Is what's good for Microsoft, equally good for American workers?
Throughout the past week, we've heard from analysts and investors about how the mass Microsoft layoff is a good thing. And, from an industry perspective, it should be. Of course, it will take some time to see the full effect, but already stock prices are rising and the company is getting positive reviews. Satya Nadella may be leading an old charge, left over from the Ballmer days, but the way the new CEO brandishes it, it looks new and fresh. Microsoft seems to have renewed vigor and a bit of a swagger. It sort of reminds me of the opening intro for Saturday Night Fever where Tony Manero (played by John Travolta) struts down the Brooklyn sidewalk to the tune of the Bee Gee's Stayin' Alive. I half expect Satya to walk out on stage much the same way.
But, amid the new look and feel, there's a couple problems.
It's easy to look at a number like 18,000 (the eventual total sum of layoffs) and just lump it into a single unit without piecing it apart and realizing there's a bunch of actual people inside. In fact, it's probably more comfortable for most to do so. It helps overcome the human aspect.
Part of the reason for the layoffs, obviously, is cost cutting. Satya inherited a business (Nokia) that he was against and didn't want. But, those being laid-off in Redmond seems to be more about culture change and change of direction.
So, it's important to realize that Microsoft isn't dumping employees just to curb costs – the company is still actively hiring. It's estimated that for Redmond alone, there are currently over 3,200 open positions. Some of those will be filled by those who have already received pink slips from their current positions – at least those that want to reapply to work elsewhere in the company – but, that still leaves a significant vacancy if Microsoft still intends to fill those positions. A friend that made the cut noted recently that it felt strange to watch so many exiting while a room full of new hires were being educated on company policy.
It's not surprising that this has caught the eye of the U.S. Senate. In an almost 7 minute statement, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala) questioned how Microsoft could lay-off 18,000 people yet still be at the fore for requesting that H1-B visa allowances be doubled.
H1-B is a non-immigrant visa that allows foreign workers to receive special occupation privileges in the United States. These workers are not citizens, they simply receive a special pass to take a job for up to 3 years. H1-B visa holders are, in effect, temporary citizens of the United States. Some go on to request citizenship, but many go back to their country of origin only to apply for another H1-B visa and then return to the same job after period of time.
Sessions' problem with it is that there's fear that those jobs left open in Redmond will be filled with foreign workers and not U.S. workers. He's concerned that Microsoft is firing employees but appealing for more foreign workers. Sessions' responsibility is to the American-supplied workforce and he would like to see American workers honored before doubling H1-B visas. Obviously, the Senator wasn't well enough informed to know that the majority of those 18,000 workers were actually based in other countries, but he's right in addressing the overall issue.
Based on the U.S. Census Bureau, there are enough American workers to fill the positions. The agency's reports show that there are three-fourths of Americans with STEM degrees (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) that currently don't have jobs in their field. Additionally, it's noted that those with H1-B visas are filling as many as half of all new technology-related jobs each year. And, it's not as if American workers demand more money. As Sessions' states in his speech, IT workers' salaries have not risen in 14 years.
I've talked with a few sources at Microsoft who would never go on record about the H1-B visas issues, but only discuss it privately, and they say some have attempted to lobby for more American workers, but whenever it's brought up, is considered bordering on being, well, racist. Go figure.
Sesssion' ends his Senate address by wondering where interest actually lies, and promising the his intent is to represent the United States of America when considering any change in H1-B visa policy.
Take a listen and let me know what you think…