Pfizer Accused of Using U.S. Workers to Train Foreign Replacements

Pfizer's outsourcing contract with Infosys Technologies and Satyam Computer Services means job losses for IT workers in Connecticut. Many U.S.-based contractors are complaining that they are being asked to train H-1B workers who will soon replace them.

Pfizer is taking flak for what detractors charge is a plan to use U.S. workers to train the foreign contractors that will replace them during a years-long outsourcing project.

Contractors in the company's Groton and New London, Conn., R&D facilities-many of whom are either former full-time staffers or replaced Connecticut-based staff-are complaining that foreign workers on H-1B visas are coming in to be trained on the company's systems, according to local newspaper The Day.

Those temporary workers are scheduled to return to India, where they will run the same systems as part of an outsourcing deal Pfizer signed in 2005 with Infosys Technologies and Satyam Computer Services.

The complaints about IT contractors are part of a larger swell of discontent focused on Procedure 117, a policy Pfizer instituted in January that requires the closure of even long-term contractor arrangements as those terms expire. It also institutes conditions-and some say harsh ones-on which contractors in IT and other specialties may or may not be able to continue to work with Pfizer.

U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who represent the region, sent a letter to Pfizer asking the company to reconsider laying off U.S.-based workers in Connecticut.

The situation, as reported by The Day, is unpleasant for U.S.-based IT workers, but not terribly unusual for companies shifting IT operations overseas during major outsourcing deals.

Calls to Pfizer requesting confirmation or comment were not returned. In a public statement the company said it was continuing to evolve IT operations "to meet global business challenges and look for efficiencies to help better manage operations, which include the use of contract workers on an as-needed basis."

Pfizer circulated an internal memo in 2005 saying it would try to cut $4 billion from its annual operating costs by 2008, largely by moving IT and other operations from the United States and Europe to countries with lower costs of living.

The memo, entitled "Evaluating Options: Moving IT Services to Low-Cost Locations," outlined a plan to shift much of the company's IT operations to Indian IT services firms Infosys and Satyam.

It's not illegal for companies to bring in H-1B workers for training, even if they're there to learn how to replace U.S. workers, according to Ron Hira, assistant professor of public policy at Rochester Institute of Technology and co-author of "Outsourcing America."

"It's not surprising to have a company bring in [workers on] H-1B or L-1 visas to transition that work to companies like Infosys and Satya, which are classified as H-1B-dependent because more than 15 percent of their work forces here are on visas," Hira said. "Still, you shouldn't have to dig your own grave by bringing in someone on an H-1B and training them to do your job."

Pfizer has between 800 and 1,000 contractors working in Groton and New London on any given day, alongside about 4,500 full-time workers, according to The Day.

The IT outsourcing contract is only one part of Pfizer's overall outsourcing and reorganization plan, which includes offshoring much of its manufacturing and raw-material production and acquisition. Pfizer cut more than 11,000 jobs in 2007 and closed a number of factories in an attempt to save $2 billion in operating costs, according to Bloomberg News.

Much of the reconsolidation was sparked by the approaching end of the patent and exclusive-manufacturing rights to anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor and negative publicity about the effects of its anti-smoking drug Chantix. The two are among the company's most profitable products.

Pfizer, the world's largest drug maker, announced in October that its third-quarter net income had risen to $2.28 billion compared with $761 million in 2007, when it took a $2.8 billion charge for the failed development of an inhalant version of insulin. The company said cost-cutting played a major role in improving its net income during the quarter.