AWKWARD: Disney Made Its Fired Workers Train Foreign Replacements

Disney CEO Bob Iger (AP)

The New York Times published a troubling report Thursday highlighting the trend among American corporations of hiring outsourcing firms to replace their tech employees with foreign workers brought into the country on temporary H-1B visas. In many cases, the fired employees are then compelled to stay on and train their foreign replacements:

While families rode the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and searched for Nemo on clamobiles in the theme parks, these workers monitored computers in industrial buildings nearby, making sure millions of Walt Disney World ticket sales, store purchases and hotel reservations went through without a hitch. Some were performing so well that they thought they had been called in for bonuses.

Instead, about 250 Disney employees were told in late October that they would be laid off. Many of their jobs were transferred to immigrants on temporary visas for highly skilled technical workers, who were brought in by an outsourcing firm based in India. Over the next three months, some Disney employees were required to train their replacements to do the jobs they had lost.

"I just couldn’t believe they could fly people in to sit at our desks and take over our jobs exactly," said one former worker, an American in his 40s who remains unemployed since his last day at Disney on Jan. 30. "It was so humiliating to train somebody else to take over your job. I still can’t grasp it."

A similar round of layoffs took place at companies such as Southern California Edison, Fossil, and Northeast Utilities. Tech giants like Facebook and Google have been lobbying furiously for Congress to increase its annual quota of H-1B visas for foreign workers.

In the case of Disney, which has also lobbied for an increase in H-1B visas, some of the employees were rehired to other position within the company, but "often at a lower pay level," while many remain unemployed. The fired employees were offered bonuses to stay on an train their replacements. The process that was not without some awkward missteps:

"The first 30 days was all capturing what I did," said the American in his 40s, who worked 10 years at Disney. "The next 30 days, they worked side by side with me, and the last 30 days, they took over my job completely." To receive his severance bonus, he said, "I had to make sure they were doing my job correctly."

In late November, this former employee received his annual performance review, which he provided to The New York Times. His supervisor, who was not aware the man was scheduled for layoff, wrote that because of his superior skills and "outstanding" work, he had saved the company thousands of dollars. The supervisor added that he was looking forward to another highly productive year of having the employee on the team.

The employee got a raise. His severance pay had to be recalculated to include it.

Though the Times piece described the debate over H-1B visas as "fierce," it remains one of the least-discussed elements of so-called comprehensive immigration reform and the Senate's "Gang of Eight" legislation, which calls for an increase in immigration levels across the board, including the number of visas for foreign tech workers.

Public opinion may be favorable toward a "path to citizenship" for a legal immigrants—by far the most-discussed element of immigration reform—but polls show that the American public is less inclined to favor a broad increase in immigration levels, or even an increase in high-skilled foreign workers.

The Times report does not reflect well on Disney, the parent company of ABC News and a major source of Democratic campaign donations. Its top lobbyist (who has been urging Congress to increase its allotment of H-1B visas) is a former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Disney CEO Bob Iger has given more than $400,000 to Democratic candidates (including Hillary Clinton) and campaign committees since 1999.