Letters

"Your jobs have been Walmarted, baybee" -- readers respond to recent Salon articles on outsourcing.


Salon Staff
November 11, 2003 1:30AM (UTC)

[Read "Gone in the Blink of an Eye."]

The analysis made in the article "Gone in the Blink of an Eye," though backed by some real research, isn't saying anything too new. The worst part is that it reaches the same vague conclusion as many like articles. To quote the article:

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"People need to acquire new skills all the time. In a fast-paced globalizing world like ours we are all liable to be obsolete in the blink of an eye."

What skills? This is what I'd like to know. What skills and what markets can somebody move toward to protect themselves from the outsourcing black hole? The blue-collar workers of the '80s and '90s have been retrained to be the white-collar workers that are now getting the shaft. How do these people jump far enough up the food chain to have a chance?

-- Steven Stearns

Your article on job outsourcing was a more honest assessment than most. However, it ended with the usual panacea -- "increased funding for training." What I've never heard is what these outsourced workers are supposed to be trained to do? We don't need 14 million nursing assistants. Or is the training to teach us how to say "Do you want fries with that?" Most of those factory workers that were downsized in the '80s didn't end up working at dot-coms, except maybe in San Francisco.

Vague comments about innovation and retraining don't solve the essential problem -- what are 14 million unemployed people supposed to be trained to do?

-- Karen Wheless

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I am a former software engineer and database administrator with a Fortune 500 allegedly-"American" corporation. Several months ago I resigned in disgust for the reasons that Katharine Mieszkowski discusses in her article about the disappearing American Information Technology worker. My employer, NCR Corp., signed an outsourcing contract with HCL Technology of India and made the announcement in early 2000. Thereafter, layoffs and foreign replacement workers in the U.S. were the norm at NCR. After watching this trend for two years, I gave up any idea of a career in information technology.

The Indian workers here in the U.S. on visa received the "knowledge transfers" from U.S. I.T. workers and took it back to India. Team by team the U.S. I.T. workers were replaced as the severance checks grew smaller. Pay raises became unheard of and many of the U.S. I.T. workers came to realize that they were competing with a Third World wage scale. I wondered if anyone in the Congress or the president understood or cared about the destruction of the technical employment sector and the hundreds of thousands of middle-class jobs this represented. What I found shocked and disheartened me. The president and many members of Congress have voted to allow foreign technical workers into the U.S. on H-1B and L-1 visas and they are indifferent to the loss of U.S. jobs and the depressed wages that foreign workers have brought.

The president and Congress are pushing ahead with new trade agreements that will further increase the outflow of American Information Technology jobs -- and all "white-collar" jobs. There are very few people in Congress looking at the "big picture" and saying that the American society and our economy will suffer because of the short-term, myopic decisions of corporations only intent upon reducing labor costs to pump up quarterly performance reports. And, in this political campaign season, both political parties and all candidates for president, and many congressional candidates, seem intent on maintaining a complete silence on the H-1B and L-1 foreign worker visa programs and the entire issue of American white-collar job loss. (It is hard not to see this eerie silence as anything other than a self-serving conspiracy to avoid alarming the American people and an avoidance of real popular opinion.)

Mike Emmons, a courageous I.T. worker who "blew the whistle" on Siemens' worker replacement program, maintains an excellent Web site with a great deal of information on the topic of foreign replacement workers and the political machinations of the outsourcing lobby.

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-- John

The problem of outsourcing is not one of market forces, but greedy CEOs who care more about their company's stock price than the economic health of this nation. To a person, the sensitivities of 10 institutional investor portfolio managers matter more to them than the toil and sweat of 10,000 loyal employees.

The real laugher is that most of these CEOs would consider themselves "patriotic." American flags fly in their executive suites and on their service vehicles, but the gesture is empty. Overseas outsourcing hurts our economy far more than al-Qaida ever did.

