…And Then They Came for the Tech Workers

For years I’ve been complaining that low-wage workers in the United States are getting crushed by the continual disruption of the labor market that globalization and indiscriminate immigration wreak. For just as long, I’ve heard all those arguments shouted down as the bigotry of the unwashed.

Y’all in Europe might find it a challenge to accommodate all of your new friends right now, but there’s hope: on this side of the pond, the native-born American worker just scored a massive coup, I tell you what.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a bit of a hullaballoo when SunTrust Banks in Atlanta decided to take advantage of our government’s generous H-1B special occupational visa program. The H-1B visa is a great boon to the American economy, allowing companies to replace their spoiled, entitled, costly native-born skilled labor force with cheaper, more compliant computer programmers, IT assistants, and scientists from countries like India.

It’s not that Indian people are innately more charitable toward their great and benevolent employers than Americans, mind you; but people who are in the country on an H-1B visa can’t change jobs without risking deportation, so they have to shut up and take what they’re given. The ideal employee!

But that wasn’t what made the news; such abuses of the H-1B are becoming commonplace. Just as humdrum was the way SunTrust humiliated the American employees they were firing by making them train their own replacements.

But then SunTrust pushed their luck a bit too far.

Showcasing both their lack of esteem for the American employees’ years of service and their lack of confidence in their cheap new workers’ ability to hit the ground running, SunTrust stuck a “continuing cooperation” clause in the severance agreement.

If they wanted severance pay, the rejected workers had to agree to donate their own time to step in and provide emergency help if something went wrong—for NO ADDITIONAL PAY.

Let’s mull over what SunTrust was doing here. They didn’t want to continue paying for the level of expertise and familiarity with the system that their American workers had developed over years of service—but they weren’t above tacitly admitting that throwing away all that expertise was monumentally stupid, and they were getting what they paid for.

As one commenter remarked, a bank’s IT system takes so long to master that there was no way the new workers—particularly if their English skills were deficient on top of it—could handle a serious data-security situation without calling upon the folks they shoved out of a job to pull their asses out of the fire. But company officials figured they could get away with extracting the cost of their own cheapness and stupidity from their outgoing workers.

Apparently these brilliant managerial types forgot about the Internet. (This is why IT guys get the big bucks—or why they used to, anyway.) It also apparently failed to occur to them that being treated like chess pieces would piss the workers off—and others like them.

When Computerworld online got ahold of the story, the geek community blew up. Computerworld’s story painted SunTrust officials as entitled, ungrateful, and apparently convinced that no one would ever figure out what they were trying to get away with.

As the scandal spread, Computerworld continued to report on SunTrust’s lame attempts to make it sound like they weren’t trying to scam free labor: ‘The bank’s statement said any request for help will be a “rare occasion” and “infrequent,” but the cooperation clause as it currently stands offers no such assurance.’

In other words, the bank’s public relations cooed that this was just a courtesy, and no one would likely be forced to provide free labor—but the legal language in the actual document they were making people sign if they wanted a parachute gave the company the right to demand just that.

A few days after the Computerworld article, the company was finally shamed into doing the right thing: they removed the offending clause. Not that they seemed to agree it was offensive; as they sullenly put it: ‘”We understand that a clause in our severance agreement was misconstrued versus its use in actual practice, and therefore, we have removed it,” said a bank spokesman in an emailed statement.’

So, voila! A victory for American labor! The laid-off employees will enjoy a generous severance package of two weeks’ pay for every year of their lives that they pissed away at SunTrust—without having to help their replacements for free!

Sure, their jobs are still gone. Yes, when the severance pay dries up, they’ll face a market where every imaginary deficit in the labor supply can be filled with H-1Bs (though the H-1B visa is ostensibly there to fill in shortages of skilled labor, corporations are routinely allowed to abuse it while the government looks the other way). But at least they won’t be slave labor. EXCELSIOR!

