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Businesses Government The Almighty Buck Politics

Sen. Blumenthal Demands Lifting of IT 'Gag' Order (computerworld.com) 220

dcblogs writes: U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the layoff and replacement of IT workers by foreign workers at a state energy utility. But he is also demanding that the utility, Eversource Energy, drop a particularly restrictive non-disparagement clause that laid off employees had to sign to receive their severance. This clause bars discussion "that would tend to disparage or discredit" the utility. [emphasis added] He wants the employees, who had to train foreign replacements, to be able to state "honestly what happened to them."
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Sen. Blumenthal Demands Lifting of IT 'Gag' Order

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  • It's a state-regulated energy company. Is the DoJ really necessary here? Can't the state introduce some regulations about how its energy companies operate, e.g. regarding outsourcing or gag agreements?

    • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @06:08PM (#51465539)

      Can't the state introduce some regulations

      I'm pretty sure that the company (or any company faced with the same) will just cry "Muh interstate commerce!" and try to slide out from under any state regulations. Hence the feds.

      • Makes sense, but a state still has ultimate control over whether that company can do business within that state, correct? Otherwise, state regulation would be worthless and toothless.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Makes sense, but a state still has ultimate control over whether that company can do business within that state, correct? Otherwise, state regulation would be worthless and toothless.

          The ability of states to regulate much of anything has been reduced through the years. It helps that the Federal Supreme court gets to decide what the Federal government can and cannot do. Do doubt if a state's Supreme Court was deciding things would be different.

        • States do not regulate Federal programs. H1B Visas is a Federal program. States could investigate under their own labor laws and whether or not businesses were given special tax consideration based on employment.
      • by Trepidity ( 597 )

        It depends on the state and how they structure the sector, but they often have more leverage over utility companies than they would over a normal company. Utility companies typically have contracts with the state or with the state's utility districts, which at least in principle they could attach various requirements to.

        • by PPH ( 736903 )

          States (utility commissions) generally regulate the relationship between the company and the customers (state residents). Things like utility rates, terms of service, etc. Everything on the back end (subcontractors, labor negotiations, etc.) works pretty much the same as any other private company doing business in that state or across state lines.

      • There is already regulations for this. H1-B visas are for jobs you cannot find an American citizen to fill it. In this case, this job is already filled by an American citizen. This is simply illegal.
    • by Feyshtey ( 1523799 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @06:32PM (#51465689)
      It's still relevant at a federal level. H1-B visa's are likely the reason the foreign workers could take the domestic jobs. So federal law and/or policy is at the root of the situation.
    • Does the state want to do something about this?

      Check the donations from the utility to politicians in the state.

    • Eversource has a very large in-house legal team and an active Political Action Committee in Washington.

      This was the line I took out of the article. Sounds like the company will get the Feds to write the rules that suits them best.

      I have always assumed that's the point of a PAC.

    • H1B Visa is a Federal program. Thus the DOJ is the one that is responsible for conducting an investigation. States can pursue their own investigation based on their labor laws. This has nothing to do with regulating energy but rather labor.
  • Time for unions! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @06:07PM (#51465529)

    Time for unions! and time for enforce the H1-B laws.

    • What would a union do? Strikes don't happen at government-regulated utilities the same way they do at a wholly private company. Don't believe me? Look up PATCO [wikipedia.org] and see what happened. Of course, utilities are quasi-private and under state (not federal control), but it's still quite doable.

      • by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @07:27PM (#51465999) Journal

        What would a union do? Strikes don't happen at government-regulated utilities the same way they do at a wholly private company.

        They would lobby politicians at state and federal levels so that strikes are unnecessary.

        Another thing I imagine a union *could* do is negotiate with employers so that H1B visas are implemented more equitably. There maybe a genuine need for them however that shouldn't mean that young local talent should be denied opportunities to get a foot hold with their careers, a union *could* negotiate on their behalf. It could also anonymously by-pass gag orders such as these so that the truth about the conditions are know. It could also look at stale, but talented people and identify what training the need to secure new opportunities.

        Whilst it has been unpopular to talk about IT unions it's probably time to step out of the outmoded thinking that suggests that any IT union would be the same as a union that deals with unskilled professionals. We are not, and I can't see IT professionals in a picket line. I can see them being smart enough to take a long view with issues and have an union defend their interests. Individually we have no power and the types of laws we are being subjected to suggest we are not taken seriously as other professionals who have organizations that look after their political interests.

        I feel it's a little naive to think we are all so special and great that we don't need anyone arguing for us within the upper echelons of power. Taking the worst fears of what a union is and suggesting that is an argument for not having them is why we are in the situation we are now. We should be looking to the behaviors we want in a union and charter it so that's how it behaves. We either shape our future or have it shaped for us.

