In Turnabout, Disney Cancels Latest Tech Worker Layoffs
In late May, about 35 technology employees at Disney/ABC Television in New York and Burbank, Calif., received jarring news. Managers told them that they would all be laid off, and that during their final weeks they would have to train immigrants brought in by an outsourcing company to do their jobs.
The training began, but after a few days it was suspended with no explanation. In New York, the immigrants suddenly stopped coming to the offices. Then on June 11, managers summoned the Disney employees with different news: Their layoffs had been canceled.
“We were read a precisely worded statement,” said one of the employees, who was relieved but reluctant to be named because he remains at the company. “We were told our jobs were continuing and we should consider it as if nothing had happened until further notice.”
Although the number of layoffs planned was small, the cancellation, which was first reported by Computerworld, a website covering the technology business, set off a hopeful buzz among tech employees in Disney’s empire. It came in the midst of a furor over layoffs in January of 250 tech workers at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. People who lost jobs there said they had to sit with immigrants from India, some on temporary work visas known as H-1B, and teach them to perform their jobs as a condition for receiving severance.
But it remained unclear on Tuesday who had initiated the change of strategy at Disney/ABC or whether it was part of a larger change in direction, because Disney executives declined to discuss it.
Emails and calls over several days to Kevin Brockman, a senior spokesman for Disney/ABC Television Group, were not returned. Cognizant, the global outsourcing company based in New Jersey that was bringing immigrants to the television group, also did not respond to calls or emails.
About 15 of the television group’s tech employees were in New York and the rest were based in Burbank.
The layoffs at Walt Disney World and at other companies have added fuel to a debate about temporary visas, including H-1B’s, that outsourcing firms use to bring immigrants, mainly from India, for technology work. The visas are meant for foreigners with specialized skills to fill discrete positions when Americans with those skills are not available. In the applications large companies must file for the visas, they have to confirm that no American workers will be displaced.
The Labor Department said last week that it had opened an investigation into two outsourcing companies, Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys, for work they did for Southern California Edison, a power utility. It also referred complaints to the Justice Department for a separate inquiry. Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, has called for an investigation of the H-1B visa program.
It’s good to see a corporation actually responding to consumer outrage.