If and when I compose my memoirs, the month I spent working at an outbound call center at the age of 17 will be mentioned as a minor, irrelevant, yet painful life event. If not for the money, which can actually be quite good, call centers rank somewhere between meatpacking plants and Wal-Marts on the list of excruciating places to work. If you’ve managed to avoid it thus far, I salute you. Nonetheless, they are jobs, and two U.S. senators want them back.
Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Bob Casey (D-PA) are pushing the United States Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act, which would do three things:
1. Deny federal grants or loans to any company that offshores its call centers.
2. Require companies to disclose to callers when they’re talking to overseas center.
3. Make a list of companies that offshore their call centers and require federal agencies to give preference to companies off said list.
I can handle the first item on that list. Denying federal grants and loans to offshoring companies might not be the silver bullet to getting them back; demand from shareholders, and customers who make the calls themselves, might have more of an impact. But there’s nothing wrong with saving a little money on American companies who can’t repay the favor by keeping as many jobs American as possible.
The third item, I can take or leave; it doesn’t merit a new paragraph. The second item is just absurd. Most of us can tell when call center operations have been outsourced; all we have to do is wait for the telltale audio delay, then listen for an East Indian accent belonging to some guy named Jack. (Or so he says.) This really solves nothing for someone who is experiencing technical difficulties and just wants their problem solved. I have been one to abuse tech support people (mostly when I had a Belkin router), and for their own good, it’s best not to make them deliver more boilerplate.
In the grand scheme of job creation, this bill is nothing much, especially when you consider how many higher-skilled jobs could be targeted for reshoring instead. But think of it this way: Most of the people you’ll find working in a call center, at least in my experience, are students, recent grads with limited prospects, single parents, new immigrants and older people. And they need money, period. This is a better way to get it in their hands than a spate of new tax credits.
Besides, if demographic trends – or at least stereotypes – hold, Brown and Casey have something tangible to offer to two of the most electorally important states in the union. So, good for them.