        • H1-B visas are tricky here. You can easily craft a job no one would like to do by just offering a low wage compare to the industry. Then, the employer can justify the need for H1-B visas since no one shown up at hiring interviews. The H1-B visas are mainly used to keep the salaries low. I hope they will soon issue H1-B visas to recruit physicians and see what will happen.
      • Without a union, management forces IT worker to train their H1B replacements. There is nothing that an IT worker can effectively do to stop it.

        With a union: IT workers say: you pull that bullshit, and we *all* walk out right now. There would be nothing management could do, except stop the bullshit.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by KGIII ( 973947 )

        The time for unions is long-since past. Even if there were unions, most people are missing the key point. The reasons for unions was "solidarity."

        The time for a formal union has passed. The time for solidarity is now. The problem is, few are willing to risk what they have for the sake of what another is losing. (Oddly, they still wonder why nobody comes to their aid when it is their turn to be the loser and some are inclined to think they'll never be the loser.)

        Now's the time for solidarity and that's just

      • Ever hear of lobbyists. You know the ones that represent every industry. Labor Unions could lobby Congress to investigate H1B Visas and make changes. As it stands these are isolated incidences which carry very little political weight unless an organization brings it to the attention of Congress and makes it a political issue.
  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @06:11PM (#51465563)

    The company forced them to train their replacements, who are non-citizens brought in to the do the same job cheaper because the utility is run by people who apparently feel it's fine to sell out their own countrymen to make a buck.

    I don't know what's so mysterious about this. It is what it is. The only question is what are you going to do about it?

    I have a really simple solution. Abolish corporate taxes in their current form and replace them with a head count tax. Every US citizen is, say, $1000/year. Every legal immigrant is $2500. Every foreign national abroad, including contract workers on outsourced work, gets a fee of $5,000. If at any time, more than 25% of your work is either performed by subsidiaries or outsourcing firms based overseas that has a sales or some other nexus into the US, you pay FICA on your global workforce including contracted employees.

    So carrot and stick. A big, incredibly sweet looking carrot and a stick that has nails driven into it because we want to make the choice obvious.

    • That's a good idea, actually. Tax them for using foreign workers by an amount that exceeds the disparity in wages between foreign and US citizen workers. I'd go for about twice the difference, just to be sure.
      • hardly a deterrent. Maybe $10,000 per foreign worker. Hey, if they're truly irreplaceable, that's not a big nut. Of course, if they're truly irreplaceable, by definition the American worker they're replacing can't train them to do the job.
      • by gtall ( 79522 )

        Won't work. Companies will just find ways to incorporate outside the U.S. and its laws. It means they won't be able to rely on the U.S. justice system for other things, but then maybe not getting sued because some employed stabbed their finger with a mechanical pencil won't bother them.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      because the utility is run by people who apparently feel it's fine to sell out their own countrymen to make a buck.

      But I don't want to have to depend on company altruism for these kinds of things to not happen. If they don't do it, their competitors will and they'll then be punished for NOT trying to make a buck. You'll be punishing the altruistic ones.

      I'd rather see the law changed or clarified to make sure it does ONLY what it's supposed to do: fill actual labor shortages instead of fake shortages to save

    • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @08:30PM (#51466295)
      They'll hide it all in a web of contractors, which is exactly what they're doing now. If all else fails they'll fall back on the 'gig' economy and just move the goal post.They'll win, you'll lose. Because you play the game a few yours a day on /. while they do it for a living.

      It's like Wargames (if you're old enough to know what that is): The only way to win is not to play. What you really want is tariffs and protectionism, but after 50 years of the right wing (economically speaking) press vilifying them nobody can bring themselves to say it. You will note that China and India both rely heavily on tariffs. They've worked for hundreds of years at their intended purpose of purpose.

      Eliminate the H1-B program. For the few real geniuses we want have a lengthy peer review process to prevent the diploma mill graduate loophole. Raise taxes on import goods made with slave labor. Redistribute the wealth in the form of socialized medicine, free education, infrastructure programs and basic income. Lather, rinse repeat. These things work. That's why the 1% is frightened of them; and it's why they want you to be frightened too.
      • by NormalVisual ( 565491 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @09:08PM (#51466479)
        Eliminate the H1-B program. For the few real geniuses we want have a lengthy peer review process to prevent the diploma mill graduate loophole. Raise taxes on import goods made with slave labor. Redistribute the wealth in the form of socialized medicine, free education, infrastructure programs and basic income. Lather, rinse repeat. These things work. That's why the 1% is frightened of them; and it's why they want you to be frightened too.

