Why All the Attention for Fast Food Workers, but Not IT Workers?

By David North on December 8, 2014

We hear all the time about low-paid workers in fast food places protesting their wages and working conditions.

Meanwhile, there is virtual silence in another major sector of the economy: the high tech or IT industry, where American workers are constantly being displaced by H-1B foreign workers and where the latter are often mistreated by greedy employers.

The IT workers are often college grads and are playing important roles in a prosperous part of the economy. Why aren't their protests being heard?

There are a couple of variables at work here. One is that the street demonstrations of the McDonald's workers are photogenic. You cannot say that about foreign worker issues. And editors love pictures.

The other is that IT management — unlike fast food management — has quiet and effective tools to damp down protest, as Patrick Thibodeau recently reported in Computerworld.

His chilling story starts this way:

A major problem with the H-1B debate is the absence of displaced IT workers in news media accounts. Much of the reporting is one-sided — and there's a reason for this.

An IT worker who is fired because he or she has been replaced by a foreign, visa-holding employee of an offshore outsourcing firm will sign a severance agreement. This severance agreement will likely include a non-disparagement clause that will make the fired worker extremely cautious about what they say on Facebook, let alone to the media.

So the often-lazy media finds that, while IT corporate management is all-too articulate about alleged "labor shortages", it is hard to get any displaced workers to talk at all. So whose point of view is reported?

Meanwhile, the same IT management has an even more fearsome (if hard to explain) set of weapons to keep their foreign workers in line: the near-indenture arrangements that go with the sequence of immigration steps that foreign workers face.

They often start as recent college grads, and thus are on extended F-1 visas (through the OPT program). In this stage they want employers to hire them as H-1B workers, with a longer visa. Once they reach that goal, the workers want the employers to file an immigrant petition — so the workers are, for years, working hard and complaining about nothing in the hopes that their status will improve in the future — and that's all in the hands of the employers. It makes for an immobile, docile labor force. Employers love it!

So the fast food workers, with relatively little to lose, get their story in the papers, while the all-but-smothered IT workers, domestic and foreign, do not.