WASHINGTON, DC – In the rush before the holidays, you may have missed a rarity these days in Washington – the introduction of an actual, honest-to-God, bi-partisan bill focused on U.S. jobs.
- The “U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act:” Co-sponsored by Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) and Rep. Dave McKinley (R-WV), this bi-partisan legislation introduced in December responds directly to a disturbing recent trend. Call centers are a major economic force in the United States, representing about three percent of the entire U.S. workforce. Yet in recent years, many of the call center jobs that used to provide employment opportunities in the U.S. have been shipped overseas. In fact, according to data from the American Teleservices Association and 2010 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of US customer service/contact center jobs has declined in the last four years by 500,000. This trend has not only harmed job seekers, but also has placed consumers’ personal information at risk to security breaches, as a report from the Communications Workers of America (CWA) demonstrates.
Recognizing the damages of the off-shoring trend to both U.S. consumers and communities, the Bishop-McKinley bill, which also is cosponsored by Michael Michaud (D-ME), Gene Green (D-TX) and Michael Grimm (R-NY), would add accountability and transparency to the off-shoring process and encourage call center jobs to stay in the U.S., while preventing corporations from using taxpayer dollars to pad their bottom line prior to moving overseas. Their legislation would not prohibit off-shoring, but would make corporations that send U.S. call center jobs off-shore ineligible for any direct or indirect federal loans or grants for five years; require that a list of companies that off-shore their call center work be catalogued by the U.S. Department of Labor and made available to the public; require foreign based call center employees to disclose their location to U.S. consumers; and transfer that call to a U.S.-based call center if requested by the caller.
- Why This Bi-Partisan Bill is Needed: As the referenced report from the Communications Workers of America (CWA) demonstrates, the off-shoring of call center jobs has led to a range of negative effects. The report details specific instances of fraud directly related to employees at overseas call centers, the lack of legal safeguards to protect customers’ personal information in these countries, the loss of Constitutional protection for consumers’ personal data once it leaves U.S. shores, and the recent trend of “sub-outsourcing” former Indian-based call center work to even cheaper foreign labor markets, including places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Philippines. And some of the problems identified don’t seem to be getting better, judging by recent developments – for example, while India passed new data privacy laws this year, the Indian government specifically exempted outsourcing companies from having to comply with these regulations. Even worse, in the Philippines, which overtook India as the leader in off-shoring call center activity this year, there are virtually no data protection laws or notification laws when your information is compromised.
- Separate from concerns about customer data security, the call center off-shoring trend also has exacted a real toll back home, as the report makes clear. Desperate to make up for lost manufacturing jobs, many local governments committed millions in taxpayer dollars to fund incentives for companies to locate call centers in their communities in the past decade. Yet, the report notes numerous examples of companies taking these taxpayer handouts and off-shoring the call centers jobs just a few years later, leaving local taxpayers to pay the bill.
- Even if You Missed the Introduction of this Bill, Foreign Governments and Media Didn’t: After the introduction of the Bishop-McKinley bill, governments and leading media outlets in places such as India and the Philippines have sounded the alarm about this legislation. For example, check out these pieces from India and these articles from the Philippines. Typical of the reaction was this quote, from a senior parliamentarian in the Philippines said, “We have to act immediately by sending a strong lobby team in the US.”
Despite the alarm bells from foreign press, this legislation is a measured step towards helping foster job growth in the U.S. while addressing some of the problems outlined in the disturbing CWA report.
To Learn More:
- Link to full CWA report: http://files.cwa-union.org/national/News/Misc/20111215-offshore-callcenter.pdf
- Link to information about U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/D?d112:13:./temp/~bdaMPd:@@@L&summ2=m&