Union Workers Rally to Bring Service Jobs Back to the U.S.

The Communications Workers of America reached a tentative new contract late Tuesday that the union said would save call center and other service jobs and that SBC Communications said could save it about $2 billion over the next five years. The settlement covers nearly 100,000 SBC workers, including those working in call centers, technicians, installers, and telephone operators. The tentative contract, which is expected to be ratified in a few weeks, guarantees that there will be no layoffs of employees currently on the payroll for the life of the agreement, and it calls for the rehiring of several hundred workers who had been laid off at SBC Southwest and SBC Midwest (former Southwestern Bell and Ameritech). The new contract, prompted in part by the union's four-day strike, not only guarantees that current SBC call center jobs wouldn't be eliminated without the workers being offered other positions within the company, but also calls for discussions to bring back currently outsourced call center/tech support positions. The pact gives union workers at SBC access to union jobs that Seth Rosen, spokesman for CWA District 9, in Cleveland, OH, says are the "jobs of the future," in such areas as voice over Internet Protocol, wireless Internet, video services, and business data services. About 3,000 of those jobs are to answer tech support questions related to the company's digital subscriber line service, and are now outsourced via a subcontracting arrangement with Accenture to the Philippines and India, according to CWA spokeswoman Candice Johnson. Any effort to bring those jobs back to the United States won't come to fruition before the end of the contract with Accenture, which runs into 2007, according to Johnson. Johnson also says that although thousands of call center jobs have moved out of the U.S. to India, the Philippines, Canada, and Mexico over the last several years, only a small percentage of those jobs have been with major telecom companies like SBC, AT&T, and Verizon. "Companies have to consider the quality of the service, not just the price. SBC realizes that," Johnson says, pointing to Dell's recent announcement that it would bring call center jobs back to the U.S. from India to provide customers with better service. Poor call center support can mean the loss of customers in the highly competitive telecommunications arena. Therefore, firms have opted to keep most support positions, particularly for traditional phone support jobs, in the U.S. Like SBC's outsourcing of DSL support, the jobs that have gone outside the U.S. have tended to be those supporting advanced telecommunications services, Johnson says.
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