Claiming that the H-1B visa program has “proven to be abusive of domestic workers in several ways,” the Communications Workers of America union has passed a resolution condemning program abuses and called for the programs immediate repeal.
The CWA has had reservations about the visa program in past years, union officials said, but the straw that broke the camels back was President Bushs FY 2003 budget proposal, which proposes the elimination of a technical skills training program for American workers that is funded by the $1,000 fees paid by employers that file for H-1Bs. The Bush administration wants to shift some $138 million out of the current H-1B visa-generated training account and apply it, and all future funds, to faster processing of permanent foreign labor certifications—a move the CWA derided in its resolution as adding “insult to injury.”
“We did have reservations in prior years, but we ended up supporting the legislation as it was developed in Congress in that an education and training component was built into the program so companies would be contributing to the fund that would provide training opportunities for U.S. workers in a lot of these technical areas,” said Candace Johnson, a spokeswoman for the CWAs national office, in Washington.
“We supported that element of the program as it went forward. But weve seen too many problems with it now.”
The CWA represents more than 700,000 workers, the bulk of them in the telecommunications industry. The resolution was passed at the unions 64th convention earlier this month, in Las Vegas. The problems with the H-1B visa program as perceived by the CWA include this list as outlined in a draft of the resolution:
- The increase in the number of visas now is higher than any defendable level of shortages of skilled workers;
- H-1B visa holders are often paid less than other workers doing similar jobs;
- High-tech companies have pushed legislation to raise H-1B limits while they fought legal attempts to support basic labor law in regard to the use of permatemps;
- This industry activity has occurred even while more than 200,000 high-tech workers lost their jobs in 2001 and more in 2002 in the United States; and
- This industry activity appears to be an attempt to lower local wages, make bigger profits for corporations at the expense of local communities, to break existing unions by using H-1B visa holders during strikes, and to prevent high-tech unions from forming in the first place.
One thing the CWA is staying away from, however, is laying the blame for H-1B abuses on the immigrants who are brought in under its aegis. To that end, the CWAs resolution also calls for “[recommitting] its support to winning justice for immigrant workers.”
“Ive worked at Microsoft [Corp.] and Ive seen lots of people from different countries come to work in IT,” said Roberta Wilson, a officer for WashTech (Washington Alliance of Technology Workers), a Seattle-based organization of high-tech workers and the local affiliate of the CWA. “We did not want to foment talk about scab labor or any kind of xenophobic reaction to all the workers coming in, but we did want to point out that companies have been getting tax break subsidies all in the name of job creation from local municipalities. All companies say, We pay millions in taxes, but they cut different deals to avoid their full share.”
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