DOJ ends probe of utility over IT replacements; no charges filed

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Former IT worker sees ‘betrayal’

The U.S. Dept. of Justice has ended its investigation into Southern California Edison over its replacement of IT workers, a utility executive said in a memo sent Friday to employees.

"I wanted to pass along some good news," said Pedro Pizarro, SCE president, in the email. "The Department of Justice's investigation into whether SCE discriminated against American workers in its IT outsourcing practices has closed with no adverse findings against the company," wrote Pizarro.

About 500 IT workers at SCE were cut, mostly through a layoff. Some of the IT workers complained of having to train foreign replacements on an H-1B visa to remain eligible for a severance package.

The cuts followed a decision by the utility to hire Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services to take over some its IT work. Both firms are major users of visa workers.

The layoff of the Edison workers struck a nerve in Washington. After learning that SCE had brought in the two India-based contractors, 10 U.S. senators signed a letter last April asking several federal agencies to investigate.

They asked three agencies -- the Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice (DOJ) -- to conduct a probe.

The senators who signed the letter wanted an investigation into the use of the H-1B program "to replace large numbers of American workers" at SCE and other employers. The senators included Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the chair of the Senate's immigration subcommittee and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

IT workers were contacted by the DOJ and interviewed last year. The DOJ, at the time, didn't respond to a request by Computerworld for comment.

Pizarro's email to utility employees, obtained by Computerworld and authenticated by a company spokeswoman, said, "We couldn't acknowledge the investigation while it was active, but now that the Department of Justice has completed its investigation, I thought you would like to know the outcome."

SCE's letter to employees was met with anger by one Edison employee who was laid off after training his replacement.

"It's just another betrayal by our government," said this former SCE IT worker, who asked that his name not be used. "The government seems to be taking an active position in allowing companies to outsource" IT jobs, this worker said.

The memo sent to SCE employees speaks only to the SCE's actions. It's unknown, at this point, if the DOJ continues to investigate this issue apart from the utility's role.

The Senate immigration subcommittee is planning to hold a hearing Thursday, titled, "The Impact of High-Skilled Immigration on U.S. Workers."

The H-1B visa is routinely used to displace U.S. workers, and this practice is being increasingly challenged, particularly in lawsuits.

The IEEE-USA has been urging to the DOJ to take a more active role, and is encouraging affected IT workers to file complaints .

Next week's hearing will likely be an opportunity to vent frustrations about the H-1B program.

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