My recent business trip took me to a large consumer-oriented corporation (LCOC) in a medium-sized American city. I work as a subcontractor for a software firm, and we were sent to LCOC to train the employees of another contracting company to do technical support for one of our software applications.
But this was no ordinary training. The new tech-support guys work for a company in India, and they will be taking over the help desk calls within LCOC for the software designed by my firm. An existing team within the IT department of LCOC currently handles the in-house support calls for our product, and most of these employees will lose their jobs when the Indian group takes over their functions.
So far, so good. Outsourcing to India is a normal phenomenon; everyone in the software design field is used to it. Those of us who have advanced programming skills and interface extensively with the customer — which group fortunately includes me — do not fear for their jobs, but others are not so lucky. Local TV news shows often feature sob stories from the unfortunate programmers or customer service reps who have lost their jobs to their counterparts in Mumbai or Chennai.
What makes the situation at LCOC different (at least to me; I haven’t run into it before) is that half of the Indian contracting team — the daytime support staff — are being imported into the USA, to work in the same city that houses the headquarters of LCOC.
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Those who remain in India will be assigned to handle overnight support calls, which occur in their local daylight hours. The team in the USA will cover the daytime calls, and will be able to go on-site as required.
But they will not be employed by LCOC. They will remain employees (or contact workers) of the Indian firm, which will provide their services to LCOC at a fixed contractual rate. They will be paid about a third of the amount typically received by the laid-off people they replace. The local LCOC employee who was assigned to assist us in their training has been given several months’ notice of his own dismissal.
To recap: new outsourced workers are being imported in the United States to take the jobs previously held by American workers at a fraction of the cost. LCOC saves money big time, but for the laid-off workers the situation stinks.
Don’t get me wrong — I like Indians. All the Indians I have met personally are decent, friendly, well-educated people. The LCOC contractors are no exception. They speak fluent English — albeit with a thick accent which will undoubtedly make their work difficult for a while — and I’m sure they will eventually perform their tasks well.
And if America has to be overrun by foreigners, I would rather have Indians than Arabs or Mexicans.
The big question is: Why do we have to import foreigners to do these jobs?
These are not “jobs that Americans won’t do”. They’re good jobs, and Americans line up to apply for them.
And this is not regular outsourcing, in which the IT staff are laid off to allow a much cheaper crew in India to do the same job remotely.
These people are being brought into the country to replace Americans in their jobs so that the profit margin of a large corporation may be maintained or increased.
From a free-market, purely capitalistic standpoint, this operation makes sense. The obligation of the board of directors of LCOC is to maximize profits for the company’s shareholders, and not to assure Americans that they will retain their jobs. LCOC is not a social services agency.
But there’s still something about all this that bothers me.
I’m not an absolute capitalist — I believe that the destruction of communities and cultures for the sake of profit is immoral and misguided.
Importing foreigners into our country just to guarantee corporate profits is wrong. It does damage to our common culture, erodes our social fabric, and furthers the atomization of our society.
Maybe some free-market advocate can convince me that I’m mistaken, but I think all this is wrong.