T-Mobile layoffs in 2012 draw late fire in new anti-offshoring push

As unemployment remains sluggish, Congress looks to curb call-center offshoring

WASHINGTON - There is a new effort in Congress to penalize companies that shift call center work overseas. Nearly one third of all House lawmakers, mostly Democrats, supported these anti-offshoring restrictions the last time this bill was introduced.

Rep. Timothy Bishop's (D-NY) bill, the "United States Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act," received 138 sponsors in the last Congress, including six Republicans, but saw little legislative traction.

The call center bill will make firms that relocate jobs overseas ineligible for federal assistance, either direct or indirect. It also requires overseas call center employees "to disclose their location to U.S. consumers and gives customers the right to be transferred to a U.S.-based call center upon request."

In reintroducing the bill, Bishop is revisiting some call center layoff history. In citing job losses by call centers to overseas locations, Bishop pointed to T-Mobile USA's action last year to close seven call centers in the U.S.

T-Mobile announced the cutbacks in March 2012. The closing affected 3,300 people and was expected to result in a 1,900 net job reduction under a plan to consolidate workers in remaining data centers.

T-Mobile said nothing, at the time, about offshoring some of those jobs.

But Bishop, in reintroducing the bill, pointed to T-Mobile as an example of a company shifting work overseas. He said the company closed facilities and cut jobs "while at the same time increasing the number of service calls going to facilities in Central America and the Philippines."

What Bishop appears to be using as evidence for that shift is a subsequent U.S. Labor Department ruling that the workers were eligible for Trade Adjustment Assistance. The Communications Workers of America sought the assistance, which provides training and other benefits to employees whose jobs have been shipped overseas.

In its decision, the Labor Department said that T-Mobile "has acquired from a foreign country services like or directly competitive with the services supplied by the workers, which contributed importantly to worker group separations at T-Mobile USA."

T-Mobile today said it has added nearly 2,000 full-time employees to its call centers in the U.S. in the last year. The company also said that it is looking to hire 2,600 workers in call centers and retail operations in more than 40 states. The company didn't have data on what the net gains were after last year's layoffs.

"This is a reflection of a business that is healthy and continues to revolutionize the wireless industry in America," said Anne Marshall, a T-Mobile spokeswoman.

The call center bill has some similarities to the Senate immigration bill in that it seeks to stimulate jobs in the U.S. through offshore restrictions. In the Senate bill, this is accomplished by limiting H-1B visa use by offshore companies.

Asked whether the call center bill could find its ways into immigration legislation, Oliver Longwell, a spokesman for Bishop, said yes. Immigration legislation "could potentially serve as a legislative vehicle," but that route isn't certain.

The latest effort has three Republican cosponsors, Reps. Mike Grimm (R-NY), Dave McKinley (R-WV) and Chris Gibson (R-NY). That "gives us solid bipartisan support off the bat," said Longwell.

The legislation was changed to restore eligibility for federal help for companies that return previously outsourced jobs to the U.S., something that may help address concerns about the earlier version, said Longwell.

This article, T-Mobile layoffs draw fire in new anti-offshoring push, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at  @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

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