Renewed effort begins to save Calif. university’s IT jobs

Legislation would bar offshore outsourcing at state universities

Michael Kan

At least 10 U.S. lawmakers have written University of California officials about their plan to move IT jobs offshore. It has been called it "ill-advised" and "dangerous," and some have demanded its reversal. But the letters have had no apparent impact, and employees are slated to be laid off Feb. 28.

The next step in the fight is legislation.

California Assembly member Kevin McCarty, (D-Sacramento), introduced a bill (AB 848) Thursday in the state legislature that's backed by university unions. It would require the University of California and California State University to certify that any contracted work "will be performed solely with workers within the United States."

McCarty's legislation may be too late to help the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) IT employees scheduled to lose their jobs this month. But it could stop the loss of other IT jobs across the university system.

The agreement UCSF signed with IT services contractor India-based HCL can be used at other campuses, potentially putting hundreds of other IT jobs at risk.

UCSF is laying off about 50 full-time IT workers, plus contractors, and is eliminating vacant posts. Nearly 100 positions will be affected all together. School servers, which were outsourced to a Dell facility in Washington state, will remain in the U.S. But the systems will be accessed by workers overseas, a university official has said.

McCarty notes in his bill that this action has precedent. In 2012, California approved legislation ((AB 2508)) prohibiting the offshore outsourcing of call centers that administered state public benefits program. It was signed into law by the Gov. Jerry Brown, who is still in office.

McCarty's legislation is backed by unions affiliated with university employees, including the University Professional and Technical Employees, a Communications Workers of America local.

"This bill is important as we put a stop to this nonsense," said Kurt Ho, one of the affected IT employees at UCSF. He said U.S. taxes should be used to create jobs in the U.S., not in other countries.

UCSF has said that its $50 million, five-year contract with HCL will save it $30 million. University officials have blamed cutbacks in state assistance and rising healthcare costs for the decision.

But the university is a publicly supported institution, and the outsourcing move has prompted a backlash from lawmakers.

The complaints have arrived in letters written over the last several months and sent to Janet Napolitano, the UC president. They discuss the appropriateness of a public institution sending jobs overseas, and question the role of H-1B visa workers in this shift.

Originally, Labor Condition Application notices were posted at UCSF, indicating plans to bring in H-1B workers. Computerworld received copies of the notices. But the university said that none of the workers is being replaced by H-1B visa holders. This does not remove the H-1B visa use from the discussion. While HCL is far from the largest user of H-1B visa workers, it is in the top 10.

Offshore outsourcing firms are the major users of H-1B visa workers, and increasing numbers of lawmakers say it was never the intent of the program to facilitate offshore outsourcing. "Generally speaking, the H-1B program should never be used to cost U.S. citizens their jobs," wrote U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.).

Another issue involves the use of public monies to offshore jobs. "I believe that California tax dollars should be used to support high-quality jobs in our state," wrote U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).

In a joint letter, U.S. Reps. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) wrote: "This move has potential negative consequences not only on jobs and the local economy, but calls into question the responsibilities of public institutions that receive taxpayer funding."

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), after originally sending the IT workers a form letter that her spokeswoman acknowledged was a mistake, followed up with something stronger.

"I understand that UCSF may need to cut costs for a number of reasons, but I firmly believe that this is not the way to do it," Feinstein wrote to Napolitano. "I urge you to address any budget issues without outsourcing domestic jobs to foreign workers and reconsider the decision to contract with a foreign firm for labor currently being performed by Californians," she wrote.

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said: "This decision would set a dangerous precedent that could be used at other campuses, and other institutions, to erode the American workforce."

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa,) the chair of the Judiciary Committee, fired off a long list of questions to university officials, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the outsourcing decision "ill-advised."

U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.)., told the university its plan "should be reversed," as did U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

And the UCSF faculty association argued that it was wrong for publicly funded institution to ship jobs overseas.

"We ask that you immediately rescind this outsourcing of IT services, both because it is not appropriate for a university operating with a majority of its funds coming from public sources to abrogate its responsibility to the public and because the quality of the IT work done will be compromised when workers are not be on-site, indeed may be outside the country," wrote Edward Yelin, a professor of medicine and health policy at UCSF and chair of the UCSF faculty association.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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