Unfortunately, the bank and the workers are left with an expertise problem that cuts both ways. Now that SunTrust has been shamed into cutting their bullshit safety line—but not into rehiring their experienced staff—I would never in a million years let them handle my money. But they’re not as screwed as the American workers they left by the wayside.

If a system takes years to learn, then every year an IT guy spent working at SunTrust was time he could have spent acquiring expertise at a company that would have rewarded his loyalty (assuming such a company still exists). He wasn’t getting any younger while he was working for them, and most jobs these days are a young folks’ game. SunTrust is like a guy who dates a girl when she’s young and dumps her when she’s too old to find anyone who will stay.

But now that I’ve completely excised my tongue from my cheek, allow me to indulge in a bit of schadenfreude.

Heh, heh.

A lot of the IT workers I’ve known are lukewarm liberal types, who Think the Right Things politically and then go about their day—which usually consists of greasing the wheels for some evil corporation or government tentacle. Live and let live, I suppose. But I’ve heard more than one of these folks gloat about how those yahoo racists who are paranoid about the Messicans taking their jobs are simply being bitched by karma when precisely that happens. Should have gone to coding school, dumbass!

I understand. It’s sweet—imagine I said that in an Eric Cartman voice—to see the big dumb jocko homos who beat you up in high school get theirs.

But not all nerds grew up to be above the fray when it comes to having to compete with immigrant labor. Being a book geek who relied on manual labor gigs at the turn of the century was no walk in the park, believe me. Individually I seem to have landed on my feet—knock on wood. But if I were a young’un currently, I would be insane to try to learn any language that isn’t spoken by a computer.

And that’s assuming prudence would even help: as SunTrust illustrates, low-info yee-haws and bookish modern monks are no longer the only ones who have to kneel in the mud and watch as the people who’ve already got theirs pull the ladder up behind them.

For years I’ve been complaining that low-wage workers in the United States are getting crushed by the continual disruption of the labor market that globalization and indiscriminate immigration wreak. For just as long, I’ve heard all those arguments shouted down as the bigotry of the unwashed.

There are even artsy fuck-ups like comedian Doug Stanhope—who, despite taking stupid chances, miraculously makes a decent living in entertainment—with the nerve to gloat about how people who lose jobs to immigrants must somehow deserve it.

Yeah, Stanhope is talented, and usually pretty entertaining; but not every accomplished arteest gets a financial reward in any timely fashion—and isn’t it funny how progressives suddenly believe in bootstraps when it suits their issues? He argues that if a guy with no connections or English language skills can beat you out for a job, you should be too humiliated to even complain. Just starve to death, retard! Hilarious! I would be more amused by watching my cat lick its asshole for an hour than listening to this bit.

He means to insult poor white people; it’s his way of pawning off his share of the collective guilt, I suppose. He doesn’t seem to realize he’s calling a lot of black people worthless as well.

As Progressives for Immigration Reform (I love these guys—progressives who actually give half a damn about the people they say they care about; who knew?) explain in this video, connections are actually one of the main reasons immigrants are beating out native-born black people in the labor market. Once the foreman at a job site is an immigrant, he tends to hire his pals and neighbors. And due to positive stereotyping of immigrants and negative stereotyping of African-Americans, the former are more likely to get the foreman gig. It’s not like immigrants are moving here alone without a support system; like the rest of us, they have a preference for people they know.

For natives and immigrants alike, to watch a bottomless supply of job-seekers continually pour into the market is to watch employers get a better and better deal. You can’t hold out for higher wages when the company can simply shrug you off and bring in another truckload of migrants. Even the foreign-born who have been here for a while often see that the floodgates need to close eventually.

And now—despite having made all the right choices, despite their IT experience, despite their sincere desire to soullessly suck money from the system while having their progressive Facebook-post cake and eating it too— Americans who have the right skills for the right jobs are facing the same rigged labor market that everyone else has been dealing with for decades.

Kinda sucks, huh? Who’s the yahoo who can’t compete now?

Once they come for the stand-up comics, maybe we’ll finally close the borders and let the market stabilize for once.

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