Time to Fight Back

Sept. 19, 2003
Phooey on the world market and globalization. These are our jobs, and we will fight to keep them

As we pointed out in "Process Control Jobs Going to Foreign Nationals" [CONTROL,July 03, p20 and www.controlmagazine.com/Web_First/CT.nsf/ContentFrameset?OpenForm&ArticleID=DFUO-5P3TW9], your job is at risk both from immigrant workers and your employer outsourcing your work to low-cost sources in other countries.

Based on the letters and e-mails arriving here after we published that story, you know it too. Many of you are scared to death of losing your job. In the 30-plus years I've been in this business, I have never seen so many people so scared. And for good reason.

Here's a quick recap, in case you missed it: Chemical companies, refineries, and other process plants are hiring immigrant engineers with L-1 visas to replace American workers; almost all distributed control vendors and systems integrators are sending a huge amount of process configuration and product development engineering to their offices overseas; companies in third-world countries are opening engineering offices here so they can bring in L-1 workers and farm them out to take your job; and some distributed control vendors are sending L-1s to work as on-site service personnel at their U.S. and Canadian customers' installations.

Why? Because the immigrant engineers, technicians, and operators will work for a fraction of your salary. Few process control engineers will go on the record because they fear for their jobs, but here's a story that may sound familiar, as reported by The Contra Costa Times, in Contra Costa, Calif.

"One month ago, Kevin Flanagan took his life in the parking lot of Bank of America's Concord Technology Center, on the afternoon after he was told he had lost his job. It was the straw that broke the camel's back, his father said, even though the 41-year-old software programmer suspected it was coming. He knew that his employer, Bank of America Corp., like other giant corporations weathering the economic storm, was cutting high-tech jobs. He knew that Bank of America was sending jobs overseas. He had seen his friends and coworkers leave until only he and one other person remained on the last project Flanagan worked on."

As one of our readers report, theres more to this story. Flanagans former employer, ChevronTexaco of Concord, Calif., had laid him off for the same reason a few months earlier. The doomed programmer had been displaced by foreign workers twice.

Here's another: One of the witnesses who testified before the Senate Committee on Immigration and Border Security was Patricia Fluno, a computer programmer from Orlando, Fla. A former Siemens ICN employee, Fluno claims that she was replaced by a foreign worker when Siemens outsourced her job and others to Tata Consulting Services, India. Even worse, Fluno said, she was instructed to train her replacement. "This was the most humiliating experience of my life," Fluno told lawmakers. "Our visa-holders replacements are sitting at our old desks, answering our old phones, and working on the same systems and programs we did but for one-third the cost."

This could be you. If your job can be done from a computer and a telephone, you are at risk. If you make too much money you are at risk.

L-1s and outsourcing have already decimated the IT industry. As we reported in July, nearly 60% of all IT jobs in the U.S. will be outsourced soon. Manufacturing is disappearing in the U.S. as companies make a mass exodus to third-world countries where labor is cheap. Our trade deficit hit $503 billion this year, and the Economic Policy Institute estimates that 99% of that is caused by our buying goods that we used to make here.

It's time to fight back and do everything we can to protect our jobs. To put it another way: Phooey on the world market and globalization. These are our jobs, and we will fight to keep them.

We can't tell you what to do or how to do it, but here are a few ideas that you might pursue on your own, or with your fellow engineers, operators, and technicians:

1. Lobby your representatives in Congress to pass current legislation that would restrict L-1s. H.R. 2154 will prevent U.S. companies from employing foreign workers on L-1 visas and then outsourcing them to client companies in the U.S.; H.R. 2702 will impose a 35,000 per year L-1 visa cap, and limit L-1 visa holders to a three-year period of admission. Lobbying works: In Connecticut, laid-off IT workers lobbied their representatives intensely, and succeeded in getting two of them to sponsor these bills.

2. Write letters to newspapers, magazines, and local politicians. Bring up issues that affect the local economy, such as loss of jobs, loss of tax income, power failures and blackouts, pollution, or anything else where the community would be better served by having U.S. and Canadian engineers, operators, and technicians working at local plants and refineries. This is called "seizing the moral high ground." As suggested by Peter Skarzynski and Pierre Lowe, writing on C-Net ("Can a Subpeona Stop a Movement?" www.news.com), figure out a good moral position (safety is a good one), and position our battle for our jobs as a fight between good and evil.

3. Lobby ISA, IEEE, and AiCHE. Stand up at your local section meeting and demand they do something to protect your profession against L-1s.

4. Work toward establishing a national license for control engineers and a requirement that only licensed engineers be allowed to work on process control systems and instrumentation.

5. Work toward making sure all state, local, and federally funded projects are engineered and staffed with U.S. or Canadian engineers only. The House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter proposed "Buy American" provisions in the coming Pentagon budget that would make it mandatory for contractors to use machine tools and molds made in America on defense projects, and would raise the percentage of American-made components in major weapons programs. The state of New Jersey is working on legislation preventing any of the state's work from being outsourced. The trend toward protecting jobs is on our side, so work to get our jobs similarly protected.

6. Join organizations that are fighting for you, such as The Organization for the Rights of American Workers (www.toraw.org) and the Information Technology Assn. of America (www.itaa.org), both of which are urging reform of the L-1 program.

7. If you are a victim of L-1s or outsourcing, file a class action lawsuit against your company, claiming racial and age discrimination, unlawful discharge, or anything else you can think of. Find a good tort lawyer who is willing to take on a big company, and lay out your case. A similar case is currently pending against Sun Microsystems. Walter Kruz filed suit in the superior court of the State of California, alleging violation of California's Fair Housing and Employment Act and the state's Unfair Competition Law.

8. Join a union.

It is going to be a tough battle. President Bush, for some unknown reason, opposes the L-1 legislation and favors the Kolbe-McCain-Flake immigrant worker bill, which will forgive all illegal immigrants and issue them visas.

Politicians respond to only two things: money and votes. You don't have enough money to buy any legislation, so you'll have to convince them, like the IT folks did in Connecticut, that opposing outsourcing and L-1s is good for their state and will help them get elected.

The press can help. Write to us and other publications charged with serving your interests. We're on your side, and we have just begun to fight. Give us your comments and tell us about your experiences on this subject. Send them to [email protected].

After all, my work could be outsourced, too. I might be on the same picket line as you one of these days, and for the same reason: Somebody in a third-world country who speaks English and has a phone and a PC is doing my job for much less money.

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