Lawmakers, CWA create bill to cap call center outsourcing

Legislation would put pressure on firms

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WASHINGTON -- Jamone Ross couldn't understand why his workload hadn't picked up when T-Mobile laid off nearly half the people he worked with in the Frisco, Texas, call center.

He figured it out when angry, frustrated customers started telling him they had already spent hours on the phone with other representatives who were based in other countries and were unable to resolve their problems.

"The thing that burned us up is that [managers] kept us in the dark" about what had happened. Hundreds of jobs had been sent overseas.

That's happening too often, a trio of lawmakers said Wednesday during a news conference to unveil their plan to make it harder for companies to outsource.

"Companies can outsource jobs -- in this case, call-center jobs -- arbitrarily and without sanction. There's no penalty really, no pressure, to do otherwise," said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.

To change that, he wants the Labor Department to create a public listing to shame U.S. companies that send substantial portions of their customer service work overseas. Listed companies would be ineligible for federal grants and guaranteed loans, while companies not on the list would get preferential treatment in bid processes for government contracts.

The bill also would require overseas call-center agents to disclose their names and physical locations.

"It's important to provide disincentives so companies ... might think twice or think three or four times before making a decision that will affect not just an individual family but an entire region," Mr. Casey said.

Reps. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., and David McKinley, R-Wis., are sponsoring similar legislation in the House.

"It is simply outrageous that we allow corporations ... to take American jobs and keep them overseas yet still be able to enjoy the benefits of federal grants, federal contracts and federal loans," Mr. Bishop said. "If they want to outsource, fine. Go ahead and outsource, but don't ask the American taxpayer to subsidize the benefits you are getting that really undercut the economy."

They joined Mr. Casey on Wednesday to stump for his bill during a news conference organized by the Communication Workers of America, a labor union representing 700,000 telecommunications workers, call center workers, journalists and others.

There are 183,620 call center workers in Pennsylvania earning an average salary of $34,400, according to the union, which helped craft the legislation.

Call center workers provide technical support, solicit political and charitable donations, collect debts, conduct market research and more.

Lawmakers and CWA officials say they are concerned about outsourcing to countries where workers are exploited and where customer information isn't sufficiently protected.

Some companies already are starting to bring jobs back home on their own or as a result of union pressure, but congressional action is needed for more to follow, Mr. Bishop said.

"We won't get the results we want until we have something like this [legislation] in place," Mr. Casey said.

During contract negotiations two years ago, CWA bargained a contract that required US Airways to bring overseas jobs back home. Charlice Boston, who had been unemployed, was among 5,000 workers hired after the airline closed all of its overseas reservation centers.

"It was like a dream come true. A union job with decent pay and health insurance is not easy to find in Winston-Salem, N.C.," said Ms. Boston, who spoke during the news conference. "The example of US Airways proves that bringing jobs back to the United States is a viable pathway."

Officials from US Airways and T-Mobile could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, lawmakers said they are shoring up support for their legislation, but prospects of passage are uncertain.

Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.


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