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If a presidential candidate endorsed a bill that would annul and prohibit government contracts to any American company that moves jobs overseas, he would get my vote.

-- Russell Shaw

It doesn't take a "study" to know the future of the job market. Think, any job not requiring face-to-face contact is vulnerable to outsourcing. Furthermore, many of those requiring face-to-face for, say, a signature, will only require a worker of minimum education.

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To my way of thinking, we are in a job market crisis. What the current administration should be worried about, and employers too, is what happens in a few years when the truly higher paid occupations are gone. I haven't read of any up-and-coming occupations that are growing at a rate similar to the current rate of job loss.

I don't think it xenophobic to say that the U.S. has competently trained its competition while ignoring the consequences at home.

-- Petra Lynn Hofmann

Thanks for the article. I disagree with a lot of what Ashok Deo Bardhan said, but I appreciate that this topic is being kept in the news.

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I found it interesting that Bardhan mentioned the disparity in the rate of new engineering graduates. He cites that as a cause of outsourcing, but it's really the effect. Career-savvy students in the U.S. have been abandoning engineering and other technical disciplines recently. Why get an engineering degree when it won't help you get a job?

Globalization is not producing the opportunities he mentions. Good middle-class jobs are disappearing, and the remaining jobs are requiring more and more education and experience while paying less and less.

I also disagree with his views on protectionism. At this point, it's worth a try.

-- Mike Gollub

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[Read "Want to Stop Your Job From Being Outsourced? Join a Union."]

Every time I mentioned to my (mostly) libertarian I.T. geek acquaintances that, gee, maybe we should organize and fight back on the unpaid overtime hours issue, I got laughed at. Every time I said unionization would allow us all to negotiate consistent pay, I was told to leave the room. Times were uncommonly good. It was every geek for himself, and if I thought we should look out for each other, maybe put pressure on The Man to do things sanely, I was obviously some kind of liberal loser who didn't want to take responsibility for my own career.

After 20 years in the I.T. business, I'm leaving. I worked my ass off from the early '80s on, putting LANs into resistant corporate glass houses, deploying firmwide integrated systems (which, thanks to overworked programmers, never worked right), and put up with the bullshit amateur hour of the Internet. For all those years of 60-hour weeks and on-call weekends, I got exactly nothing, except an aversion to beeping sounds and the fun of watching my boss get bonuses for my work.

Screw everyone in the arrogant, self-centered, socially backward baby-fest that is the I.T. business. Take "personal responsibility" for your careers now, dirtbags. Oh, that's right, you don't have jobs anymore. Poor babies. At least now you have time to work on those bug lists, right? And you can brush up on those interpersonal skills so you don't treat everyone like they're pond-scum.

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Too late now, suckers. Your jobs have been Walmarted, baybee. Good riddance.

-- Rob Oakley

Thank you, Joel Keller! I'm not an I.T. worker, but my fiancé is. Yes, he gets paid a lot of money. But since he started this job, over a year ago, his hours have gotten longer and longer, management has demanded more and given less, and those little extras that companies give their workers to let them know they're appreciated (muffins for breakfast, the occasional beer hour) have disappeared.

My fiancé regularly works 60-70 hours a week, and sometimes as much as 90 hours. He goes in to work every weekend, often on both Saturday and Sunday. In order for us to take the occasional weekend trip, say to go visit family, he has to beg his supervisor for a weekend off. There is an unwritten rule that holidays are not actually days off. The company recently instituted mandatory attendance at meetings on Saturday mornings.

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In addition, the company treats them like children. No matter how hard they've been working, and how much they've gotten done, the question is always, "Why haven't you done more?" The assumption seems to be that if the company doesn't constantly watch them and keep the pressure on at all times, the employees will slack off at any opportunity. Come in 15 minutes late one morning (because you were at work until 2 a.m. the night before) and you get a talking-to about what it means to be responsible, and how the company doesn't pay you to slack off. The company is miserly with sick time and personal days, and never seems to cut the employees any slack. A few months ago, I had to have emergency abdominal surgery, and was in the hospital for five days. The company grudgingly allowed him to take the day of the surgery off, but refused to let him take any more time off, and made him make up the day he missed during the next week, while I was home alone.

