The offshoring of U.S. call center jobs has skyrocketed in recent years. Companies that are marketing products and services to U.S. residents too often are sending good call center jobs overseas. While America has been rapidly losing call center jobs, the number of offshore call center jobs servicing the U.S. has climbed sharply.
In many communities, the loss of a call center means the loss of a pillar of the local economy. Lost jobs mean lower tax revenues to fund important public services. And when companies offshore U.S. jobs, it puts more pressure on workers at home to accept lower wages and benefits and poorer working conditions. How can U.S. workers compete with overseas operations paying around a dollar an hour and forcing employees to work 12-hour days or longer? We shouldn’t be forced to.
U.S. consumers are put at risk, too. My union, the Communications Workers of America, has produced a new report spotlighting consumer fraud and scams that have cost customers millions of dollars and put their financial information and security at risk.
There is a solution. The U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act is bipartisan legislation that will help workers, consumers and communities. As hundreds of call center layoffs have been recently announced at Conduent in Moosic, Pa., Sen. Bob Casey knows how serious this problem is for working families nationwide and for Pennsylvania call center workers and consumers. He’s the lead Senate sponsor of this legislation, and we’re joining with him to get these safeguards passed.
This proposal requires that U.S. callers be told the location of the call center to which they’re speaking, be transferred to a U.S.-based call center on request, and make U.S. companies that offshore call center jobs ineligible for certain federal grants and taxpayer-funded loans. Unlike a lot that’s coming out of Washington, these commonsense proposals have the support of Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
Offshoring isn’t popular with workers or consumers. Last fall, Xerox announced it would expand call center operations in the Philippines — hiring 800 workers there — while simultaneously shutting American call centers and laying off 950 U.S. workers. In October, Florida-based Sykes Enterprises announced plans to open a new call center in the Philippines, employing more than 2,000 workers, and shut down its call center in Eugene, Ore., warning workers to “keep quiet” about the closure.
Verizon is one of several big, profitable companies that offshores customer service work to the Philippines, paying workers just $1.78 an hour. Last May, a delegation from my union, working with Filipino call center workers, spotlighted the extensive amount of work Verizon had transferred there, far beyond what the company had publicly claimed.
The Philippines is the largest of these call center hubs, on track to have 1 million workers targeting the U.S. market, but it’s far from the only one.
What does this mean for consumers? Lax regulatory oversight in many of these countries means that consumers’ privacy and data security are at increased risk from identity theft.
Last October, details emerged of a massive fraud scheme targeting Americans that operated out of India-based call centers. Victims — more than 15,000 customers in the United States — lost hundreds of millions of dollars, the Department of Justice found. In fact, Indian call center scams are such a problem that the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh is now setting up two police stations to handle cases of call center and online fraud exclusively.
In May 2014, the Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau launched an investigation into a 168-day data breach that occurred at an AT&T call center in Mexico. During this period, three call center employees were paid by third parties to obtain customer information — specifically, names and at least the last four digits of customers’ Social Security numbers — that could be used to steal information stored on customers’ phones.
The three call center employees accessed more than 68,000 accounts without customer authorization and passed the information on to third parties. As part of the same investigation, AT&T admitted that approximately 40 employees at the Colombian and Filipino facilities had accessed customer names, telephone numbers and at least the last four digits of customer Social Security numbers to obtain unlock codes for AT&T mobile phones.
Seven U.S. senators have written to President Donald Trump, pressing for an executive order that would bar companies that offshore good call center jobs from receiving federal contracts or federal loan guarantees.
Supporting these commonsense approaches is a perfect way for Mr. Trump to live up to his campaign promises to keep jobs in the U.S.
U.S. consumers and workers deserve to know that their financial information is secure and that they won’t be replaced by someone earning $1 an hour or less. We need the U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act.
Chris Shelton is president of the Communications Workers of America, representing 700,000 members working in telecommunications, media, airlines, public service and manufacturing.
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