Former Disney IT workers file discrimination lawsuit over H-1B hires

Posted | Contributed by Jeff

After Disney IT workers were told in October 2014 of the plan to use offshore outsourcing firms, employees said the workplace changed. The number of South Asian workers in Disney technology buildings increased, and some workers had to train H-1B-visa-holding replacements. Approximately 250 IT workers were laid off in January 2015. Now 30 of these employees filed a lawsuit on Monday in U.S. District Court in Orlando, alleging discrimination on the basis of national origin and race.

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Jeff's avatar

This is one of the better articles about the case, because it retains some of the nuance that makes this far less of an Evil Empire story. Disney didn't can people and get a bunch of H-1B's directly, they canned people and hired a services firm that uses H-1B's. Disney doesn't necessarily pay less, and the workers don't necessarily make less, but they don't have the "messy" commitment of having full-time people on the books. This is part of the reason that contract work is so popular in IT, because businesses see people as interchangeable cogs that they only need temporarily (but in practice, it's never temporary). I billed over a hundred bucks an hour for a project a few years ago for wholly unremarkable work because of this scenario.

The article almost goes into the other issue though, that "IT" is really two things. You have the server monkeys and help desk jockeys who keep the lights on, and then you have software people who write, configure and maintain the stuff running on the hardware. The previous group is increasingly in roles that don't require particularly high levels of skills, and you can get into that line of work largely for being "good with computers." The supply/demand curve is very much benefiting the businesses. The latter group is in high demand, and while the contracting mentality is still there, it still benefits the workers. There aren't enough good people out there. So to say that H-1B is screwing "tech workers" is an over-generalization.

Now, the bigger problem is that a ton of the H-1B pool gets allocated to companies like Infosys and TCS, where many of the visa holders act as local proxies to off-shore teams. I don't know why companies continue to hire that arrangement, because it never works. I've had to clean up those messes more than once. If you take away those H-1B's, and look just at those hired along side of other software developers and such, you see a necessary arrangement that costs more than hiring a corn-fed white boy from Indiana, because you have to pay the competitive salary and absorb the cost of sponsoring the visa. That's not a company financial win, but especially in super-competitive markets like Seattle, San Francisco and Austin, you don't always have a lot of choice.

So, again, I don't think the issue is black and white the way the lawsuit makes it sound.

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