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Est. April 5, 2002
January 28, 2016 - Issue 638

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Skill, Experience, And Education
Matter Little To U.S. Corporations.
You’re Still Just A Worker, After All


"The overriding reason for importing labor is
that it can be cheap. And, if many are not
documented, they are not likely to take to the
U.S. courts for justice in pay, injury on the job,
or for any other ill that has befallen them while
they have toiled to make America the strong
economy that it is, even if it can be described
as strong only for the rich and the corporations."

It was bound to happen.

The Disney Corporation last year fired hundreds of its techs in Orlando, Florida, and replaced them with skilled foreign workers, presumably at a much lower wage, and two of the fired have filed a lawsuit, claiming that Disney did so illegally.

One of the plaintiffs was laid off early in 2015 and was instructed to train his replacement, a tech worker from India. There were about 250 techs who were fired and, presumably, forced to train their lower wage replacements, under the threat that refusal to train them would result in a lesser or no severance pay check. It was hardly a choice, so one can presume that they all trained the new workers, most of them from India.

This case is similar to one a few decades ago, when a General Electric engineer in New York’s Capital District complained that GE was taking U.S.-educated Indian engineers and sending them back to India, where they would work for $10,000-$11,000 a year, maybe pretty good pay for India, but that number was about 10 percent of what they would have been paid, had they been employed in the U.S. Always looking to save a buck, those corporate types.

To see that this is a problem of long standing, one only has to look at the farm worker programs that have been instituted in the U.S. over the past five or six decades. The Bracero program was instituted in 1942, just as the war effort was beginning to build, and it allowed Mexican workers to enter the country for work in the fields and on the railroads. They also, like the tech workers at issue in the 2015 Disney case, were to be temporary workers, but who is to keep track of where they go and what they are doing?

The Republican candidates for the presidential nomination have made a major issue of the “illegal immigrants” who now number as much as 11 million or 12 million and some, namely Donald Trump, has said he would deport all of them. Ted Cruz, the erstwhile right wing senator from Texas, is not far behind Trump. There have been other programs for importing foreign labor, but the heart of it is that these workers would work for less, complain less about working conditions and more or less stay in the background of American life. The two major political parties have had a hand in this and now, at a time when so many have had children who were born here and are American citizens, the families are demanding some services that have been paid for by their taxes over a period of generations.

The overriding reason for importing labor is that it can be cheap. And, if many are not documented, they are not likely to take to the U.S. courts for justice in pay, injury on the job, or for any other ill that has befallen them while they have toiled to make America the strong economy that it is, even if it can be described as strong only for the rich and the corporations. Importing labor is a win-win for Corporate America, as they see their profits enhanced from the hiring of foreign, cheaper labor. Usually, the main reason given, especially in farm work, is that “Americans won’t do that kind of work.” But the reason they won’t do “that kind of work” is that it provides far from a livable wage. It’s that simple, and that’s the way growers like it, construction contractors like it, the meat industry giants like it, and most other employers like the low wage workers.

Over the past quarter century, another phenomenon has arisen to provide cheaper labor, the contingency worker or part-timer. Part-time work allows corporations to have much of their workforce on a half-time schedule. Doing this allows the corporations to avoid paying overtime or to provide any benefits, like health insurance or pensions, paid sick leave, paid vacations, or paid family leave. These are just a few things that make for a decent living and a decent life.

Such schemes have moved up the scale, as well. According to a number of studies, adjunct professors now make up about half of the teaching staff of colleges and universities. They are, essentially, part-time workers or on-call workers, except that they are working most of the time, albeit at one or two institutions of higher learning. They have made as little as $18,000 a year, depending on the number of courses they are given to teach by the administration. They are organizing unions around the nation to deal with these problems. These teachers in many cases have struggled for years to earn a master’s degree or a Ph.D, and are still at entry-level wages for people with no degree. And, they are likely to have student loans outstanding of as much as $50,000 or more.

All of this, of course, is by way of institutions of higher learning saving lots of money. Their administrative staffs are mushrooming on the backs of the students, the faculty and, especially, the adjuncts. Around the country, adjunct professors are organizing unions as the only way they will be able to improve their wages, their working conditions (many do not have an office or other place to work), and gain a measure of job security.

Those who clean and maintain the hallowed halls of learning long have struggled to gain a living wage and many of them are minorities, black and brown, and great numbers are immigrants, who bring with them not only the language barrier, but also they have to put forth a constant effort to fit in with their communities, for themselves and their families.

There are many other examples of the downward pressure on workers, in general, trying to get them to accept that they are just workers, nothing more, nothing less, no matter the degree of experience or education. The lesson to be taken from this is, “Be satisfied with what little you have, for that’s all you might get for your efforts.” The movements to change this are out there: The fight for a $15 an hour U.S. minimum wage, the unionization of low wage workers, Black Lives Matter, and any number of efforts designed to force the powers that be to recognize that the workers are “the people” mentioned in the founding documents of the nation. Not incidentally, this is the time for a “Black Workers Matter” movement in the country.

A recent issue of Bloomberg magazine asked on its front cover why black tech workers are not being hired by Silicon Valley, since so many are being educated both by traditionally black colleges and universities and at other universities. Good question, but the answer is more than just why the big operators of a high-tech economy are not hiring the highly qualified black and brown graduates. It’s a question that needs to be asked of the nation as a whole (as well as high-tech industries), and that’s why we have some of the movements cited above.

Whether you work at a technical job, a teaching job, a clean-up job, a service job of any kind, or you work in one of the millions of retail and sales jobs, if you work for a paycheck and the boss has the right to fire you for any reason, or no reason, you are simply a worker. You should be making common cause with all of the other workers, for politicians and Corporate America are not going to improve your lot. They are not your friends. You, along with all of your fellow workers, will have to do it for yourselves. That’s what a union is about and that’s why they are so fearful of unions in every aspect of our national life. Join your union today. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.

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