Call-Center Bill Would Let Customers Ask To Talk To Americans

Dave Johnson

Last week Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) and Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) introduced The U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act, a bipartisan bill to both help fight the offshoring of call-center jobs and protect consumers. This proposed legislation would let the public know which companies are engaging in sending jobs out of the country, let customers ask to use an American call center instead, and ban federal grants or guaranteed loans to American companies that move call center jobs out of the US. The bill should also give us the right to get a person on the phone at all, within a few minutes, and not requiring a long phone tree of choices first, but I guess that’s for another day…

Today many call-center jobs are being moved out of the country to India and the Philippines. This costs American jobs, and can be very frustrating to consumers who have to speak to people who they cannot understand because of language problems or cultural differences. The The U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act gives consumers the right to ask where the person they are speaking with is based, and ask for an American-based representative instead. Among the things this bill would accomplish:

  • Require the Department of Labor to publicly list firms that move call center jobs overseas.
  • Make these firms ineligible for any direct or indirect federal loans or loan guarantees for five years.
  • Require 120 day advance notification of a proposed move off-shore.
  • Require call center employees to tell U.S. consumers where they are located, if asked.
  • Require that call centers transfer calls to a U.S. call center if asked.

At the Huffington Post, David Jamieson writes more about this bill, in, Overseas Call Centers Target Of Anti-Outsourcing Bill,

Although some call-center jobs have trickled back into the U.S. in recent years, the long-term trend has shown thousands of American-based customer service positions being outsourced to India and the Philippines, where workers come considerably cheaper. The Philippines’ call-center industry recently surpassed India’s as the largest in the world, according to a report in USA Today.

… In addition to scuttling any grants or guaranteed loans for a period of five years, the U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act would require that companies that are about to offshore call-center jobs notify the Labor Department 120 days before they do so. The companies would then be put on a public list. Bishop said the law would apply to businesses in all industries.

Such a bill is unlikely to garner strong support from anti-protectionist, free-trade GOP members of Congress, but the inclusion of the call-center rules adds an interesting wrinkle. Given the widespread frustration of customers who end up on long calls with agents overseas, plenty of constituents, Republican and Democrat alike, would probably appreciate the option of dealing more regularly with customer service reps based in America.

In a press release, the Communications Workers of America, the union that represents call-center employees, writes,

The Communications Workers of America is strongly backing new, bi-partisan legislation introduced in the House of Representatives today that would ban federal grants and loans to corporations who move U.S. call center jobs overseas. CWA represents 700,000 workers in telecommunications and other sectors; more than 150,000 are customer service professionals.

.. “Americans are fed up with good-paying family supporting call center jobs here in the United States being shipped overseas so the one percent can make a little extra money,” said CWA Chief of Staff Ron Collins. This legislation does not prevent them from moving if they want, but it prevents them from gaining access to our tax dollars while they do so.”

Collins, who began his career in a U.S.-based Verizon call center, said CWA members across the country will be mobilizing support for the legislation in individual states and Congressional Districts.

“We will go door to door to reinforce to members of Congress that this is a bill their constituents want and need,” Collins said. “We appreciate Representatives Bishop, McKinley and all the members of Congress who are supporting this important legislation.”

The full text of the bill is available here:

H.R.3596 – To require a publicly available a list of all employers that relocate a call center overseas and to make such companies ineligible for Federal grants or guaranteed loans and to require disclosure of the physical location of business agents engaging in customer service communications.

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