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UCSF Lays Off Tech Workers, Stepping Into Jobs Outsourcing Controversy

Donald Trump made globalization and job loss a big theme of his successful presidential campaign. And right now, there’s an example of the kind of job loss he was talking about happening at UC San Francisco.

UCSF has a total of 565 full-time workers focused on core IT services. The research institute and hospital is cutting some 97 IT jobs –– including 49 full-time workers, 30 contractors and 18 unfilled positions. Those jobs are scheduled to end in February. The work is being outsourced to HCL, a multinational information technology firm headquartered in India. This is one of the two firms Disney took heat over for partnering with last year when it outsourced 250 IT jobs.

Hank Nguyen is an IT employee at UCSF. Until recently, his daughter wanted to follow in his footsteps and work in information technology. She was accepted at UC Santa Cruz and planned to study computer science. Then, last July, the letters arrived. The first was the tuition bill from Santa Cruz. The second was a layoff notice from UCSF.

Nguyen and other IT workers at UCSF are training their replacements, workers from HCL. “I’m speechless,” he says. “How can they do this to us?”

Nguyen now worries he won’t have money to pay for his daughter’s education. She worries her expensive degree won’t lead to a stable career in IT. “I’m unsure about everything now,” Nguyen says, “She’s unsure as well.”

Hank Nguyen is losing his job because UCSF is working with an outside contractor. (Sam Harnett/KQED)

Nguyen thought he had job security. He works with servers, the computers that run company software and handle data. It’s part of a range of back-end IT work that keeps our modern computer-driven world running. But now, much of this IT infrastructure has been shipped overseas, says Ron Hira, a professor of public policy at Howard University.

“It’s a silent destruction of really important innovation, high-wage, really the knowledge-based economy jobs that we’re supposed to be moving into,” Hira says.

He says what’s really scary is that we don’t know how many IT jobs America has lost. The government doesn’t keep track of it, he says. Hira has studied IT offshoring for over a decade, and he has been gathering numbers to try to get a picture of this job loss.

By looking at IT employment abroad in countries like India, and the numbers of workers American companies like IBM now employ overseas, Hira has come up with a rough estimate. He thinks as many as 1.5 million foreign workers could now be doing IT jobs for American companies.

“It’s huge in scale and scope, and it has long-term ramifications in terms of innovation, but also in terms of spillover jobs and career ladders for folks,” Hira says.

Changes in technology like cloud computing have contributed to IT job loss, but Hira says outsourcing has greatly accelerated the trend. And he says the main tool paving the way for outsourcing is the H-1B visa. Hira gave this testimony in front of Congress about how the H-1B visa is used to outsource jobs and undercut U.S. workers. HCL is mentioned as a company that depends on the H-1B visa for business operations in the U.S.

Controversy over this visa has been escalating in recent years. There have been numerous bipartisan attempts in Congress to reform the visa. They have all failed. Complaints about the visa range from the offshoring of U.S. jobs to how it can be used to drive down wages and create situations where companies can abuse H-1B workers. Companies like Southern California Edison have been criticized for effectively replacing U.S. workers with H-1B workers. The move led to a federal investigation, which did not end in the workers’ favor.

This visa cropped up in the presidential race after Disney shipped out 250 of its IT jobs, in part to HCL, the same company UCSF is working with now. Donald Trump at times criticized Disney and the visa. He drew applause at debates by saying the H-1B program should be dismantled, and he championed a laid-off IT worker at Disney who endorsed him. But it is hard to say what he will do in office, since he flip-flopped on the issue several times when pressed about actual policy decisions.

Here is the back story on the H-1B. The visa is supposed to allow companies to hire the highest-skilled foreign talent. But in reality, outsourcing companies like HCL scoop up the most H-1B visas for lower-level IT workers. These H-1B workers are sent into U.S. companies to see how their IT systems operate, and then they work with large teams abroad, mostly in India, where labor is cheap.

At UCSF, eight of the 27 workers in the transition team that HCL sent in to learn the ropes at the school were on H-1B visas, according to UCSF’s Vice Chancellor of University Relations Barbara French. While the transition team had H-1B workers, French says UCSF has a policy not to replace any of the employees losing their jobs with workers on H-1Bs. But now that the transition team has learned the IT needs at UCSF, much of the work can be done offsite and potentially offshore where labor is cheaper. French says HCL will have only 20 workers on the ground at UCSF.