        All potentially good ideas, but first we have to find a way to get the 99% to get out of the "temporarily embarrassed millionaire" mindset and get them to see how they're often being used to the benefit of the 1%.
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Good idea, but you'll just end up with a lot of illegal migrants off the books doing the work :(
      One problem is that "small government" by design is about having too few people watching what is going on for any sort of regulation to work.
    • by fnj ( 64210 )

      The company forced them to train their replacements

      Bullshit. They BRIBED them to train their replacements by giving them a severance payment if they do so. There is a difference. How could "forcing" them possibly work?

      You have to train some new people who are going to replace you.
      Bullshit. You're firing me anyway; I refuse.
      [Idiot employer stammers uselessly]

      But the bribe works just fine.

      You have to train some new people who are going to replace you - and if you do, you will get a severance payment; otherwis

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Why not just make H1-B workers equal to US workers in terms of rights and costs? Remove the only incentives to hire them, other than if you really can't find a US worker to do the job. Same salary, same employment rights, no loss of visa to hang over their heads (you could mandate a fixed term visa, for example).

      • While your concept is good it would still have the effect of depressing wages which is what the H-1B program is used for.

        My idea on the whole issue is different and I am even willing to take the companies at their word. So:
        1. The companies always claim that they can't find people who can do the work or can't train them in time so they have to bring in foreign workers.
        2. This tells us two things. The first is that these are some very highly specialized skills that apparently no one in a country of about
  • FWIW, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) [influenceexplorer.com] and his campaign contributors.

    Sadly, the industries that give to a politician are impacted the most by the committee(s) the Senator sits on.

    It's the bit about H-1B visas that the tech companies were most rallying for. The idea is for companies to be able to attract more of the world's brightest minds in engineering and technology and allow these workers to stay in the U.S. (2013 Bill) The bill was written by a bipartisan group of senators called the "Gang of E

    • I see what you're saying, which is that it's hopeless. They'll just buy everybody. The way I see it, Vote Left. Vote for the most left leaning, pro-worker candidate you can get. The right wing of America spent 40 years shifting us to the right. It didn't happen overnight, and undoing it won't happen overnight either. Vote Left every chance you get and you'll start to see a change. It's not like you've got anything to lose, right?
  • These agreements don't prevent testifying under oath. Just hold a hearing and subpoena them and they can speak freely without fear of triggering the agreements.
  • Once you've got your severance, can't you bitch about the company online, anonymously? Even if they find out, how are they going to get the money back?
    • by creimer ( 824291 )
      More likely the ex-employee signed a arbitration clause that will gives the company the upper hand to settle the disputes in their favor while avoiding the public courts with a civil lawsuit.
    • making all arbitration clauses binding. The US Supreme Court just ruled on it and said it was a perfectly valid because there's nothing in the US Constitution saying you can't sign away your rights. Blame our right wing, pro-corporate congress for all this...
    • Sue you into nothingness. Always blow the whistle anonymously if you don't want to be a martyr.

  • It's about damn time.

  • Ought to be Illegal (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ritz_Just_Ritz ( 883997 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @08:19PM (#51466247)

    Look, I like capitalism as much as the next fella...however....

    I find it really hard to believe that with all the universities in this country annually graduating hundreds of thousands (millions?) in disciplines ranging from engineering to mathematics, comp sci, physics, etc. that it is necessary to import tech labor. When you consider all the additional inefficiency introduced in the form of language difficulties and what I've often found to be poor training (every problem isn't one that can be solved by consultants by the pound excreting bad java code), I find it hard to believe that it's even worth the effort to game the system in the first place. Yet here we are with legions of billion dollar companies that exist solely to exploit loopholes in the US immigration system while taking advantage of citizen workers and taking fat chunks of income ostensibly paid to the poor saps that are being pimped out to line their pockets.

    Frankly, I don't believe that a tech labor shortage exists. What exists is a market distortion that's perpetuated by a corrupt group of companies that line the pockets of politicians in order to siphon their share of guest worker salaries. Just say no.

  • by h8sg8s ( 559966 ) on Monday February 08, 2016 @11:01PM (#51466835)

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    Qualcomm Technologies 306
    Tech Mahindra (Americas),inc. 305
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    J P Morgan Chase 289
    Oracle America Inc 282

  • I swear, the first presidential candidate to jump on this issue, publicize the hell out of it, and then propose meaningful legislation and/or tax policy designed to discourage it will win the friggin' 2016 election. I'm just afraid one of the dimwit Republican will discover this secret first.

    Bernie Sanders, isn't this right up your alley? Why aren't you talking about this more?

    I hate to break it to you conservatives & libertarians, free markets are NOT solving this problem. This is one area where govern

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