Lawmakers Keep Fighting to Keep Call Centers in U.S.

Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill and around the country are continuing efforts to push through legislation that would help keep call centers in the United States and penalize American companies that outsource jobs to places like India and the Philippines.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), who introduced a federal call-center bill late last year, appeared to acknowledge it would be an uphill battle to get the legislation passed in Congress.

“I didn’t say I had confidence” the legislation will pass, Bishop said Wednesday during a call with reporters. “I just remain hopeful that with our economy struggling to recover as it is people will recognize … that outsourcing is a significant drag on our economy and particularly when you are dealing with call centers,” he said.

Call centers represent about 3 percent of the U.S. workforce, according to the Communications Workers of America, the union that supports Bishop’s bill.

Introduced by Bishop and Rep. Dave McKinley (R-WV), the “U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act” would require the U.S. Department of Labor to track firms that move call-center jobs overseas. Such firms would be ineligible for any indirect federal loans or loan guarantees for five years. The legislation also would require overseas call-center employees to reveal their location to U.S. consumers and give them the right to be transferred to a call center in this country.

The federal legislation has 94 co-sponsors, including 87 Democrats and seven Republicans, Bishop said.

Bishop said the U.S. has lost at least 500,000 call center jobs over the last four years as those positions were moved offshore.

With millions of Americans still out of work and underemployed, and local economies continuing to struggle, some state legislators are keen to keep jobs at home.

Florida State Sen. Chris Smith, who is a Democrat, said his call-center legislation in the Sunshine State passed the Florida Senate passed unanimously but got held up in that state’s House.

“The bill stated quite simply, if you have a contract with the State of Florida and that contract entails a call center of any type that call center must be in the United States,” said Smith, who plans to reintroduce legislation next year and work with leadership in the state House.

New Jersey has lost almost half of its call-center jobs because they have been transferred overseas, according to Democrat Connie Wagner, a New Jersey Assemblywoman.

“Those are good jobs,” said Wagner, who also has sponsored call-center legislation.

Many Republicans aren’t fond of such bills. Arizona state Rep. Ruben Gallego said a call-center bill he introduced didn’t even get heard.

“The Republican majority believes in the absolute free market,” the Democrat said, characterizing the Arizona Legislature as “very lopsided.”

Wagner claimed the issue isn’t a partisan one.

“I think this transcends being a Democrat or a Republican,” she said. “It’s just simply the right thing to do when we are looking to keep employed here.”

Bishop sought to give an illustration of why his legislation matters.

He said Wells Fargo received $25 billion in government money under the Troubled Asset Relief Program and is now about to send good-paying jobs to the Philippines.

Several powerful organizations don’t think Bishop’s legislation is good for the American economy.

“Passage of this legislation would increase costs and regulatory burdens for companies and would weaken customer service support for American consumers,” according to a letter submitted by several organizations, including the Consumer Electronics Association, Telecommunications Industry Association and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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