Friday, July 15, 2016

Race To The Bottom: The H-1-B Blues

It's a big vision in the first world
But no one's seein' the other connection
Somebody's stuck in the fourth world
And the sun's goin' down in the wrong direction

There's a big vision
There's a big vision
In the fourth world

<Screaming Blue Messiahs:
"Smash The Market Place">

If you live in a town dominated by one large corporate employer, like I do, don't blink too quickly....or you'll miss the funny things going down. Though it's theoretically nice to have one company employing hundreds or thousands at a time, that arrangement also carries big drawbacks. The obvious one, of course, is that they can leave (or go under) as quickly as they've arrived.

And once a company becomes entrenched, it quickly morphs into something less desirable: the 800-pound gorilla (think Consumers Power in Jackson, MI). Before long, the corporate gorillas who never stop thinking of how to benefit off the sweat of other begin to exert an outsized influence, one way out of proportion to their actual numbers.

A good example is the battles that communities are often forced to wage against big box stores seeking to avoid paying their share of taxes via the so-called "dark store" valuation method -- one that forced Marquette Township to refund $755,828 to Lowes, and wound up drastically curtailing the local library's hours (among other blowbacks).

As always, it's the taxpayers who foot the bill, with a giant screw driven through their spine. What else is new? (For a snapshot of how this hustle works, see the link below, although I think the blogger's elation is way premature -- it's not dead until the Michigan Supreme Court, to whom the big boxes will surely appeal, shoots down the practice. With a solid Republican majority dominating the court, the big boxes have no reason to break out into a cold sweat just yet. Trust me on this.)

Of course, with disposable property comes disposable labor. One sign, at least in our little town, are the masses of Indians moving into our complex. Unlike many people I know, they don't seem to be going without: they always seem to drive the latest model cars, and never return home without shopping till they drop. The American Dream seems to be working out pretty well for them. (Ditto for the gas station owner whom I saw stepping out of a massive black Hummer in front of the bank last week.) So what's the discordant note in this homespun picture?

They got a big vision,
big vision in the fourth world
Don't miss the connection, 
'cause the sun's goin' down in the wrong direction.

Smash it into tomorrow
Smash it into spite!

Well, as always, I asked around a little bit, and got the answer. Most of them are here on contracts with our town's mega-employer. The main entry point is the H-!-B visa, which allows U.S. companies to bring foreign workers temporarily. The program dates back to 1990, when President George Bush (The Elder) created it to solve a serious shortage of skilled labor....or so he and his minions said.

However, as an article in the Charlotte Observer suggests, the program has become the latest unsavory vehicle for American companies to undercut their own workers by flooding the nation with cheaper outsourced labor. How cheap, you ask? Well, as longtime advocates like U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren have finally admitted, the going rate for a computer services analyst in her district -- which includes Silicon Valley -- is $52,000 for the H-1-B visa worker, versus $92,000 for his U.S. counterpart.  No wonder CEOs are busting such a collective gut.

What's more, as the Observer details, IT workers are often asked to train their replacements before they're laid off for good -- how's that feel before the door smacks against your nether regions? Still, I wonder why people play along with such a dog and pony show. What's the point of greasing your humiliation if your job's gone up in smoke? (Speaking from experience, I wouldn't, and I haven't.)

When pressed, employers naturally claim that they're lacking the labor to get their work done. Of course, this defense is often a dodge, since much of the work being outsourced doesn't always involve skilled labor. As one of the displaced IT workers told the Observer: "The jobs that we're replacing here aren't rocket science. It's database developers, skills you can learn through a four-year any major American university."

This is only one snapshot behind the phenomenon that fueled Donald Trump's rise during this election cycle. The Donald, of course, has zigzagged on this issue -- promising to crack down against H-1-B abuses, on one hand, while holding out some leeway for certain sectors of the economy, like Silicon Valley, on the other -- so I wouldn't look him for salvation, anymore than his (cough, cough, ahem) Democratic counterpart, Hillary Clinton.

I'm trying to square all of these images and statistics with a more disturbing one: a good friend whom I've paid to step in whenever my computer starts sending coded messages from another galaxy. He charges by the project, not the hour, and has never had to do anything over. He can explain what he does in a way that makes sense (unlike a lot of IT denizens I've encountered).

He's an unassuming guy who's caring for his mom right now, which is one reason why he's not working full-time....but if he ever did, I'm sure any company would find him an asset to their payroll. But I don't see anybody rushing to offer him a contract, let alone the crumb of a temp job, nor anything similar....and therein lies the problem. And why the groundswell, and the popular outcry against such practices, will only continue to grow. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Start Your Race

To The Bottom Right Here):
: Appeals Court Ruling
Brings An End To Big Box Stores 

Ripping Off Local Communities:

Charlotte Observer:
In Charlotte, Foreign Workers
Replace Americans In Tech Roles:

Professor Norm Matloff's H-1-B Web Page:

Screaming Blue Messiahs:
Smash The Market Place:

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