December 17, 2003
"Bill trying to target outsourcing of technology jobs"
A labor group trying to prevent the flow of technology jobs to foreign companies has found a sympathetic voice in Olympia: State Rep. Zack Hudgins, a former tech worker who has been unable to find a job outside the Legislature.
Hudgins plans to sponsor a bill in the upcoming session that would prohibit the use of foreign labor on state services contracts.
Before joining the Legislature in January, the Tukwila Democrat was a temporary worker at Microsoft and before that was a manager at Amazon.com. But he's been unable to find contract work during the summer and fall.
Hudgins' bill is similar to others introduced around the country this year, prompted in part by labor groups rallying technology workers.
"We're trying to prevent state tax dollars being used to create jobs in other countries," he said.
The bill was proposed by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, or WashTech, a Seattle-based affiliate of the Communications Workers of America.
Yesterday, WashTech announced Hudgins' sponsorship, and listed several state software projects that it claims are being performed by foreign workers.
No layoffs resulted from the projects, but at least part of the work is being done overseas by the companies who won the contracts in a bidding process.
"You have state departments that are letting out contracts that are flowing to offshore vendors and the work is being done in India," said WashTech organizer Marcus Courtney. "That's displacing not only Washington jobs but U.S. jobs."
But enforcing the law could be difficult given the multinational composition of technology vendors and the ability of foreign workers to obtain short-term visas for special projects, a practice the bill would not address.
One project is a $3 million job the state Health Care Authority gave to a consortium including Healthaxis of Irving, Texas, and India-based Satyam Computer Services. A second was a $25 million state Department of Corrections project being done by IBM. Courtney said an IBM source told him six to 12 of the project's 50 IBM workers are foreigners with special work visas.
Both projects are developing software applications to be run by state employees once they are written, said Roy Lum, deputy director of the state Department of Information Services.
Lum said the state currently has no restrictions on the nationality of bidders on state contracts.
"We go after the lowest price and the best value for the taxpayers dollar to do the development work," he said.
Hudgins said the bill would prevent the state from accepting bids for services from companies that use foreign workers, but it makes an exception for people with special work visas.
The bill could block Satyam from doing the work at its facilities in India, but the company also has development centers in New Jersey, California, Georgia and Illinois.
Lum noted that the state and other local governments widely use products from the German software company SAP.
Hudgins said the bill is aimed at services contracts, not packaged products, but he acknowledged the state cannot prevent foreign workers from getting U.S. work visas.
Bills similar to Hudgins' have been introduced in New Jersey, Indiana, Michigan and North Carolina, as well as Congress, according to a Dec. 10 study by a pro-outsourcing group called the National Foundation for American Policy in Arlington, Va.
"This protectionism threatens to interfere with the technological revolution and international division of labor that have led to new products and services to improve the lives of Americans and others around the world," the group's director, Stuart Anderson, said in announcing the study.