If you want to understand why unemployment is so high amongst Americans, read this! This will open your eyes.
American corporations are under new scrutiny from federal lawmakers after well-publicized episodes in which the companies laid off American workers and gave the jobs to foreigners on temporary visas.
But while corporate executives have been outspoken in defending their labor practices before Congress and the public, the American workers who lost jobs to global outsourcing companies have been largely silent.
Until recently. Now some of the workers who were displaced are starting to speak out, despite severance agreements prohibiting them from criticizing their former employers.
Marco Peña was among about 150 technology workers who were laid off in April by Abbott Laboratories, a global health care conglomerate with headquarters here. They handed in their badges and computer passwords, and turned over their work to a company based in India. But Mr. Peña, who had worked at Abbott for 12 years, said he had decided not to sign the agreement that was given to all departing employees, which included a nondisparagement clause.
Mr. Peña said his choice cost him at least $10,000 in severance pay. But on an April evening after he walked out of Abbott’s tree-lined campus here for the last time, he spent a few hours in a local bar at a gathering organized by technology worker advocates, speaking his mind about a job he had loved and lost.
“I just didn’t feel right about signing,” Mr. Peña said. “The clauses were pretty blanket. I felt like they were eroding my rights.”
Leading members of Congress from both major parties have questioned the nondisparagement agreements, which are commonly used by corporations but can prohibit ousted workers from raising complaints about what they see as a misuse of temporary visas. Lawmakers, including Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-highest-ranking Senate Democrat, and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, have proposed revisions to visa laws to include measures allowing former employees to contest their layoffs.
“I have heard from workers who are fearful of retaliation,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut. “They are told they can say whatever they want, except they can’t say anything negative about being fired.”
Lawyers said the paragraph Mr. Peña and other workers object to in their separation agreements is routine in final contracts with employees who are paid severance as they leave, whether they were laid off or resigned voluntarily.
“It’s a very, very common practice,” said Sheena R. Hamilton, an employment lawyer at Dowd Bennett in St. Louis who represents companies in workplace cases. “I’ve never recommended a settlement that didn’t have a clause like that.”
But former Abbott employees said the provisions had stopped them from speaking openly with elected officials or appearing at congressional hearings.
“It is very frustrating that you can’t share your story with the public,” said one former Abbott manager, who had worked for the company for 13 years, rising to an important supervisory position. He had prepared a 90-page manual for his foreign replacements showing how to perform every detail of his work. With a disabled child who requires medical care, he said he had to take his severance and its nondisparagement clause, since it extended his medical benefits. So he asked to remain anonymous.
“I’ve been laid off before, I can understand that,” he said. “But these visas were meant to fill in gaps for resources that are hard to find. This time the company actually asked me to transfer my knowledge to somebody else. That changes the equation.”
According to federal rules, temporary visas known as H-1Bs are for foreigners with “a body of specialized knowledge” not readily available in the labor market. The visas should be granted only when they will not undercut the wages or “adversely affect the working conditions” of Americans.
But in the past five years, through loopholes in the rules, tens of thousands of American workers have been replaced by foreigners on H-1B and other temporary visas, according to Prof. Hal Salzman, a labor force expert at Rutgers University.
In March, two Americans who had been laid off in 2014 by a New England power company, Eversource Energy, spoke at a news conference in Hartford even though they had signed nondisparagement agreements. Craig Diangelo, 63, and Judy Konopka, 56, said most of the 220 people facing dismissal had been required as part of their severance to train Indian immigrants with H-1B and other visas.