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Tech workers to rally to keep India outsourcing firm out of Connecticut

December 29, 2018

STAMFORD — Incoming Gov. Ned Lamont worked hard to bring Infosys to Hartford; outgoing Gov. Dannel Malloy helped.

They celebrated earlier this month when the technology services giant, based in India, opened its third U.S. hub in the capitol city, promising 1,000 jobs and partnerships with colleges to hire and train new graduates.

The regional tech center is one of the biggest development deals of Malloy’s two-term tenure, and an early symbol of success for Lamont. Taxpayers will give Infosys $12 million in state grants plus $2 million to spend on training.

There is talk that Infosys may open an office in Stamford.

But, as the governors lauded news of the global company’s expansion in Connecticut, alarms sounded for tech workers John Robert and Craig DiAngelo, so much so that they formed a group, the Connecticut Tech Worker Coalition, and now plan a Jan. 26 protest in Hartford.

Visa vice

Infosys is bad for American tech workers and has a history of manipulating the nation’s visa programs to displace them, said Robert, a programmer at a Stamford software company.

“In 2013, the federal government fined Infosys $34 million for fraud and abuse of the visa system, and Infosys has been on the receiving end of countless civil suits where they were charged with discriminating against American workers,” Robert said. “Our group is part of a national movement to call attention to this.”

The Justice Department alleged that Infosys sent people to work in the United States without the proper visas and tried to deceive government officials about the purpose of the visits.

The government charged that Infosys used B-1 visas to circumvent the requirements of the strictly regulated H-1B visa program, which allows companies to bring in foreign workers for up to six years to fill high-skill jobs employers say cannot be filled by American workers.

A B-1 visa allows foreign workers into the country only to attend meetings and conferences, not stay and work. The government alleged that Infosys fraudulently used B-1 visitors as if they were H-1B workers.

Low-cost labor

The reason is money, said DiAngelo, who was one of 220 Eversource employees replaced when the Connecticut utility hired Infosys in 2013.

“The people they sent over from India earned less than half what we earned, with no benefits, no health insurance, no paid vacation,” said DiAngelo, who now works for a tech consulting company. “Some of the Indian guys worked 12-, 13-, 14-hour days. Sometimes they wouldn’t get paid for weeks. Many of them lived five or six together in one apartment. So not only are American IT workers getting hurt by this, many Indian IT workers are abused.”

Most of the Indian workers came over on H-1B visas, meaning they were supposed to have skills American workers do not. That wasn’t the case, DiAngelo said.

“As a condition of getting our severance pay, we had to train our replacements. I had to train 10 people in India via a web session every day for weeks,” he said. “Most of them were kids. They had no clue about what I was telling them. All I did was repeat myself. (Eversource) realized that the people in India were not competent to take our places, so they gave us 10 more weeks of severance to stay and do more training.”

The repercussions continue, DiAngelo said.

“Many of my former co-workers are still out of work. One has a double master’s degree and is working in a supermarket,” he said. “With all these H-1B visas, there are not enough jobs, and the base salary for IT workers in this country has declined.”

Headed here?

Robert said he doesn’t doubt the talk that Infosys has its eye on Stamford.

“They’re licking their chops to come to Stamford, where a lot of corporations have their headquarters or have big operations,” he said.

DiAngelo said Infosys crews already service Stamford companies.

“I know there are a lot of people working in the Stamford area on H-1Bs,” he said.

Michael Pollard, chief of staff for Stamford Mayor David Martin, said he has not heard anything about an Infosys move here.

“The company would have talked to the state, not the city, about any possible expansion plans,” Pollard said.

DiAngelo and Robert hope the Jan. 26 protest pressures Lamont, who becomes governor Jan. 9, to respond to their concerns.

“Did they make it a condition of Infosys getting the $14 million that they hire 1,000 American citizens?” Robert said. “If they didn’t require that, then they are incentivizing these guys to come in and put people out of work. It would be state-sponsored job destruction.”

Aiding Americans

Requests for comment from Lamont’s transition team were not returned Friday. A spokeswoman for Malloy said the state Department of Economic and Community Development, not the governor’s office, enters into agreements such as the one with Infosys.

In an email, a DECD spokesman said the grant money “will only be dispersed after certain job-creation milestones are met … Further, while (the hired employees) do not have to be American-born, they must be American citizens.”

The deal contains “assurances about employment obligations and salaries,” the spokesman wrote. “While we cannot go into specifics, the 1,000 jobs created in Connecticut will be good-paying jobs.”

The state will audit Infosys two years after the hires are complete to ensure compliance, he said.

In an emailed statement, a spokesman for Infosys said, “Infosys is committed to hiring 1,000 American workers in Connecticut by 2023 as part of its ongoing commitment to accelerate innovation for American business. On Dec. 5, we announced that we have hired more than 7,000 American workers in the last 18 months as part of our commitment to hire 10,000 American workers by 2019.”

Besides Hartford, Infosys is building a tech hub in Providence, R.I. The company opened its flagship center in Indianapolis in March, and in August opened another in Raleigh, N.C., all with the promise to hire American workers.

Trump tension

In October, The New York Times reported that 80 percent of Infosys’s 200,000 employees are in India. One-tenth of that number — about 20,000 employees — are in the United States, where most are working on H-1B visas.

Though most of its employees are in India, the company earns 60 percent of its revenue in North America, mainly in the United States, the Times reported.

Critics say Infosys is hiring Americans now to avoid repercussions from President Donald Trump’s “America first” policy. Company officials have denied it.

But Infosys is far from the only outsourcer manipulating the U.S. visa system, said Kevin Lynn, executive director of Progressives for Immigration Reform and founder of U.S. Tech Workers, which pressures the federal government for visa reform.

“Abuse of the visa system means job insecurity and suppression of wages. It’s happening with tech workers, accountants, in law and other professions all over the country,” Lynn said. “It’s become a racket. It’s hurting the middle class, and the federal government has to get involved.”

Hiring hype?

Lynn said he doesn’t believe Infosys will change its business model.

“I think it’s propaganda,” he said. “I read very recently that India Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi said he wants all this data handled by companies like Infosys, one of their biggest, to reside in India.”

In 2017, four years after Infosys paid the federal government $34 million and agreed to stop visa abuse, the company paid New York state $1 million to settle similar allegations.

DiAngelo said he doesn’t think Infosys will alter the corporate culture.

“It’s just a promise,” DiAngelo said. “They can always come back and say, ‘We couldn’t find enough skilled American workers.’”

Robert said it’s difficult to envision a shift when big profits — the Times reported worldwide revenue of $11 billion for Infosys last year — are at stake.

“If they change, they might not still be profitable,” he said. “If they don’t change, pink slips will start flying wherever they show up.”

acarella@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2296.

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