Several members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent letters to UC President Janet Napolitano this past week, requesting that she reverse her decision to lay off 17 percent of UCSF’s IT workers and outsource those jobs through the foreign-based Hindustan Computers Limited America firm. UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla sits on the board of HCL, along with UC Berkeley’s Dean of Engineering Shankar Sastry.
The University of California entered into a $50 million agreement with HCL in September that would extend over five years. According to the agreement, HCL will be responsible for providing IT services such as data center monitoring, storage, server and other operations when the current IT workers take their leave in February after training their foreign replacements. It is unknown if the foreign workers will hold visas, but HCL is an H-1B dependent firm due to the fact that 15 percent or more of their U.S. employees are in the country with such visas. An H-1B is a nonimmigrant visa for the temporary employment of workers in specialty positions.
Napolitano received two separate letters — one on Nov. 1 from Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and one on Nov. 3 co-authored by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) — each urging her to reconsider this current plan, which would replace 80 of UCSF’s tech employees. The UCSD Guardian obtained copies of these letters on Nov. 3 and 4 from a member of UPTE-CWA 9119, a union that represents healthcare, technical and research employees throughout the UC system.
Rep. Lofgren begins her letter by suggesting that given Napolitano’s history as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, she should understand that using foreign workers to replace current American ones violates the purpose of H-1B visas.
“Based on your service as the secretary of Homeland Security, the department with principal jurisdiction over immigration, I am sure you know that using the H-1B category to replace the University’s IT staff would be a misuse of this visa category,” Lofgren wrote. “The H-1B’s intended purpose is to promote American competitiveness by providing access for U.S. employers to highly-skilled foreign nationals needed to fill critical skills shortages. It is meant to supplement — not replace — the American workforce.”
DeSaulnier and Lee echoed Lofgren’s statement on the intention of H-1B visas in their letter and expressed their additional worries regarding the economic ramifications and potential conflicts of interests involved.
“This move has potential negative consequences not only on jobs and the local economy but calls into question the responsibilities of public institutions that receive taxpayer funding,” the two legislators stated. “Furthermore, we are concerned about the fact that both UC San Diego’s chancellor and UC Berkeley’s dean of engineering sit on the board of HCL, raising questions about conflicts of interests.”
Lofgren also addressed the possibility that this change could harm UCSF’s patients as well, explaining that “the University of California’s outsourcing plan raises serious public policy concerns related to ensuring patient safety and safeguarding patient privacy. Missteps in these areas could expose the University to significant litigation risks.”
While the agreement is currently only being applied at UCSF, the UC system could implement its contract with HCL at any of its 10 campuses, which enroll a total of 240,000 students and employ 190,000 faculty and staff. According to Computerworld, UCSF estimates that this contract, along with other vendor contracts, will save $30 million over the course of the five-year contract.
DeSaulnier, Lee and Lofgren all closed their letters by explicitly stating that they “urge [Napolitano] to reconsider” her plan to outsource IT jobs, but DeSaulnier and Lee additionally requested that they be provided with “full documentation of the shortage of workers in this area that led to the decision to hire HCL and lay off dozens of employees.”
The UCSD Guardian reached out to Rep. Lofgren’s office and the UC Office of the President. However, they were unable to comment by press time.