Cutting costs is why UCSF is partnering with HCL, French says.

“We can save $30 million over five years by outsourcing,” French said. She also anticipates that as IT needs grow in coming years, working with HCL could help save more money.

French says UCSF came up with the outsourcing plan after seeing that the competition had already done a similar thing. French says this decision was not taken lightly and that the school held a job fair to find new IT positions within the UC system for employees being laid off.

Many hospitals have already outsourced parts  of their IT infrastructure to cut costs, and other universities are starting to look into doing the same. Meanwhile, UCSF is facing rising health costs and cuts in state funding. “We’re feeling the squeeze,” French says.

French says UCSF provides around $130 million in charity care for the poor. She says to continue that kind of service, UCSF has to focus only on its core IT services, things like data analysis for researchers, cybersecurity and organizing electronic health records. French says while it is laying off some IT workers by outsourcing to HCL, the university continues to hire new IT workers to do more specialized work.

“Taking care of patient care IT issues, taking care of research IT issues, that belongs to us,” French says. “We need to be on top of it and grow it.”

The contract with HCL would allow all 10 UC campuses to similarly outsource portions of their IT work. Other schools are not yet making moves to do that, but IT workers at UCSF think this is the beginning of a trend that could spread throughout UC.

IT worker Hank Nguyen says it doesn’t make any sense that a state university system training the STEM workers of tomorrow would lay off the STEM workers of today. He says his work was once considered core and specialized, but it is now being outsourced. He worries the same will soon happen to the new IT workers UCSF is now hiring.

Nancy Pelosi and state lawmakers are calling on UC President Janet Napolitano to halt the layoffs at UCSF, but there’s no indication she will do that. If she doesn’t, the IT workers will lose their jobs at the end of February.

  • something tells me they may be losing some federal funding if they go through with this.

    • American universities are training more and more foreign students to take jobs once held by Americans. Americans students don’t seem to be interested in getting the degrees it would take to get these jobs themselves. STEM degrees are too hard for most American students.

      • wrong on several points.
        1. The US census bureau reports less than 30% of US STEM grads find work in their field.
        2. Why spend time and money studying STEM when greedy corps, and other organizations, prefer to hire cheap, foreign guest workers?

    • Not at all. Our government encourages this. Indeed, it was the NSF that invented this visa in order to drive down costs down to academic researchers. American kids and older American workers be damned.

      If you want to learn the truth behind the H-1B visa and the STEM shortage myth, read this:

      • government’s attitude about h1bs are about to change.

  • The type of work that can be outsourced will eventually be replaced by automation. The IT workforce will continue to be in demand, as long as they keep up with innovation. It will be interesting to see just how long and how many of the laid off work force stay jobless.

    • can’t automate what a programmer does. they’ve been trying, and failing, for decades.

  • These CEOs make hundreds of millions from such short-term actions. It is called control fraud. Their actions will destroy the corporate bottom-line a few years out — but after these con men pocket cash and bail. Meanwhile in Asia, American outsourcing is now the third largest contributor to India’s GDP (a country with four times the US population). Personally I don’t think this will end until these plutocrats go to prison or turn up in ditches in number.

  • UCSF is no doubt giving these IT jobs to some of its Indian alumni who made better grades in their computer science courses at UCSF than their American peers. Can you blame them? It’s just loyalty to its own grads.

    • cheaper, not better. just cheaper.

  • There is a major potential for HIPPA violations here. My husband is a patient at UCSF and I am very concerned about his personal medical data being given over to an entity outside of UCSF. Didn’t UCSF learn it’s lesson back in 2003 when the contractor they used for medical transcription threatened to release all patient’s personal medical information on the internet unless she was paid more? Apparently they have short memories, but I don’t.

  • resist. complain to every state and federal representative you have. and resist some more.

    • https://normsaysno.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/political-reality-101/
      “Congress doesn’t listen to reason. They respond to pressure. So all those people making these good arguments … must become ACTIVIST if they want anything to change, Trump or no Trump. Most people I hear from have never even contacted their congressperson and senators, much less engage in serious, unrelenting activism.”

  • Why don’t these workers contact President-Elect directly. Tell them what UCSF is doing and hold him to his promise of not letting these jobs leave the USA. See if he is a man of his word or not.

Article source: https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2016/12/14/ucsf-losing-some-it-staff-to-outsourcing/

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