You “R” Fired! Toy Company Dumps US Workers for Foreign Replacements

A New York Times expose shows exactly how a corporate giant abuses freely available temporary H1-B visas to outsource good-paying jobs.Toys_R_Us_sg

For four weeks this spring, a young woman from India on a temporary visa sat elbow to elbow with an American accountant in a snug cubicle at the headquarters of Toys “R” Us here. The woman, an employee of a giant outsourcing company in India hired by Toys “R” Us, studied and recorded the accountant’s every keystroke, taking screen shots of her computer and detailed notes on how she issued payments for toys sold in the company’s megastores.

“She just pulled up a chair in front of my computer,” said the accountant, 49, who had worked for the company for more than 15 years. “She shadowed me everywhere, even to the ladies’ room.” By late June, eight workers from the outsourcing company, Tata Consultancy Services, or TCS, had produced intricate manuals for the jobs of 67 people, mainly in accounting. They then returned to India to train TCS workers to take over and perform those jobs there. The Toys “R” Us employees in New Jersey, many of whom had been at the company more than a decade, were laid off.

By late June, eight workers from the outsourcing company, Tata Consultancy Services, or TCS, had produced intricate manuals for the jobs of 67 people, mainly in accounting. They then returned to India to train TCS workers to take over and perform those jobs there. The Toys “R” Us employees in New Jersey, many of whom had been at the company more than a decade, were laid off.

Major companies have been demanding more and more H1-B visas claiming they cannot find qualified American workers and this leads to them being noncompetitive in the global marketplace.  But is this really the case?

In recent years, however, global outsourcing and consulting firms have obtained thousands of temporary visas to bring in foreign workers who have taken over jobs that had been held by American workers. The Labor Department has opened an investigation of possible visa violations by contractors at the Walt Disney Company and at Southern California Edison, where immigrants replaced Americans in jobs they were doing in this country. Four former workers at Disney have filed discrimination complaints against the company. The companies say they have complied with all applicable laws.

But the Toys “R” Us layoffs — and others underway now at the New York Life Insurance Company and other businesses — go further. They are examples of how global outsourcing companies are using temporary visas to bring in foreign workers who do not appear to have exceptional skills — according to interviews with a dozen current or former employees of Toys “R” Us and New York Life — to help ship out jobs, mainly to India.

These former employees described their experience training foreigners to do their work so it could be moved to India. They would speak only on the condition that their names not be published, saying they feared losing severance payments or hurting their chances of finding new jobs.

In most cases when American workers lost jobs, the positions have been in technology, with employers arguing there are shortages of Americans with the most advanced skills. But in recent years, many jobs that American workers lost have been in accounting and back-office administration — although there is no shortage of Americans qualified to do that kind of work.

Thanks to their high priced lobbying firms and corporate lawyers:

Outsourcing firms, and the companies hiring them, say they are careful not to violate any laws. But some experts argue the intent of the visas is being thwarted.

“At the very least, those are violations of the spirit of the law,” said Christine Brigagliano, a lawyer in San Francisco with extensive experience advising American companies on obtaining visas. “Those contractors are signing on the bottom line, saying we will not undercut the wages and working conditions of Americans. But, in fact, they are.”

And if you are wondering if the federal government is concerned about abuse of their visa system:

The federal government does not track how often American workers are displaced by workers with temporary visas, but this year, employees at a variety of companies report losing jobs to foreign workers. For example, atCengage Learning, an educational publisher, about 30 accountants in Ohio and Kentucky were laid off on Sept. 11, after they spent five months training Indian workers from Cognizant, another outsourcing giant. The temporary workers and the jobs went back to India.

A Cengage spokeswoman, Susan M. Aspey, said the company needed to install higher-grade accounting systems. “To do this quickly and efficiently,” she said, Cengage sought support from Cognizant. Employees who were laid off were given “fair severance packages commensurate with their years of service,” she said.

Temporary H-1B visas are limited to 85,000 each year. In the last five years, federal records show, most of the companies that received the largest share of H-1B visas have been global outsourcing firms, including TCS; Infosys, another large Indian company; Cognizant, which is based in the United States; and Accenture, a consulting operation incorporated in Ireland.

Those companies also use another temporary visa, the L-1B, which has no annual cap and allows businesses to internally transfer their employees who have “advanced knowledge” from branches in other countries to offices in the United States. A spokesman for TCS, Benjamin Trounson, said it maintained “rigorous internal controls to ensure we are fully compliant with all regulatory requirements.”

Just take a look at exactly what this company who is following all the rules does to an outsourced worker

the mood was hardly playful on the morning of March 3, when a company vice president summoned nearly 70 employees to a conference room and told them their positions would be transferred by the end of June to workers from TCS.

“We were asked to cooperate and show them respect and train them to do our individual job functions,” said another former accountant, 36, who had worked for the toy seller for almost 12 years. But, she recalled, “If you didn’t cooperate, you would be asked to leave.”

A few days later, TCS workers arrived to begin the training called “knowledge transfer.” Most had flown in days before from India and were staying at a La Quinta Inn nearby.

The 36-year-old accountant said the young Indian assigned to shadow her appeared to have no extraordinary knowledge of accounting. His expertise was in observing and mapping what she did.

“He was watching me like a hawk,” she said, remembering long hours at close quarters at her desk under the fluorescent lights of the accounting floor. “It took him a while to learn what I did.”

She had a hard time maintaining her composure. “I felt like, ‘Why am I sitting here showing this man how to do my job when they are taking it away from me and sending it to India?’ ”

As for needing special skills not found in the American workforce:

Accountants at New York Life were among the first scheduled for layoffs that started in May, under a contract with Accenture. The company’s accountants found out only by accident — when Accenture managers in India mistakenly sent out a group email with a full outsourcing plan — that the Indian workers they had been training for several weeks would be taking their jobs back to India.

One accountant said a worker from India made an exact digital “recording” during the day as he performed his job. At the close of business, the recording was transmitted to India, where workers practiced mimicking his tasks.

“It’s all just repeating exactly what we have been doing,” he said.