Dr. Norm Matloff: Joyce Plotkin On Kennedy`s Support For The American Tech Community
September 01, 2009, 03:15 AM
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Dr. Norm Matloff writes:
Let me first make my usual disclaimer that I am a lifelong Democrat. I'll add that whatever errors Ted Kennedy may have committed in his earlier life, he did evolve into someone who had a deep, genuine desire for social justice.

Having said that, the op-ed linked below confirms my longheld suspicions that even Kennedy felt that the "greater good" demanded that he cave in to the moneyed, powerful special interests on the H-1B work visa—the tech industry lobbyists, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the universities and so on.

To many of us, H-1B serves as an exemplar of the loss of our democracy. I've mentioned before, for instance, public statements by Sen. Bob Bennett and Rep. Tom Davis explicitly stating that Congress enacted expansions to the H-1B program because of industry campaign money.

Joyce Plotkin, the author of the linked opinion piece,[Plotkin: Kennedy championed the tech community, Mass High Tech, August 31, 2009] is certainly in a position to know about the politics of H-1B. She served with a Massachusetts tech industry trade group for 22 years, according to one article I read, before she retired this year. I recall being on a panel with her in 1995.

Ms. Plotkin portrays the situation as one in which Sen. Kennedy formulated fair comprises between industry and labor on the H-1B issue. Nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, one AFL-CIO official told me in 2004 that Kennedy's aides literally laughed in her face, saying (I'm paraphrasing), "You [unions] don't count." Soon afterward, this labor official was so discouraged that she decided to seek another job.

And note that this occurred during the dot-com bust, a time when Kennedy should have been even more concerned about the impact of H-1B on U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Instead, Congress enacted a 20,000-visa increase to H-1B, by creating a special new category for foreign students at U.S. universities, and even more significantly, expanded the loopholes which enable employers to legally pay H-1Bs below-market wages.

Over the years, Kennedy would from time to time pay lip service to the fact that H-1B is used by employers as a vehicle for cheap labor, etc. But he always supported H-1B expansion when it came to authoring and voting for legislation. He played a key role in the bill expanding H-1B in 2000, in spite of the release of a GAO report that was highly critical of the visa, a month before the legislation was passed. And of course he co-authored the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill in 2007 that would have been devastating to U.S. citizen and permanent resident programmers and engineers.

Plotkin makes a big point of the retraining funds in the 1998 bill, ostensibly designed to reduce H-1B usage. But as we critics pointed out at the time, this was a purely cosmetic action that would not—and could not—impact H-1B usage. This was confirmed by a Department of Commerce report a few years later, and most tellingly, by a public admission by Sun Microsystems that the training funds were never intended to reduce H-1B usage. Sun, of course, had been one of the leading lobbyists pushing that 1998 bill.

Plotkin's remarks below don't match the blunt remarks of Bennett and Davis I cited above—Davis said, "This is not a popular bill with the public. It's popular with the CEOs...This is a very important issue for the high-tech executives who give the money"—but they give us yet another look at the role of money politics in H-1B, very sad.

Norm