OPINION: Capitalism shouldnâ€™t mean dehumanizing workers before firing them.
By Sujeet Rajan
NEW YORK: Agreed America is a capitalist nation; entrepreneurs driven by bottom lines, profit key to success, mantra for corporate expansion. But when did that translate to humiliate workers who have contributed to productivity, shred those workersâ€™ self-esteem? To pile immense mental agony on loyal workers before firing them? To threaten those laid-off workers with zero severance benefits if they donâ€™t train a bunch of foreign workers on H-1B visa, to take on their very same jobs?
This is exactly what Walt Disney World did to as many as 250 of their employees. And now itâ€™s become the subject of a lawsuit by two former laid-off employees, Leo Perrero and Dena Moore.
Moore, 50, has stated in interviews that after she was laid off, she applied for more than 150 other jobs at Disney, with no success. Disney refutes those claims. It says 95 of the 250 workers laid-off were given other positions within the company.
Walt Disney World, however, should be ashamed of what they did. Itâ€™s a despicable act to fire existing workers and replace them with H-1B visa workers. Even worse, almost malicious and definitely greedy, to have those existing workers train foreign workers to take on their jobs. To heave the arrow of the bottom line upwards.
The laid-off workers who stayed on for their severance benefits, complied with the companyâ€™s wishes to train the foreign workers, did so only because of their need to support their family, to pay mortgages, loans, bills. No self-respecting worker anywhere in the world would willingly accept to undertake such a spirit-crushing and ethically abhorrent act.
Of course, itâ€™s now up to a court â€“ unless itâ€™s settled amicably before it reaches a jury â€“ to decide if legal boundaries were trampled upon by Walt Disney World and other companies who indulged in the same act, to fire employees with replacement foreign workers, threaten them to train their replacement workers.
Courts will decide If â€˜middlemenâ€™ companies like Cognizant and HCL, who provided those foreign workers on H-1B visa and L visa, are at fault too, colluded with Walt Disney World to provide cheap immigrant labor, in the process displaced entrenched American workers.
But hereâ€™s the thing: the purpose of the H-1B visa is not to replace an existing worker in an office in America. Itâ€™s to complement it. To add a skilled employee to fill a need in an office, add productivity and growth, who will be cherished by colleagues too.
If companies like Walt Disney World, Cognizant and HCL have found loopholes to manipulate those immigration rules pertaining to the temporary H-1B or L category work visas, then those loopholes should be fixed, not allowed to be breached anymore.
The question also arises as to why should the H-1B visa program exist at all, if there is such seemingly flagrant flouting of rules?
The US should maybe do away with the H-1B visa program altogether if companies like Walt Disney World are found to be manipulating it for their own greed. Itâ€™s better for companies to be able to hire foreign workers directly from the pool of tens of thousands of F-1 visa students who graduate from accredited universities in the US or hire talent from overseas for top positions, while showing that it didnâ€™t replace any American worker.
One thing should be made clear: American workers shouldnâ€™t be forced to train replacement workers on H-1B visa, to do the exact job they were doing earlier. Itâ€™s ridiculous. It should be stopped.
Forget the rancor and animosity it would create between the employees who were not laid off and the foreign workers who just replaced some dear colleagues. Itâ€™s just wrong, outside the ambit of the real purpose of the H-1B visa.
Walt Disney World even lambasted unfairly The New York Times, who first reported the story of the lawsuits by Perrero and Moore.
Walt Disney World spokesperson Kim Prunty, in a statement to The American Bazaar, said, in part: â€œâ€¦Hundreds of employers use the H1B visa program, including the New York Times, whose current CEO is working in the U.S on an H1B visa â€“ a fact that it regularly fails to disclose in its reporting.â€
What Walt Disney World doesnâ€™t understand, or refuses to acknowledge, is that the hundreds of companies who do use the H-1B visa program to hire employees, including The New York Times, use it wisely to hire critical employees who help the company in their goals. When the Times hired Mark Thompson as their CEO, it was a momentous decision. Plus, they didnâ€™t threaten his predecessor to train him, or else say bye-bye to severance benefits.
In an updated statement to The American Bazaar, on the lawsuit, Disney said: â€œThis lawsuit is completely and utterly baseless.Â The fact is that, since our reorganization, Disney Parks has hired more than 140 US IT workers, and is currently recruiting candidates to fill over 100 more IT positions.Â Additionally, we also rehired more than 100 workers affected by the reorganization into other roles in the company.Â The complaints by one of the plaintiffs, Ms. Moore, that she was not offered a position are completely false — she was offered a position at comparable pay and turned it down.Â Â Those are the facts.”
The courts in Florida will decide that contention of Disney.
Itâ€™s well and good to hire more workers locally, and continue to do so. It augurs well for everybody. But again, the statement by Disney fails to mention why those H-1B visa workers were brought in the first place to remove American workers. Why did those laid-off workers have to train their replacement workers?
Let me take a guess. Corporate greed.
(Sujeet Rajan is Editor-in-Chief, The American Bazaar)