Edison screws its employees, too

Tech press and politicians complain of H-1B abuses

Southern California Edison, whose electricity rates are consistently among the highest in the nation, isn't satisfied just to screw ratepayers.

Now, politicians in both houses of Congress, along with technology publications and academics, are strongly criticizing the utility for abusing the H-1B program, in which mainly mid-level foreign technologists come to the United States each year to take tech jobs. The plurality of these jobs go to workers from India.

According to Patrick Thibodeau, senior editor of Computerworld, Edison is cutting 500 information technology workers, 100 of them through voluntary departures and others through layoffs that have been taking place in phases since August.

Computerworld interviewed Edison employees. "They are bringing in people with a couple of years [of] experience to replace us and then we have to train them," one longtime infotech employee told the magazine. "Not one of these jobs being filled by India was a job that an Edison employee wasn't already performing," said another worker at Edison.

San Diego County congressman Darrell Issa, who co-sponsored the so-called "Skills Act" that increased the number of foreign workers who can come in to take American jobs, put out a statement yesterday (February 6):

"Reports that Southern California Edison used the H-1B visa program to replace part of the company's current [information technology] workforce are deeply disturbing. Based on the information currently available, this appears to be an example of precisely what the H-1B visa is NOT intended to be: a program to simply replace American workers en masse with cheap labor from overseas. Indeed, current law requires that an employer certify that the hiring of an H-1B applicant 'will not adversely affect the working conditions of workers similarly employed.'"

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said in a speech Thursday (February 5) that Edison is hiring foreign workers who "come solely for a limited period of time to take a job, and they work for less pay too often."

Several critics of the H-1B program have been quoted in the Reader saying that the flood of H-1B workers is arranged by companies to lower the wage levels of United States–trained technology workers, engineers, mathematicians, and the like.

Ron Hira, a Howard University professor who specializes in offshore outsourcing, said Edison's program "is one more case, in a long line of them, of injustice where American workers are being replaced by H-1Bs. Adding to the injustice, American workers are being forced to do 'knowledge transfer,' an ugly euphemism for being forced to train their foreign replacements. Americans should be outraged that most of our politicians have sat idly by while outsourcing firms have hijacked the guest worker programs."

This is just another example of self-destruction by America's corporations. About 50 years ago, enlightened companies considered that they had several constituencies: shareholders, the community, employees, customers, the environment, vendors. Beginning in the 1980s, companies began concluding that they had only one constituency: shareholders. Beginning then, the only thing important to a company was piling up profits so stock prices could rise and top management pay could be pushed into the stratosphere.

In 2013, Theodore F. Craver, chairman and president of Edison International, parent of Southern California Edison, raked in $8.9 million in pay. Ronald Litzinger, president of Southern California Edison, took in $2.4 million.

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I think the problem is it's hard to prove abuse unless an employer is really blatant like this example.

An employer can always write a job description that's so narrow that only the person they want to hire is "qualified". The H1B engineers probably get paid somewhat less than similarly qualified Americans would - but they get paid enough that it doesn't raise a red flag. It's hard to prove that someone is getting underpaid if they're making 90K instead of 110K.

I think the bigger downside of the H1B programs will be seen when more of these workers return to their countries of origin and use what they have learned at U.S. companies to start new companies that compete with U.S. companies.

ImJustABill: You are right. It is difficult to prove that a company is abusing the H-1B program as a method of lowering salaries of American-trained tech workers. There are loopholes that the company can snake through.

Also, politicians in both houses of Congress get money from the companies heavily using H-1B, and perpetually asking for an expansion of the number of H-1Bs admitted each year.

The lobbyists are roaming the hall, slipping moolah in sticky fingers. Both parties support the expansion of H-1B. Obama support the program. Best, Don Bauder

All utilities should be ratepayer owned. Edison (for profit) vs, Imperial Irrigation District (ratepayer owned) Edison has tiered rates that are 40% to 60% higher that IID. IID has one rate for all consumers. The difference is that Edison stockholders receive the profits while IID customers receive the benefits.

AlexClarke: There have long been arguments over whether investor-owned or publicly-owned utilities serve the people best. There is no question that in California, the public utilities have significantly lower rates than the investor-owned ones -- Sempra (SDG&E), Edison, and PG&E. The Reader has published charts showing this. Best, Don Bauder

Robert Heath: Too many companies today consider shareholders their only constituency. Why do you book-cookers (think Peregrine Systems) break every rule in the book to make their quarterly numbers to please Wall Street? However, you make a good point. The shareholders who are considered most important are the executives of the company, along with institutional investors who may own 7 or 8 percent of the stock. Best, Don Bauder

This is rather sickening, but I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised. Crooks are crooks.

eastlaker: Yes, thanks in part to the company's coziness with its former president, Mike Peevey (ex-head of the CPUC), Edison will be passing on $3.7 billion of costs to ratepayers. These are the costs of shutting down San Onofre, and that was completely a management error. Those costs should be borne by shareholders. Best, Don Bauder

Maybe this flagrant abuse by a high-profile employer, Edison, will actually get some attention to the hard-to-detect abuse by employers in Silicon Valley and here locally (read: Qualcomm.) All this talk of immigration "reform" has had even more of this imported labor on its agenda. Rather than reform a program that is used to bring foreigners to our shores in ever-greater numbers to take jobs from Americans, how about abolishing it? If Edison can abuse it so much, it should not exist.

Visduh: It would be great if H-1B could be eliminated. Its purpose is to drive down the wages of American tech workers. But corporate America has the Congress tied up, and it isn't going to happen.

Yes, Qualcomm is one of the big abusers of H-1B. Best, Do Bauder

I think it's difficult to enforce unless there is something really blatant like what SCE does. Qualcomm is probably following the letter of the rules in most - if not all - cases. I think the only way to limit this is to reduce the number of H1B visas.

ImJustABill: Agreed. The number of those admitted under H-1B should be reduced. But with Congress in the pockets of Corporate America, the cap is more likely to be raised. Best, Don Bauder

Robert Heath: Yes, but those billionaire corporate executives are shareholders -- the biggest ones. Of course, Wall Street is the home of the plurality of billionaires. Best, Don Bauder

Chuck Radloff: Tell it to the people in North County who keep electing Issa. North Countians also kept electing Duke Cunningham until he got caught. Best, Don Bauder

Jake Leone: The H-1B program is a variation on the theme of outsourcing, sponsored by the United States government. As the economist Milton Friedman pointed out, H-1B is a subsidy to American companies. Best, Don Bauder

Alfredo Giese: Craver, who is at the top of the corporate pyramid at Edison, would thumb down the proposal. Best, Don Bauder

James Barber: Let's not let ethnic bias get into this discussion. Best, Don Bauder

It's not just the tech jobs, in recent years the National Parks concessionaires have been importing their restaurant staff claiming that they cannot find workers in the US that will work in the parks.

Dennis: And you know that is a lie. There are plenty of people who would love to work in national parks. Some parks are remote, yes, but there are Americans who like living in remote areas. Best, Don Bauder

John Miano: Edison isn't the only utility going after H-1Bs. Northeast Utilities is another. Best, Don Bauder

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