As I See It: Lawyers, Lies, and Statistics
July 23, 2007 Victor Rozek
Here’s a statistic guaranteed to curdle the cream in an IT professional’s coffee. The huge populations of China and India have produced a correspondingly huge crop of offsprings–628 million kids under the age of 15, give or take a village. That’s a lot of young people who will soon (if they haven’t already) enter the global labor market. Americans, on the other hand, have sired some 60 million moppets, who blissfully haunt the nation’s malls, unaware of the approaching competitive tidal wave about to engulf them.
That’s a 10 to 1 disadvantage. Not good odds for future job seekers or current job holders for that matter. Many will eventually be displaced by the annual crop of foreign college graduates eager for American jobs.
You’d hope our ruling oligarchy would care about the future employment prospects of those 60 million children, but with few exceptions, it doesn’t. Corporations and the government are joined at the wallet, fattened at the expense of the middle class. Waiting for some demonstrable concern for working Americans has been like waiting for the second coming: ever hopeful, but so far disappointing.
It’s no coincidence that as the job market turns predatory, American workers have lost their teeth. The numbers tell the tale, and the story told by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is one of betrayal. Between 2000 and 2005, IT employment opportunities in the United States grew by about 332,000 jobs. If those opportunities escaped your notice, there’s a good reason. During the same time period, the United States imported about 330,000 H1-B workers to fill many of those jobs. Engineers fared even worse. While 95,000 H1-B visas were issued for engineers, the Department of Labor reports that engineering employment shrank by almost 124,000 jobs.
How did this happen? In theory, qualified American applicants must be considered first, and H1-B workers can only be hired if qualified Americans are unavailable. Holy ethical dilemma, Batman! What’s a corporation to do? The trick for those hiring managers willing to circumvent the law is to find ways to “disqualify” qualified Americans. If that seems daunting, don’t worry; there are law firms eager to teach corporate clients how to shaft their countrymen.
Lawrence Lebowitz is vice president of marketing for Cohen & Grisby a law firm specializing in immigration and–there’s really no polite way to say this–screwing American workers. The law firm offers seminars that show their clients how not to hire perfectly qualified Americans. During a conference in May of this year, Lebowitz, in a rare moment of corporate candidness, divulged to his audience: “Our goal is clearly NOT to find a qualified U.S. worker.”
Ponder the implications of that statement for a moment, and the character of the speaker. All pretense has been stripped away; the intent of the law means nothing; the welfare of Americans means nothing; greed justifies everything including collusion against people whose only crime is that they can not live on a fraction of their current wage. It just goes to show that integrity is not a prerequisite for honest disclosure, especially if you don’t realize you’re being filmed. You can see the tricks they recommend for excluding American workers on You Tube: http://controlcongress.com/uncategorized/lawmakers-sell-out-americans.
The people on the dias don’t look proud of what they’re doing. Nor should they. Self preservation itself would suggest that sooner or later it could be their livelihood that will be outsourced. But greed can overwhelm even the survival instinct, and if these “officers of the court” care so little about their own survival, they certainly care nothing for yours. In Dante’s Inferno, the eighth circle of hell is populated by people guilty of deliberate evil.
Should there be any doubts about where the government stands, look no further than the Secretary of Labor, Elaine Choa. American workers (the younger ones in particular), she claims, have weak skills, bad manners, and poor personal hygiene. They need anger management, lack conflict resolution skills, and are unwilling to take direction. And that’s why Americans lose jobs to foreign workers, she asserts, not just because foreigners work for less. I’m sure that’s it. All of the IT personnel who have lost their jobs to globalization must have been unkempt, angry, and ill mannered. Or at least they were after losing their jobs. In any event, it’s good to know the Secretary of Labor has such a sterling opinion of American workers.
Lest you think Choa is expressing an isolated view, consider the revelations by former Surgeon General Richard Carmona that the Bush administration scripted his speeches and forced him to ignore science in favor of ideology. In a control-obsessed administration, there’s no reason to think Carmona’s experience was unique. You can bet that every word of Choa’s interview was vetted and that the administration agreed with the content before she uttered a single opinion. The denunciation of American workers was simply a deliberate attempt to justify the huge influx of cheap labor and the displacement of Americans, heaping insult upon injury.
