Xerox CEO, an Obama appointee, may send jobs to Indian firm

Xerox employees were told last week of a possible deal with Indian offshore firm HCL

WASHINGTON -- Xerox, whose CEO, Ursula Burns, is advising President Obama on exports, last week told its product engineering employees that it is in outsourcing talks with India-based IT services firm HCL Technologies.

Some of the affected Xerox employees may see their jobs transferred to HCL, said a Xerox spokesman, but how many will be affected is not known. Xerox has "hundreds of employees" working in product engineering groups in California, New York, Oregon, the Netherlands and the U.K., the spokesman said.

Burns was appointed last year as vice chairwoman of the President's Export Council, a panel of CEOs advising the Obama administration on how to increase exports, which would lead to an increase in domestic jobs. Boeing CEO and Chairman James McNerney is the council's chairman.

Burns is outspoken on the need to improve the pool of math and science graduates in U.S. schools. In a recent video interview on CNN, she warned that if graduation rates in these areas don't increase, "we become a server nation; our standard of living must decline."

Burns, in that interview, also argued that there is a dearth of workers who can fill skilled jobs, and when jobs aren't filled, the response from U.S. employers is, "We exported the work."

"The work has to be done, so we send the work to people in other places that can get it done. This is absolutely backwards," Burns said.

But a Xerox employee who would be affected by the action and who spoke to Computerworld on condition of anonymity said the outsourcing agreement is being done to cut costs.

Engineering "is the core of America, and to cut that is almost criminal," the employee said. "If you don't have an engineering base in this country, you don't produce anything."

The employee continued, "If you are giving Americans jobs, isn't that a good thing for Xerox?"

The affected Xerox employee said workers were called to a meeting last Wednesday and told about the possible HCL agreement. There were 200 to 250 employees at the meeting, and they were told that "we would all become HCL employees," this employee said.

An agreement is expected sometime next month.

Xerox spokesman Bill McKee said all that's been announced is that the company is "exploring a partnership with HCL." It hasn't announced layoffs, and it's too early to speculate on the impact on the workforce, he said.

The Xerox employee said there are few details about what will happen to the local workforce, but among the concerns is that some of the job offers will be for positions at out-of-state facilities. "It's obvious there is a huge reduction of labor."

McKee said the HCL partnership is being explored "to help us improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our global product engineering operation. We have great skills and talent in our organization, yet we don't have the scale necessary to be a leader in all areas," he said.

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