WashTech News: IT Industry News
March 2, 2007
WashTech News

Call Center Job Creation Act Gets Legislative Hearing

By Marcus Courtney

Olympia---A proposed law making its way through the state Legislature would boost call-center employment and union rights, said those testifying on its behalf Tuesday.

The Washington State House Finance Committee heard testimony from workers urging the passage of legislation, HB 2155, that would use tax incentives to expand call center employment and give call-center employees easier access to union rights.

"The idea behind this bill is very simple," said state Zack Hudgins (D-Tukwila), the prime sponsor of the bill. "We are trying to raise the competitive nature of call centers around the state. I think that (the bill) protects the good players in the market place and at the same time discourages folks from under cutting the market."

The proposed legislation would give a business-and-occupation tax incentive of up to $1,000 per newly hired employee to call centers that meet specific criteria set forth in the bill. To get the incentive, companies would have to keep jobs in the United States, pay at least 120 percent above minimum wage and remain neutral if employees try to organize into unions.

"In my current position I am represented by the Communications Workers of America and my contract gives me access to affordable family health care, three wage increases a year and job security," said Les French, who is a WashTech/CWA vice-president and shop steward at AT&T, where he has worked since 2004. "Because of this improvement in working conditions and pay, I am in favor of this legislation and believe the standards at the new AT&T should be the norm throughout the call center and the entire call-center industry in the state of Washington, not the exception."

Many of the bill's provisions are based on the union contract between AT&T (Cingular) and the Communications Workers of America, which is supporting the legislation.

"AT&T is a unique employer in Washington State and that uniqueness, spelled out in the collective agreement between AT&T and the union, should pave the way in setting the standard for all call center operations in Washington state," said Marcus Courtney, president of WashTech/CWA Local 37083, a union based in Seattle that represents 1,000 customer-care representatives at a call center in Bothell, Wash.

"AT&T is a union neutral company," Courtney said. "It is not pro-union or anti-union. Its corporate policy is that if employees choose to exercise their right to form a union, the company will allow those employees to make that choice without any company interference."

Comcast Cable was the only employer to testify before the committee and remains neutral on the bill. Rhonda Weaver, the director of State Legislative Affairs for Comcast Cable, said, "As the bill is currently drafted, Comcast would not be able to reap the benefits. The bill is meant to (give incentives to) call centers to relocate to Washington state, a concept we support, but we have already made the investment." Comcast does not currently outsource its Washington state call-center operations. The company will be opening a new 500-person call center in the state later this year.

AT&T has told the WashTech News that it also is neutral on the bill but has concerns regarding the reporting requirements. For the bill to become law it would need to be voted on by the state House and Senate by April 22.

Talkback on Article
Mar 5, 2007, 8:30 pm
How come no fiber jobs in NY? What happened to the call centers for there? We need jobs here to you know.