The power balance that created the middle class has shifted and unless some equilibrium between management and labor is reestablished, the future for working Americans is bleak. If history teaches us anything, it is that power is never voluntarily shared; it must be acquired. The workplace benefits that we took for granted for so long were not simply the result of spontaneous generation or runaway corporate generosity. They were won at great cost. The 40-hour work week, paid vacations, child labor laws, health care and pensions (where available), safe(r) working conditions, gender and racial equity; most such gains can be traced to the herculean efforts of organized labor. And the efforts were not without price. Thousands of people were injured or killed securing these benefits.
Although the re-emergence of organized labor could provide a much needed counter-balance, unions were falling into disfavor long before Ronald Reagan popularized their demise by making the nation’s air traffic controllers acknowledge that he was their daddy. Organized labor was known for wide-spread corruption, ever-escalating demands, and the perpetuation of an outdated system that guaranteed equal pay for what was often unequal work. With the blessing of government, corporations began pushing back. After the decertification of PATCO, the laws protecting unions and union organizing were poorly enforced, unions were demonized as a tether on national competitiveness, and corporations took full advantage of their weakened position. Layoffs and off-shore relocation were both threatened and implemented and, in order to survive, unions were forced to negotiate givebacks. In 1982, BusinessWeek nagazine surveyed 400 executives and one in five admitted that “although we don’t need concessions, we are taking advantage of the bargaining climate to ask for them.” And they’ve been asking ever since.
The emerging global economy further stripped unions of their power. A fundamental shift occurred in how employees were viewed. No longer were they assets, they were now liabilities, and cost cutting became synonymous with workforce reduction. Those corporate leaders who displayed loyalty to their employees were quickly displaced by those who promised to increase profitability. Bill Willers, a Wisconsin biology professor, explains that natural selection is at work in the corporate jungle as well as the one that hasn’t been paved yet. “The corporate aim is to increase profit,” he points out, “and any competing or interfering value is to be neutralized. As movement up through corporate ranks takes place, individuals with qualms or values that hinder profiteering are selected against.” Thus, CEOs were extravagantly rewarded for the number of jobs they cut and the benefits they rescinded.
The hostility toward organized labor, militantly expressed in the early 1900s, is again finding violent expression in developing countries. American companies doing business in unstable regions or places where they are not welcome by the indigenous population often hire warlords or paramilitary organizations to protect their interests and intimidate workers. The latest iteration is Drummond, an American coal mining company with operations in Colombia. There, a bus of miners was stopped by gunmen and two union organizers were slain. As reported by the Associated Press, “In a civil trial. . . before a federal jury in Birmingham, Alabama, union lawyers have presented affidavits from two people who allege [first hand knowledge] that Drummond ordered the killings. . . ”
The signs are there for all to see, and the message is getting louder. Whether it’s a foreign labor force over half a billion strong, poised to compete for American jobs, or law firms that specialize in ensuring that Americans are bypassed for employment consideration, or the neutering of organized labor, or the rollback of benefits, or a Secretary of Labor maligning people she is supposed to champion, or companies that conspire with paramilitaries to keep labor costs down–the ruling oligarchy is making a statement that labor will only be tolerated if it is compliant.
The window of opportunity to act is closing. Unless labor reorganizes on a massive scale, and focuses not on unreasonable and unearned benefits, but on the basics–safeguarding American jobs and liveable wages–decent jobs will continue to be culled one profession at a time.
To borrow a phrase from economist Paul Krugman, this is “callousness with consequences.” And the consequence for those who rely on a regular paycheck is this: Absent a decent salary or a guaranteed pension (not to mention affordable health care), a lifetime of labor will not provide enough savings to fund 20 to 30 years of retirement. The people getting rich on the current system are offering the rest of us the prospect of dreadful poverty in old age.
Surely we can do better.
Editor’s Note: IT Jungle is, of course, thrilled to get intelligent commentary back from readers on any article written in its newsletters, and we love to publish it, too. When you do send such feedback, as talk of labor issues and particularly unions often does compel readers to do, please make sure that you hit my email, too. I want to be able to see the feedback and respond, too.
My policy as a citizen of this country and as a man who became an employer is simple, and I can state it in two simple phrases: those who can work, must work; those who can employ, must employ. I do both at Guild Companies, Inc. And I am proud of that fact like few other things I have done in my life. I understand both responsibilities quite clearly, and I have acted on them when it was my turn to be responsible. I can imagine a better world where other employees and employers do this, too, and I think we all have to do our part to get there. I intend to do mine.