Circle this date on your calendar: April 22. I'll be in Chicago that day attending what may be a very significant milestone in American politics and domestic policy. It's going to be a wake and a wake-up call, part memorial and part protest.
If you are a so-called American "STEM worker" in science, technology, engineering or math, if you have college-age children studying in the STEM fields, or if you have younger children who aspire to work in STEM industries and you are concerned for their future, you should do everything you can to join us.
April 22 is the last day of work for nearly 200 American workers at Abbott Laboratories, the pharmaceutical giant founded by Chicago doctor Wallace C. Abbott in 1888. The company sacked some of its most high-skilled workers in February to make way for H-1B and L-1 visa replacements from Indian offshore outsourcing firm Wipro.
One Abbott worker, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, told me: "We were given an agreement which basically says that in order to get compensation you must sign away your rights to sue or disparage the company. I have 3 small children and a wife to provide for — I have nowhere to go because of the H1-B visa loopholes" that "every major company" is exploiting.
Intimidation. Layoffs. "Dig your own grave" severance agreements contingent on training foreign replacements before getting the boot on 60 days' notice. Promises from Washington to "end H-1B abuse" that is entirely legal because it was baked into the gargantuan immigration law cake crafted by self-serving lobbyists for Big Business working on both sides of the political aisle.
Sara Blackwell, a Florida lawyer and mom of three, knows this pattern well. She's representing American tech workers at Disney who suffered the same fate and are fighting back with a lawsuit against the entertainment conglomerate and its Indian offshore outsourcing conspirators, HCL and Cognizant. It was Blackwell's brilliant idea to hold a memorial for the terminated Abbott workers.
She's inviting the pink-slipped Abbott casualties' colleagues, families, friends, supporters, other compatriots "affected by the outsourcing or offshoring of American jobs," and, Blackwell urges, anyone else across the country "who cares about the American worker and the future of America."
The gathering will take place at Flanagan's Bar and Grill in North Chicago, Illinois at 5:30 p.m. on April 22, right after work lets out at Abbott Labs. (More information here: protectusworkers.org/2016/03/memorial-for-the-american-worker/.) Because of the stiff sanctions many American high-skilled employees have faced in the past for challenging the H-1B racket (including death threats, bullying and legal threats), Blackwell will be handing out "dark veils" to "conceal mourners' identities."
My friend and co-author of "Sold Out," programmer-turned-lawyer-John Miano, and I will be there to pay our respects not only to the Abbott workers, but also to pay tribute to the thousands of best and brightest IT workers and engineers whose identical plights we spotlighted in our book — along with the many brave whistleblowers John has represented as founder of the Programmers Guild and attorney for tech workers suing over bipartisan executive expansions of sovereignty-undermining guest worker visa programs.
For decades now, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Silicon Valley lobbyists have dominated Capitol Hill and public debate with their fraudulent claims that there's a U.S. tech worker shortage and that wage-suppressing H-1B visas "create jobs." (I dare Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Eric Schmidt to come to Chicago and tell it to our faces.)
The good news: A long-brewing perfect storm — created in part by the rise of Donald Trump, the fall of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, high-profile layoffs at Disney, Southern California Edison and Abbott, and transcendent disgust with the immigration expansionist gravy train — has changed the equation for U.S. workers.
Ignored by Washington, fed-up citizens like Sara Blackwell and John Miano are representing the invisible victims of H-1B and the rest of the cheap labor pipeline in court. Even better, they're entering the political arena themselves. Blackwell last week launched a bold congressional bid in Florida's House District 72. And you can bet there will be many more like her, inspired to do the job that too many American politicians refuse to do:
Protect American workers and put America first.