As a patriotic and proud citizen of the United States, I have a story to share that has not only impacted my family, hundreds of colleagues, but also current and future United States workers.
I used to have a dream career at one of Americas most iconic and admired companies. Twenty years of hard work, technical skill building, the fostering of relationships and a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology guided me to a coveted position as an Information Technology Engineer for Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
On a sunny Monday morning in late October of 2014 I drove down the interstate toward the huge 40 square mile Disney Orlando, Florida property to my office. Ten days earlier Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, had just announced that the company’s earnings were up well over 20 percent for the quarter and this was just one among a long series of record breaking financial results for the company. About six months earlier, a new CIO, Tilak Mandadi, was appointed for the Parks and Resorts Division of Disney, which would result in huge changes to our lives. Little did I know what was about to happen that very same day to me and hundreds of other fellow Disney Information Technology Cast Members.
Days later, as I drove to work, I ran into a bit of slow traffic and so I was able to glance at my company issued iPhone I noticed an early morning meeting invite from a prominent Disney Executive. This really sparked my interest since it is not very often that I have heard from him and even rarer when I would actually see him in person. Despite the heavy traffic I estimated that I would be on time for the important meeting. As I continued down the road I wondered what the executive meeting could be all about.
About ten minutes later in my commute the phone rang and it was a fellow Disney “Cast Member” as employees were called. We worked together the prior week when we solved a major outage situation for the application that we both helped to support. He reminded me about another meeting that we had later that same day. Since I knew that he was just about the highest level on his team, was well respected and also that he was very well connected within the Disney Parks & Resorts Organization, I asked him if he knew anything about this last minute early morning meeting being hosted by the Disney Executive. He told me that he was not sure about the subject of the meeting. However, he told me that since I had such a great reputation as a problem solver, had just cleared up a major outage situation the week prior and since I recently received the very highest possible performance review by management, that the meeting must be one to recognize my recent contributions to the company with perhaps a promotion or at the very least a bonus.
After arriving at the Orlando office, I walked into the conference room where the early morning meeting was to be held. As I entered about two dozen people were crowded into the room. Some were from same team; others were from different teams. As I glanced around the room I noticed that the people were all very highly regarded as extremely knowledgeable, experienced and top performers in the roles that they held. Some of the attendees also had a Blue Disney name badge instead of the typical white one proudly displayed on the shirts they wore. The Blue badge indicated that they were recognized by a new program known as “Partners in Excellence.” This meant that they had been nominated by numerous people as consistently going above and beyond to assist other Cast Members. I could sense that something was not quite right. There was a chill in the air and yet, oddly enough, I was in a room surrounded by employees of excellence.
As I watched the grim faced Disney Executive, it was obvious that bad news was going to be delivered. The dead silence was broken when the Disney Executive made a harsh announcement. All of you in this room will be losing your jobs in the next 90 days. Your last day of employment for this company will be January 30, 2015. Your jobs have been given over to a foreign workforce. In the meantime you will be training your replacements until your jobs are 100 percent transferred over to them and if you don’t cooperate you will not receive any severance pay. Also, if we don’t feel confident that we have captured everything that you do we can, at our discretion, keep you longer than the 90 days until we have captured everything that you do with this job. Don’t discuss this meeting with anybody else in the company. Everybody in the room was appalled at the message. I was completely silent thinking how this was going to affect my coworkers and how I was going to break the news to my wife and children back at home as I was the only person in my home with a steady job. How would I pay for all the expenses that go along with a home, a wife, and children?
As of January 31, 2015, I would be living on unemployment payments. Health care, along with other employee benefits, would be gone. The good life was soon to vanish as soon as the foreign workers took over my job. The sleepless nights were just starting for me as I felt the pressure of providing for my family with food, shelter, utilities, autos, health insurance, and child day care. My coworkers and I felt extremely betrayed by Walt Disney World, a company for which we had worked so hard.
After having worked grueling on call shifts, hundreds of middle of the night and weekends work sessions in addition to a barrage of problem phone calls around the clock for many years, they were going to simply throw us out for their financial benefit. One glimmer of hope from the Disney executive was that many new Disney jobs were going to be created and these jobs would not be as dull and repetitive as our current jobs were and that no net loss of jobs was going to happen. Disney Cast Members who had survived and were not invited to this doomful meeting wondered what happened inside the closed door meeting. Some of those in the meeting had tears streaming down their faces, others had completely broken down and were crying out loud and one was murmuring “no, this can’t be” as they were marched out of the room.
The very next week our office environment started to change dramatically. A huge influx of foreign workers from South Asia started to arrive at numerous buildings on the Disney Orlando campus in very large numbers. A foreign language was suddenly being spoken throughout the building hallways. Everywhere I went, including the company cafeteria, the composition of the company changed so much in the period of only a week.
