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Feds Relent, Give Benefits To Programmers Who Lose Jobs To Offshoring

The U.S. government has finally--grudgingly--conceded that software programmers make something real.

For years, many computer programmers who lost jobs to a foreign outsourcer couldn't collect the same unemployment benefits extended to factory workers who lost their jobs amid a flood of cheap imports. The Department of Labor said programmers didn't make an article unless it involved software packaged on a disk or a CD. So U.S. IT pros couldn't claim so-called trade adjustment benefits for losing their jobs to offshore development shops because they typically transmit code into the United States through telecom links.

In a turnabout, the department-- in a note published this month in the Federal Register--said four employees of IT services vendor Computer Sciences Corp. who were laid off in 2003 are eligible to apply for benefits under the Trade Adjustment Act. That act, designed to help people who lose jobs to foreign competition, includes extended unemployment payments, and retraining and relocation allowances.

Rep. Smith is trying, at least.

Rep. Smith is trying, at least.

The Labor Department initially said that although CSC moved production of its Vantage-One insurance software from East Hartford, Conn., to CSC India, the software wasn't an imported "article" as defined by the TAA. In January, Judge Nicholas Tsoucalas of the U.S. Court of International Trade ordered the department to revisit the case. "Labor's interpretation of the law, that software code must be embodied on a physical medium to be an article under the Trade Act, is arbitrary and capricious," he wrote. Earlier this month, the Labor Department conceded the point and ruled the CSC workers eligible to apply for TAA assistance.

Along with the CSC decision, Labor made similar rulings for programmers formerly employed at EDS and online retailer Lands' End. A case by former IBM programmer James Fusco, who developed billing software for IBM customer AT&T before the work was sent to India, is pending. "We expect we'll get the same outcome," says Fusco's attorney, Jean-Claude Andre. Andre is seeking class-action status to get all programmers who lose jobs to offshoring eligible for TAA benefits.

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