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Disney Said to Shed Workers for Cheaper Help

(CN) - Two former theme park workers claim in court that Walt Disney World conspired with two consulting companies to replace U.S.-born employees with cheaper, foreign workers.

Former Disney employees Dena Moore and Leo Perrero filed separate class action lawsuits against Disney, Cognizant Technology Solutions and HCL Incorporated last week, alleging not only that the companies conspired to get rid of them, but that the entertainment giant made its U.S.-born employees train foreign workers before firing them.

The two former IT workers were among hundreds of theme park workers laid off by Disney last year.

Moore and Perrero claim the companies used H-1B visas to hire the new foreign workers. The H-1B visa allows U.S. companies to employ foreign professionals in industries short on qualified workers for a short period of time. The new workers do not become green card holders or citizens. But federal law also places certain stipulations on the visas, such as prohibiting companies from using H-1B visas to displace U.S. workers.

According to the complaint, HCL and Cognizant sponsored the incoming foreign workers and Disney filed the visa petitions. Among the conditions of the visa petition: "The job opportunity has been and is clearly open to any qualified U.S. worker."

Moore and Perrero claim Disney management told hundreds of employees in the company's IT department to begin training visa holders in October 2014 before layoffs the coming January. If the employees did not stay and train their replacements, they would not receive bonuses or a severance.

According to the complaint, Disney management told employees there would be job openings for them, but only a few former workers were ultimately hired.

Sara Blackwell, who is representing the plaintiffs, said this is a problem not just with Disney but companies across the country.

"It is so prevalent but Americans don't know about it," she said. "Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been losing their jobs this way ... If you look at the tech field, the salaries are super low and job security is really bad. Many Americans aren't able to compete because of companies bringing these foreign workers."

In a statement, Disney called the lawsuit "completely and utterly baseless."

"The fact is that, since our reorganization, Disney Parks has hired more than 140 US IT workers, and is currently recruiting candidates to fill over 100 more IT positions," the statement reads. "Additionally, we also rehired more than 100 workers affected by the reorganization into other roles in the company. The complaints by one of the plaintiffs, Ms. Moore, that she was not offered a position are completely false she was offered a position at comparable pay and turned it down. Those are the facts."

Blackwell said Moore applied for "over a hundred jobs," but never landed a position. Six months into a new job, Moore received a call from Disney for a temporary project, Blackwell said, but the start date was moved, so Moore stayed with her current employer.

Blackwell also questions Disney's claim of 100 rehirings.

"Show them to me," she said. "Send the jobs over!"

HCL and Cognizant did not respond to e-mailed requests for comment.

H-1B visas have gained wider notice recently after Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump tussled over the issue. The H-1B visa is the most popular work visa and some of the candidates contend companies regularly abuse them to hire cheap labor.

The lawsuit against Disney's use of H-1B visas is a first in the country, said Blackwell, but probably won't be the last.

"I have more plaintiffs waiting in the queue," Blackwell said. "All of these companies are on my hit list."

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