“There is going to be an uprising”
...For Sara Blackwell, representing U.S. workers displaced by the federal H1-B visa program began as a gig. Now, it’s a full-blown cause.
The Tampa lawyer has been giving away clients who would distract her from her work. She jokes she’s stopped sleeping and exercising. Recently, she launched a website called ProtectUSworkers.com. “I speak to an average of 10 people a day who are victims of this,” she tells me. “The more I learn about this, the more I have to fight.”
She began by representing IT workers at Walt Disney World in Florida who were replaced by guest workers from India brought in on temporary visas by outsourcing firms that contracted with Disney. She has filed a long-shot conspiracy lawsuit in federal court.
Blackwell contends that the practice of outsourcing low-end, back-office IT jobs to cut costs has become endemic. Globalization, she says, is systematically lowering the standard of living of American workers. “It’s a race to the bottom,” she says.
The Disney case garnered the attention of some in the U.S. Senate, including Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama who now is at the forefront of a fight against the American tech industry, which wants to expand the guest-worker program citing a lack of domestic qualified engineers and programmers.
But those tech companies are at the back of the line. According to Ron Hira, a professor at Howard University who tracks applications, outsourcing firms have been crowding out tech companies in the race to acquire the highly coveted H1-B visas, which are capped at 85,000 a year.
Sessions, who is also a fierce opponent of immigration reform, was one of the first U.S. politicians to embrace Trump—and Blackwell has spoken out against the program at several Trump rallies.
She also has consulted with the outsourced employees who worked at Northeast Utilities in Connecticut, including Craig Diangelo.
Part of Diangelo’s frustration—and part of what is driving him toward Trump—is that Washington has done so little to curb what he views as abuses of the H1-B program. There is a greater push now on Capitol Hill to broaden the program rather than rein it in. “There’s nobody to help us,” he tells me. “There’s nobody to say you can’t do this.”
Richard Blumenthal, a U.S. senator from Connecticut, has been part of efforts to expand the program, but also to reform it. “It’s a desperately serious problem,” he says.
He told me that even though there is some bipartisan consensus on reform, efforts still aren’t moving forward, consumed by the same paralysis that’s stalling everything else.
“There are powerful forces against us,” Blumenthal says, “including the companies that exploit these programs.”
To Diangelo, that’s the dilemma of the modern, middle-class voter. He worked hard for years, lost his job when his only transgression was being too old and making too much money, was humiliated when he had to train his replacement, and then watched how state and federal politicians have been able to do nothing to help him.
Why shouldn’t he support Donald Trump? What’s worth preserving? He’s a tech worker, sipping Pinot Grigio over pad thai. He’s no militant or conspiracist. Yet...
“There is going to be an uprising,” he says. “People are starting to say: `I’ve had enough of this. I’ve really had enough.’”