March 22, 2019

Bill protecting call-center jobs passes labor committee

Photo | Dave Weidlich
Photo | Dave Weidlich
AT&T workers in Meriden recently protested the planned closure of three call centers at Deerfield Lane.

A bill aimed at protecting call-center jobs in Connecticut was passed Thursday by the legislature's labor committee and is now headed to the House and Senate for further consideration.

The bill, S.B. 990, has been pushed over the last month amid AT&T's announcement that it would relocate three call centers in Meriden to Tennessee and Georgia over the coming months, which will result in the loss of 117 high-paying jobs.

According to Communications Workers-America (CWA), the union representing the impacted AT&T workers at 84 Deerfield Lane, the measure would help protect larger call centers with 50-plus full-time employees from being closed by imposing certain penalties on telecommunications companies abruptly fleeing the state.

In particular, it would subject employers that relocate 30 percent or more of their call volume in a year to civil penalties, in addition to the potential loss of grants, loans, tax benefits and state contracts.

Lawmakers in New York, New Jersey, Tennessee, Arizona, Minnesota and other states are also looking into passing similar legislation to protect call-center jobs.

Connecticut is just the latest state to endure recent cuts by AT&T. The telecommunications giant in January announced plans to shutter a 150-employee call-center in Syracuse, N.Y.

CWA says those cuts represent just a fraction of the 11,780 jobs the company axed in 2018. AT&T has said it actually added jobs last year, but CWA argues the company is counting its hires made to fill vacancies and address turnover.

"After nearly four decades of service to AT&T, it's a slap in the face to hear from CEO Randall Stephenson that my only option is to retire or pick up my life and my family and move to Georgia," said Paul Scherban, who handles 911 services for AT&T in Meriden and was recently informed that he would need to relocate to keep his job.

An AT&T spokeswoman on Friday said the company is working to retain as many Meriden call center employees as possible.

"We have worked closely with the Communications Workers of America to offer an enhanced $20,000 relocation allowance, which is four times more than required by our collective bargaining agreement," she said. "We hope that as many affected employees as possible will elect to stay with us."

AT&T workers being cut in Meriden have held several protests in recent weeks to advocate for S.B. 990 and demand that the company explain why it's closing the centers.

This story has been updated to include comment from AT&T

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