What does he get in return for working so hard, in such a hostile atmosphere? Not overtime pay. Not extra pay for all those extra hours he works. Not comp days. Not extra vacation or personal days. Not the ability to occasionally come in late or leave early. It seems that in return for paying his salary, they got complete control of his life. With all that money he makes, all he has the time and energy to do is come home, watch TV and fall asleep.

I work a lot too. I get paid less than half what he makes, and I have more degrees than he does. But my company is understanding when I need to take a few hours off for personal business. My company is generous with comp time when I work overtime. My boss pats me on the back when I've been working hard, and although he can't afford to pay me more, he makes his gratitude known in other ways -- a lunch out, or a box of chocolates, or simply a nice e-mail.

I.T. workers need to unionize, if only to force companies to treat them as human beings, instead of slave labor. They burn their employees out at an outrageous pace, and then dump them and hire new people, because right now there are a lot of out-of-work I.T. people desperate for jobs. This has got to stop. Being paid a generous salary does not mean that you should give up on having a life, and work yourself into an early grave or a nervous breakdown.

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-- Name withheld by request

I'm writing in response to Joel Keller's piece regarding labor and the technology industry. I applaud Keller's research -- the technology industry, among others, suffer from non-unionization. Further, the lack of overtime pay is equally disturbing. As a former organizer for ACORN and the Fund For Public Interest Research, I encountered numerous difficulties, especially when I and others brought up unionization. Groups like these claim to fight for low-income workers and just causes, but refuse to pay their workers overtime, reimburse their workers for travel and office expenses, and above all, require their workers to work ungodly amounts of hours for extremely low pay, all in the "fight" for those who are underrepresented. It's time to bring this problem to light -- it's been going on too long, and literally hundreds of workers are forced to suffer each year.

-- Name withheld by request

Once again the liberal brain can't grasp the level of meanness and hatred of the average Joe Six-pack American. It's the inability to deal with and marginalize this psychological group that will eventually lead the U.S. to a fascist state.

Anybody that's been in I.T. for any length of time knows that I.T. people are the most introverted, mean people around. Perhaps more than accountants even! We are "engineers," after all, just with less formal education skills. The American mythology of "survival of the fittest" is worshipped among these kinds of people. A union doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell with a group of people that would rather die than accept "help" from anyone and, more important, is loath to give help to anyone (especially "those" people [moving the eyes up to the left]). And anything related to "group power" is the antithesis of everything mean people believe in.

So, it's time to stop fantasizing about "unions" in a country full of mean haters. I don't know what the solution is, but fantasies won't do it -- that's for sure!

-- John

Unionizing information technology workers? A day late and a dollar short, guys. The time to unionize was when we were strong.

I durn near got drowned when I suggested this in a hot tub at a sysadmin conference in 1991, of course. Everyone in I.T. knew that unions were Bad -- synonymous with the old abuses of the AFL/CIO. But now the horse is gone, and folk are looking at the barn door in dismay ...

-- Stephan Zielinski

I want to commend Salon and Mr. Keller for illustrating a possible solution to the growing trend of outsourcing white-collar labor. Mr. Keller outlines some potential drawbacks to unionization, which I believe may be mitigated. I don't believe there are any rules for how union contracts need to be structured. So it might be possible for a well-organized and creative union to structure an agreement that maintained protections for salary and outsourcing while also allowing for a more dynamic partnership with management around performance pay and bonuses. I have been somewhat disheartened by much of the union actions lately, and it seems that this sort of solution is entirely possible and actually in the best interests of the membership. Perhaps I.T. is the place where this could begin.

-- Michael Tuck


Salon Staff

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