Last week members of both parties in Congress revived a bill that would make it harder to offshore call centers. The U.S. Call Center and Consumer Protection Act would establish a list of companies that move call center work out of the country. The bill requires that businesses with at least 50 call center employees notify the Department of Labor at least 120 days before relocating outside of the United States. Those in violation would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per day.
Originally introduced in the House in 2015 as H.R. 2909, the bill was reintroduced in February 2016 as S.2593 in the Senate and H.R. 4604 in the House of Representatives. This latest action last week represents the third try.
According to the bill, the Labor Department would be required to make public a list of all employers that relocate call centers. Those on the list would be ineligible for federal grants or federal guaranteed loans for five years after being added to the list (with a few exceptions related primarily to national security). Companies can get off the list by moving a center back into the U.S.
Additionally, businesses that make outbound calls or receive inbound calls from consumers must require their agents to disclose their physical location at the beginning of each call – unless the agent is located within the U.S. Upon request, customers must have the ability to be transferred to an agent who is physically located in the United States.
The bill exempts any communication: (1) initiated by a consumer if the consumer knows or reasonably should know that the employee or agent is located outside the United States, or (2) related to the provision of emergency services.
If passed, the bill would give the Federal Trade Commission enforcement authority.
According to an article in Computerworld, Communications Workers of America (CWA) estimates that there are 3 million domestic call center jobs, but about 200,000 (7%) of those moved offshore between 2008-2014. A livemint article estimates the number at 2.5 million, with 54,000 in Houston, Texas.
Offshoring is certainly a strategy employed by a number of the larger ARM firms in the United States, as well as creditors servicing and collecting on their own behalf. The trend has been to handle more first-party than third-party work overseas, though, because of the sensitivity required by post-charge-off collections.
While public funding may not be a factor for most ARM firms, the need to tell consumers the location of a call center employee would add one more disclosure to an already awkward call containing a string of required disclosures.
Also, the prospect of being on a public list that will likely receive a wave of media attention may be more than many would like to handle.
On a related note, at the June 5-7 insideARM First Party Summit, there will be a session entitled: "Will 'Make America Great Again' Bring Call Center/Customer Service Jobs Back to the United States?" Speakers will provide insight into the issue. Early bird pricing for the Summit ends March 31, 2017.