Christine Stuart photo
Sen. Richard Blumenthal with Craig DiAngelo, a former IT worker for Eversource (Christine Stuart photo)

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Tuesday criticized a non-immigrant visa program that allows companies to replace American workers with foreign workers.

He was joined by three former Eversource employees and their attorney at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Craig DiAngelo, a former Eversource employee, said it was difficult to maintain a level of professionalism for five months while he trained foreign workers to do his job. He said if he hadn’t he wouldn’t have received his severance.

“My job is still there, but I’m not,” DiAngelo said. “My job was not eliminated for lack of work, but for cheaper labor.”

DiAngelo said the five months he spent training the foreign workers to do his job were the longest and hardest days of his life because not only did he lose his work family, but he lost his job and a career he enjoyed. He said he was initially afraid to speak about the situation because he was afraid he would lose his severance. 

However, DiAngelo said he can’t stay silent anymore because this is happening to “hundreds of thousands of Americans,” and the public deserves to know what’s happening to American jobs.

Ideally, these visa programs are supposed to allow American companies to use foreign workers for very specialized jobs, but Blumenthal said what’s happening is the program is being abused to make businesses more profitable.

He said there were nearly 200 workers replaced at Eversource, but nationwide those numbers are in the thousands.

Blumenthal said there are 5,669 non-immigrant foreign visa holders in Connecticut working for companies or consulting firms, who hire these workers and contract with larger companies.

“How many have been hired instead of American workers? We don’t know,” Blumenthal said. “We know increasingly this program has been used to displace American workers with foreign visa holders brought to this country because they can be employed more cheaply.”

Blumenthal said he is supporting bipartisan legislation that would prevent companies from hiring a foreign visa holder to displace an American worker and would require a good faith effort to fill a job with an American worker before hiring a foreign visa holder. It would also prevent companies from filling more than 50 percent of their jobs with these foreign visa holders if the company has more than 50 employees.

As for Eversource, Blumenthal said he brought the situation to the attention of U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in a Feb. 4 letter.

“In light of the fact that at least some of the workers laid off by Eversource were coerced into training their replacements, it seems highly possible that the company’s behavior in this matter violated its legal obligations,” Blumenthal said in his letter to Lynch.

But Eversource said it did not violate or abuse the foreign worker nonimmigrant visa program, and Lynch has yet to respond to Blumenthal’s letter.

When NSTAR merged with Northeast Utilities in 2012 there were two different information technology systems, neither of which was appropriate for the new company, according to a Feb. 22 letter to Blumenthal from Eversource’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel Gregory Butler.

In the fall of 2013, Eversource contracted with Infosys and Tata Consulting Services to manage some of its information technology work. The utility maintained 207 of the 389 information technology employees.

An Eversource spokesman, Al Lara, said all of the changes were done through the state’s regulatory review process.

Implementation of the new information technology platform saved the company an estimated $18 million and helped lower rates for customers, Lara added.

Lara said the consulting firms manage more of the day-to-day routine operations, while the in-house IT staff work on more strategic operations.

Blumenthal suggested that Eversource should do the right thing and hire back these employees and support legislation to reform the H-1B and L-1B visa programs.