The Indignity Of Outsourcing: One Former Boeing Worker's Tale
It's a topic that reemerges in the national conversation every four years -- outsourcing. And this year, the corporate policy of sending jobs overseas, also known as "offshoring," has been front-and-center during the 2012 campaign, in large part because one candidate, Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, previously worked at a consulting firm that advised companies that made use of outsourcing.
But while Romney and President Barack Obama trade charges and counter-charges over their past affiliations and proposed policies, often lost in the debate are the workers themselves. What is it like to lose your job to an overseas worker? And how do you pick up the pieces after a company outsources your job?
Meet Stephen Gentry. His story begins 10 years ago, when then a Boeing engineer for 15 years, Gentry was called into the office during Christmas vacation and told that he was being laid off. His job was going to be outsourced.
And it got worse: He was informed that he had to train his Indian replacement.
His bosses told him, he recalls, to "hide and cover up my feelings, and be grateful."
He says that he will never forget when the team's replacements from Infosys in Bangalore, India, showed up at Boeing's Seattle office for three months of training. Boeing managers told Gentry and his team of 10 co-workers that their pensions and severance packages hung in the balance of proper completion of the three-month training. (Neither Boeing nor Infosys responded to requests for an interview from AOL Jobs.)
Gentry knew that he had to be a good corporate soldier, but on the day before the Indians arrived at Boeing's offices, Gentry recalls that he and his team received emails from Boeing higher-ups instructing the American workers to make the Indians feel "at home and welcome." He dashed off a half-joking email to his boss, writing, "So we're teaming with the enemy?"
His manager wasn't amused, according to Gentry. "He wrote back, 'Don't go there if you want to keep your pension,'" he recalled. Because of his years of service and age, Gentry was entitled to a retirement package.
"It was humiliating, but what can you do?" he said in an interview with AOL Jobs. "I was trying to leave a bridge with the company."
He went on a vacation to the Grand Canyon, optimistic. He was expecting there would be "more opportunities very soon."
But the nine years that followed were tough. He bounced from one contract job to another, holding only one staff position -- with a contractor of the the Securities and Exchange Commission -- for a year.
Gentry's story is not uncommon. Outsourcing jobs overseas, or offshoring, has become routine in the last decade, as companies cut costs by maintaining divisions in foreign countries where labor is cheaper. An analysis completed by the Wall Street Journal found that U.S. multinationals outsourced 2.4 million jobs overseas from 2000-2010.
The practice of workers training their replacements in outsourced jobs also is not unheard of. Workers have had similar experiences at Bank of America, and BP, to name a few. Indeed, having a worker train his replacement in such a scenario is "perfectly legal," according to Scott Moss, a law professor at the University of Colorado.
TechsUnite, a non-profit group for IT workers, launched by the Communication Workers of America and the AFL-CIO, estimates that over the past 10 years, 500,000 IT jobs have been sent abroad.
Since Gentry had completed his 15th year at Boeing and was age 50 when he was laid off, he was entitled to retirement benefits, which helped during all those years of bouncing from one contract to another. Still, "it's been a real struggle" since losing the Boeing job, he says.
Gentry, who recently landed a staff job at Intel, isn't bitter, however. He still considers Boeing a good employer overall, noting that the company had paid for him to get his Bachelor of Science degree at Seattle Pacific University.
His former colleagues, worried about hurting their employment prospects, declined to speak on the record to AOL Jobs. Their experience after Boeing has run the gamut; some say their professional life was largely unaffected while others left the IT industry and have cobbled together a living.
And in spite of his own personal frustrations on the job market, Gentry says that he understands why employers outsource and the fact that many economists believe outsourcing actually adds jobs to the U.S. economy, overall.
"I debate this with myself," he says. "If companies are always looking for the cheapest deal, we're going to have a world where if you're not the top 1 or 2 or 3 percent, you will only have crumbs."
Would he have approached his dismissal differently had he known the dry spell that would follow?
He emphasizes how important it was to keep onto his retirement package for his kids.
"But," he says, "I am talking."
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Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
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