Senator Durbin Presses Abbott Labs on Outsourcing 150 American Jobs to Indian Company

Criticizes Abbott for forcing laid-off workers to sign a gag order preventing them from discussing their firing with federal agencies that could help them

WASHINGTON—(ENEWSPF)–April 15, 2016.  U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today announced that Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories has forced approximately 150 laid-off employees to sign a gag order preventing them from discussing the layoffs with federal agencies, as they are legally entitled to do. The employees were required to sign sweeping non-disparagement agreements in order to receive any severance pay. Last month, Durbin wrote to Miles White, the CEO of Abbott Labs, urging him to reconsider their plan to outsource the jobs of these U.S. workers, who have dedicated years of loyal service to the company. In a follow-up letter to White today, Durbin said it is wrong that we cannot hear firsthand from the American workers who are losing their jobs because of Abbott’s outsourcing agreement.

“I am deeply disappointed that your response confirmed you are replacing these workers, who have dedicated years of loyal service to your company, with contractors from Wipro, an Indian company that specializes in outsourcing American jobs,” Durbin wrote. “I know from recent conversations that this layoff has taken its toll on the morale of your remaining workforce.”

Durbin continued, “This non-disparagement provision also does not make clear that a current or former Abbott employee can communicate with government agencies regarding workplace discrimination. This is especially troubling given the circumstances of these employees’ termination. As I am sure you are aware, employees have a legal right to communicate with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and comparable federal, state, and local agencies.”

Last night, Durbin spoke on the floor about the layoffs at Abbot, and the urgent need to reform the H-1B program. Watch the video HERE.

Full text of Durbin’s letter:

April 14, 2016

Miles D. White
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Abbott Laboratories
100 Abbott Park Road
Abbott Park, Illinois 60064-3500

Dear Mr. White:

Thank you for responding to my letter of February 29, 2016, about Abbott Labs laying off approximately 150 American workers.  I am deeply disappointed that your response confirmed you are replacing these workers, who have dedicated years of loyal service to your company, with contractors from Wipro, a foreign company that specializes in outsourcing American jobs.

I know from recent conversations that this layoff has taken its toll on the morale of your remaining workforce.

I write today specifically to follow up with you about the separation agreement you are requiring your employees to sign as a condition for receiving severance benefits.  In my February 29th letter, I expressed concern about requiring your employees to sign away their right to sue or disparage the company.  As a result of this agreement, we are unable to hear directly from the U.S. employees whom you have terminated about their perspective on the layoffs.

Your staff has refused to provide my office with a copy of Abbott’s separation agreement, but I have obtained a copy of the agreement from a reliable source.  I am very concerned that the terms of the agreement are overly broad and do not provide clear guidance on what a former Abbott employee can say about his or her employment and termination.  In particular, the agreement includes this sweeping non-disparagement provision:

“You agree to make every effort to maintain and protect the reputation of Abbott and its products and agents. You further agree that you will not disparage Abbott, or its products or agents (or persons representing them in their official capacity) or engage in any activities that reasonably could be anticipated to harm Abbott’s reputation, operations, or relationships with current or prospective customers, suppliers or employees.”

This language states that former Abbott employees are not only barred from disparaging the company but are actually required to make an affirmative effort to protect Abbott’s reputation.  It suggests that an employee is prohibited from objectively describing the circumstances of his or her employment and termination if such a factual recitation “reasonably could be anticipated” to harm Abbott.  Indeed, Abbott employees told my staff they were concerned that speaking with my office about the layoffs could place them in legal jeopardy.

This non-disparagement provision also does not make clear that a current or former Abbott employee can communicate with government agencies regarding workplace discrimination. This is especially troubling given the circumstances of these employees’ termination.  As I am sure you are aware, employees have a legal right to communicate with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and comparable federal, state, and local agencies.  Courts have made clear that an agreement purporting to waive this right is unenforceable.

Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely,

Source: http://www.durbin.senate.gov