The first 30 days was focused on capturing all that I did with my job. We started getting mandatory meeting invitations for “KT” or “Knowledge Transfer” sessions showing on our calendars. The daily sessions involved us training our foreign replacements for several hours. We all felt humiliated when the foreign workers sat next to us and watched everything that we did.
Presumably at the direction of the Disney Executives, the foreign workers insisted that they record all the audio as well as everything that we did on our computer screens with recorded video during the training meetings. We were then astonished as everything that we did on our job was documented and read right back to us for further critiquing. By then, it was a slow and methodical process that went on day in and day out. In hopes of landing a new Disney job we watched the Disney internal job postings and noticed a number of the vague job descriptions. Our frustration started to grow as we applied for the jobs yet none of us were contacted in any fashion. Those of us losing our jobs started to wonder if these new job postings really even existed.
The next 30 days had us working side by side with our replacement workers doing part of our job while the “KT” sessions continued. The daily disgrace continued when the foreign workers started assuming our responsibilities. They referred constantly back to all the audio, video and documentation that they had previously captured from us and asked that we explain the same questions repeatedly. They were obviously much younger, less skilled and less experienced.
The last 30 days were the most disgraceful and demoralizing of this entire period as I had to watch a foreign worker completely take over my job. I had no work to do during the last 30 days other than watch a foreign worker completely take over everything that I did in my job. One ironic twist was that I actually received a significant pay raise during my last 30 days with the company because I had received the highest possible job rating in performance reviews. The new Disney job postings only resulted in three coworkers getting new positions from the over three hundred IT workers. I was not one of them. The last day we turned in our mobile phones, laptops, ID badges along with our dignity and we were ushered out the door as temporary foreign workers took over our jobs.
Since leaving Disney we have also been informed by several large IT recruiting firms that Disney has a policy in place that states all displaced Disney IT Cast Members will not even be considered as contractor workers for 12 months. Thus we have been essentially shut out and black listed by the largest employer in this very small Orlando job market.
I largely perceive a job loss as a loss of my own identity. The humiliation of accepting unemployment payments after working for the same company for over ten years in different capacities has been extremely demoralizing. I felt guilty and frequently wondered if I was being a faithful and good American by training these foreign workers to take over our American jobs just so that I could receive a small severance package and unemployment benefits for four months.
How do I explain to my young children to follow their dreams and find a job that they love? I followed my dream of having a career in technology which I loved at the time, studied technology in college earning a bachelors degree, received numerous continuing education technical certifications, built a large base of real world experience, had a tremendous work ethic and was recognized with the very highest possible performance review by my company to have my very same desk, chair and computer all taken over by a foreign worker who was just flown in to America weeks before.
I frequently question if the IT field holds much future for United States’ citizens or U.S. permanent residents. Should I continue to dodge bullets or move into an entirely new field after having been outsourced on multiple occasions by the same company and then finally physical replaced by a foreign worker? I would never recommend the IT field to my own children or anybody else that I know for that matter, due to the lack of job opportunities even for someone passionate about the IT field. We now have American IT workers being displaced by both H1-B visa holders, who are physically being flown in from foreign countries, as well as the continued use of foreign remote offshore workers. We are seeing a massive drain on job opportunities here on our own soil. What does the future hold for United States’ workers? This outsourcing must be stopped or America will certainly decline.
How can our lawmakers allow this to happen to our country? This abuse of the H1-B Visa is not about a lack of talent here in the U.S. If our own pool of IT professionals were so incompetent- then why would companies like Disney have us train our replacements and spend months teaching them? Albeit, the loss of my position and hundreds of other positions here in Orlando, Florida is personal and debilitating, the nationwide loss of opportunity for high wage technology professionals will have a far reaching impact on our country.
Is the answer really to displace American workers, thus lessening the taxable income and opportunity for these citizens to be productive assets to our society? It is very clear that the H1-B visa is about cutting wages and exploiting immigration guest workers programs at less pay.
I challenge policy makers to ask themselves- what is the ripple effect of this program to our country? The proposed new bill, “I-Squared”, introduced by Senators Marco Rubio, Jeff Flake, Orrin Hatch, will triple the number of foreign H1-B guest workers increasing this problem threefold. I challenge them to read this story and think about the thousands or more workers just like us at Disney who will lose their jobs.
Finally, all employees who have been displaced by a foreign worker, whether the foreign worker is located in, or outside of, the United States territory, need to stand up for their rights and for the rights of all American citizen workers. Similarly, any American citizen or permanent resident who applied for a job but was denied the position because it was filled by an immigration visa employee should determine if that denial of the position was a violation of his/her rights. I implore displaced employees and employees denied positions to visit the following website for options in taking a stand and possibly recovering for the potential violation of his/her constitutional rights. If you feel that you are powerless in the face of this tsunami think again.
Displaced Disney Cast Member