Last fall, workers at Wells Fargo’s call center in West Bethlehem, PA, were called into the company cafeteria for an important announcement. The bank was closing the facility and eliminating about 460 jobs.
The company didn’t explicitly announce it, but the workers already knew: Their jobs weren’t vanishing so much as they were moving beyond America’s borders. While cutting back in the U.S., the scandal-ridden financial-services company has been expanding its call centers in low-wage countries around the world, including India and the Philippines.
Global Race to the Bottom. Call centers are an important sector of the American economy, with more than 2 million customer-service representatives working at facilities throughout the country.
- But about a half-million American call-center jobs have been sent overseas, mostly to India and the Philippines.
- The bottom line: Offshore operations can get away with paying workers only about $1 an hour and making them work 12-hour days or even longer.
Workers and Consumers Suffer. Consumer safeguards, as well as worker protections, are weaker in low-wage economies.
- American customers have lost millions of dollars—and had their financial information imperiled—because of scams and fraud at far-away call centers.
- For instance, 15,000 Americans had $300 million stolen by a fraud ring that included customer-service centers in India.
There Ought to Be a Law. Democratic Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania are actively supporting legislation to slow down this race to the bottom. The U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act would:
- Give preference for federal contracts to companies that haven’t relocated call-center jobs overseas;
- Require U.S. companies to identify the location of a call center and customers to be transferred to call centers in the U.S. on their request;
- Require companies to notify the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) before they relocate call centers overseas; require DOL to create a public list of those job-exporting companies.