“The Most Magical Place On Earth” has been a dark setting for the Disney employees who were laid off and forced to train their foreign worker replacements.
In a fresh account of a story heard with ever more frequency — that of foreigners on temporary visas replacing American workers — The New York Times offers details on last year’s layoffs of some 250 Disney employees and their replacement by immigrants on H-1B visas.
Many of the laid off employees were subsequently required to train their replacements.
“I just couldn’t believe they could fly people in to sit at our desks and take over our jobs exactly,” one former worker, an American in his 40s, told The Times. “It was so humiliating to train somebody else to take over your job. I still can’t grasp it.”
H-1B visas have been at the center of an ongoing immigration debate, with tech companies champing at the bit to expand the availability of these high skilled visas, while critics argue they are serving to displace American workers with cheaper, foreign replacements.
The Times’ report highlights a few recent examples of large firms giving American employees the boot and then turning to foreign labor contractors to fill their slots, including Southern California Edison, Fossil, Northeast Utilities, and now Disney.
In Orlando, Disney executives said the layoffs were part of a reorganization of technology operations to focus on producing more innovations. They said the company opened more positions than it eliminated, with a net gain of 70 tech jobs.
“Disney has created almost 30,000 new jobs in the U.S. over the past decade,” said Kim Prunty, a Disney spokeswoman, adding that the company expected its contractors to comply with all immigration laws.
The tech workers laid off were a tiny fraction of Disney’s “cast members,” as the entertainment conglomerate calls its theme park workers, who number 74,000 in the Orlando area.
Employees who lost jobs were allowed a three-month transition with résumé coaching to help them seek other positions in the company, Disney executives said. Of those laid off, 120 took new jobs at Disney, and about 40 retired, while about 90 did not find new Disney jobs, executives said.
The Times spoke with some of the former Disney workers on condition of anonymity. Those former employees told the paper a mere “handful” of the laid off Americans were moved to jobs within the company while the rest were made to hunt for a job on the company’s job website. They further contended that few people they knew of had been hired, and they had not received retraining.
Disney “made the difficult decision to eliminate certain positions, including yours” as a result of “the transition of your work to a managed service provider,” said a contract presented to employees on the day the layoffs were announced. It offered a “stay bonus” of 10 percent of severance pay if they remained for 90 days. But the bonus was contingent on “the continued satisfactory performance of your job duties.” For many, that involved training a replacement. Young immigrants from India took the seats at their computer stations.
“The first 30 days was all capturing what I did,” said the American in his 40s, who worked 10 years in his Disney job. “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.”
The Times reports that in a sad, ironic twist, the former employee received a performance review from a supervisor — who was unaware of his scheduled layoff — that described his performance as “outstanding” and provided him a raise.
Another 57-year old former Disney employee told The Times he “was forced into early retirement” at a time when his wife was dealing with a high-cost medical emergency.
Former employees said many immigrants who arrived were younger technicians with limited data skills who did not speak English fluently and had to be instructed in the basics of the work.
HCL America, a branch of a global company based in Noida, India, won a contract with Disney in 2012. In a statement, the company said details of the agreement were confidential. “As a company, we work very closely with the U.S. Department of Labor and strictly adhere to all visa guidelines and requirements to be complied with.”
The chairman of the Walt Disney Company, Robert A. Iger, is co-chairman with Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, and Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of News Corporation, in the Partnership for a New American Economy, which pushes for an overhaul of immigration laws, including an increase in H-1B visas.
But Disney directly employs fewer than 10 H-1B workers, executives said, and has not been prominent in visa lobbying. Mr. Iger supports the partnership’s broader goals, including increased border security and a pathway to legal status for immigrants here illegally, officials of the organization said.