In midtown Manhattan Wednesday, around 25 EmblemHealth IT employees and their supporters held a protest over the firm's decision to shift work to IT services firm Cognizant.
On the sidewalks next to EmblemHealth's midtown offices, they yelled "Protect U.S. jobs," "Keep jobs in the U.S.A." and, to the people passing by: "It's our jobs now, your jobs next." They waved signs and slowly moved along.
The IT employees gathered for the protest outside St. Michael's Church on 34th Street near 9th Avenue, across from EmblemHealth's office.
A small contingent of plainclothes security, dressed in suits, watched. There was never any tension or reason for security to become animated. There were a few moments of humor, particularly when everyone made way for a tiny, sunglasses-wearing poodle on a leash that walked by with its owner.
What is remarkable is that there was a public protest. IT employees faced with job loss over outsourcing usually keep their anger in the background. But the EmblemHealth employees feel betrayed, and misled by management.
One IT employee said the feeling is that the technical staff is being made to suffer because of bad decision making by the firm's management.
"Why did they keep all the upper management?" this employee asked. "You kept the people who sunk the ship."
EmblemHealth CEO Karen Ignagni told employees on Tuesday that "several hundred" IT and operations workers will be laid off as a result of a decision to hire services firm Cognizant. Labor attorney Sara Blackwell, who helped to organize the protest, posted the video on YouTube.
The picture that Ignagni painted in the video is that the firm didn't have the money or the staff to modernize and automate its IT platform, a claim the workers disagree with.
But the IT workers have no choice in the matter.
For those employees who are laid off and are rebadged to Cognizant, there's no guarantee of a career, just a short-term job. One employee said he was offered a two-year contract with Cognizant, but in this contract Cognizant has the right to relocate him to another site. He has children and can't afford to take a position that might require a very long commute.
One IT employee felt lied to by the company.
Even as it was negotiating a contract with Cognizant, employees were told by the CEO to "hang in there" and told things would improve. The goal, this employee said, was to encourage employees not to abandon the firm.