Washington, D.C. – A story in the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call, “ Lawmakers push new bills to deter call centers from leaving the US ,” highlights the recent House and Senate introduction of the federal anti-offshoring call center bill, the “U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act” (S.1792 and H.R. 3219). The article captures how the federal call center bill comes after growing momentum in state legislatures, noting that “states, urged on by advocates for U.S. workers, have been fighting back” against the trend of offshoring in the call center industry. The article then notes:
“The momentum is now shifting to Congress, where Democrat Bob Casey of Pennsylvania has reintroduced Senate legislation to require employers planning to outsource a call center to notify the Labor Department at least 120 days before they do. In the House, Republican David B. McKinley of West Virginia and Democrat Mark Pocan of Wisconsin have a companion bill. Companies that don’t provide notification could be hit with fines and barred from receiving federal grants or loans for five years.”
At the state level, call center legislation has passed in both Democratic and Republican-controlled legislatures in 2019. For example, both legislative chambers in Alabama unanimously passed a bill to stop taxpayer dollars going to companies that offshore call center jobs, while the New York Call Center Jobs Act passed the New York Assembly in June by a 93-19 vote after earlier passing the New York Senate by a 58-3 vote. Other states passing call center/anti-offshoring bills since 2018 include Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, and Nevada. (See here for a visual overview of state call center momentum in 2019).
The bipartisan support for addressing the issue at the state level also is evident on Capitol Hill – take a look at the list of sponsors and co-sponsors on the House bill. In addition to the bipartisan duo of bill sponsors Reps. David McKinley (R-W. Va.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), current House co-sponsors include a range of Members across the ideological spectrum: Republican Reps. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine).
According to Shane Larson, Director of Legislation, Politics and International Affairs at the Communications Workers of America (CWA), “The bipartisan list of House backers of the call center bill represent a diverse range of districts across America and viewpoints across the ideological spectrum. What brings them together is their shared recognition that the call center bill is a common-sense approach that would stand up for American workers and consumers and ensure that taxpayer dollars don’t reward offshoring companies.”
Call centers are a major economic presence in the United States, with approximately 3.6 million Americans employed by the industry, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the potential for stable, family-supporting careers for call center workers is threatened by widespread outsourcing and offshoring and U.S. companies’ increasing reliance on the rapidly growing business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, which competes in a global race to the bottom to offer low-cost customer support and back-office functions.
The growth in outsourced customer service is correlated with a 3% decline in real wages for U.S. customer service representatives over the past decade and the constant threat of offshoring hangs over U.S. workers who have made careers for themselves in the customer service industry.
The “U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act” (S.1792 and H.R. 3219) would ensure that taxpayer dollars are not rewarding companies that offshore their customer service work and would give consumers the power to decide where to have their calls handled. The legislation would:
- Disclose Call Center Location to U.S. Consumers : The legislation would require the relocated overseas call center agent to disclose their name and physical location of their operation. For example, a customer may hear, “Hello, my name is Jane from Manila.”
- Right to Transfer : U.S. consumers would have the right to request that the call be transferred to a customer service agent who is physically located in the U.S.
- Create a “Bad Actor” List of U.S. Companies That Make a Practice of Sending U.S. Jobs Overseas : The legislation would require creation of a publicly available list, maintained by the Department of Labor, of all employers that have relocated all or a significant portion of their customer service work overseas. These companies would be ineligible for federal grants or guaranteed loans. Preference would be given to U.S. employers that do not appear on the list when awarding civilian or defense-related contracts. Employers that relocate a call center would remain on the list for up to 5 years after each instance of relocating a call center.
- List Removal : If a “bad actor” relocates an offshore call center to the U.S. -- brings jobs back -- they will be removed from the bad actor list.