," said this worker.

The employees told the consultants, who met with employees as individuals and in groups, that they hoped that their work would make Edison a better place to work, and "initiate significant change."

What happened after the release of the report, however was aggressive cost cutting through layoffs and offshore outsourcing, said employees. For many, hope was replaced by something else.

"They should not bring their people over here on H-1B visas and do work on American soil and take our jobs," said one recently laid-off SCE IT worker. He spoke on the condition that his name not be used.

SCE is one of the largest offshore displacement efforts to gain attention. But how far this particular layoff goes in changing the H-1B debate remains to be seen.

Two lawmakers have spoken out, but others have not. The office of U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), whose district includes SCE's headquarters, has not commented on this layoff.

 

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