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Congress Tries Again with Another Anti-Offshore Call Center Outsourcing Bill

November 15, 2013

It’s no secret that the Communications Workers of America (CWA) are no fans of outsourcing call center work to foreign shores. The union recently released a report, entitled “Offshoring Security:  How Overseas Call Centers Threaten U.S. Jobs, Consumer Privacy and Data Security.” The report concluded that the practice of offshoring call center jobs from the U.S. to foreign shores is weakening the nation’s economic recovery and contributing to lingering high unemployment. But the report also concludes that it puts the private data of U.S. customers more at risk for identify theft and other misuse.

The union may have a point. Recent research from PwC found that 83 percent of Indian outsourcing companies surveyed had information security breaches during the previous year, and the practice of sub-contracting work from foreign nations to other foreign nations with less stringent rules and protections in place is common.

In any case, offshore contact centers are not popular with Americans. We dislike the foreign accents, the “lost in translation” cultural differences and the idea that jobs that U.S. workers could be filling are being sent to foreign nations in order to better line the pockets of CEOs and boards of directors.  For this reason, many companies go to extraordinary lengths to hide the fact that they use offshore contact center representative. This may involve forcing foreign agents to take on “American-sounding” names, engage in accent reduction programs, directing agents to refuse to answer questions about where they are located and even compelling call center workers to watch U.S. sports and movies in order to help them connect better, on a cultural basis, with callers.

While the practice of offshoring call center jobs may be unpopular with Americans, the advantages to business are undeniable, which is why the practice is still so widespread.  Many politicians have attempted to use legislation to put the brakes on offshore call center outsourcing. The latest is Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) who recently introduced the bill S. 1565, or the “United States Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection act of 2013.” The goal, said Senator Casey, is protect jobs in call centers across Pennsylvania and in the U.S. With almost 200,000 Pennsylvanians working in call centers, the bill aims to provide more transparency for consumers and ends tax breaks that promote outsourcing. The proposed legislation has the full support of the CWA.

“Companies shouldn’t be rewarded for sending jobs overseas,” Senator Casey said. “This bill will ensure that companies that outsource jobs will not see the benefits of government grants and loans.  It is a common-sense bill that will protect middle class jobs in the United States, protect consumers’ personal and financial information, and provide customers a choice in speaking with a U.S. employee.”

If the bill becomes law, it would maintain a list of “bad actors,” or companies that continue to send call center jobs offshore, to be publicly available and maintained by the U.S. Department of Labor. It would make companies that using offshore outsourcing ineligible for federal grants or guaranteed loans, and put them lower on the short lists for government contracts. It would also require foreign contact centers to disclose to callers where they are located, and give consumers the option to be transferred to a U.S. based worker.

While it sounds like a great idea in theory, legislation of this nature has been tried before – New Jersey has been on the forefront of it – and it has failed to become law every time. The most recent attempt, H.R.3596, or the “United States Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act” was proposed in 2011 but died in the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, likely due to industry lobbying against it. There is little reason to believe that S. 1565 isn’t destined for the same fate.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi